Photographers on travel photography, camera gear, and capturing the perfect vacation snap
Hear it straight from David Teo and Alwyn Loh
Alwyn Loh Travel photographer
When you're on the road, what type of camera do you usually bring with you? My constant companion on many of my travels has been the Leica X Vario, as I prefer having the flexibility of a small, light and high quality zoom to make the most of my changing surroundings. I find that being able to shift quickly from a standard wide to a short telephoto opens up more opportunities for optimally framing any given scene outdoors during daylight. I also carry a Leica M9-P paired with the Leica 35mm f/1.4 prime lens as a back-up, or when a shallower depth of field is required in my photos.
What's a useful accessory to pack in your camera bag when you're travelling? This would be a SureFire flashlight. It is small, light, rugged and dependable. It works underwater, at high altitudes, and in extreme heat or cold. I use it to light the way to and from shoot locations in darkness, and also as an aid to gain proper focus when insufficient ambient light does not allow the camera to focus accurately.
Which travel photographers inspire you? This would be a blend of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Alex Webb, Michael Kenna, Rafael Rojas, Galen Rowell and Sebastião Salgado. As travel photography encompasses multiple genres such as landscape, environmental portraiture, street photography, photojournalism and the decisive moment. I've found that the photographic visions of these esteemed masters give plenty of fresh insight and inspiration on a regular basis. Notably, three of them work with intense color, and the other three almost exclusively in black and white. Both film and digital are well represented, so being able to see a new location with the beginner's mind and eye is perhaps more important.
Tell us more about the photographs you shot in Iceland, Bhutan, and Indonesia. What process did you take to capture the final shots? As I was raised taking pictures with film, I still believe in getting everything right, as far as possible, within the camera itself. That one should make every shot count and keep post processing of files to the minimum possible. These pictures taken in Iceland, Bhutan and Indonesia are the result of a combination of good light, reasonably strong composition, sufficient technical skill, an out-of-the-ordinary location, and of course, luck. The Leica X Vario itself grants a very high quality of capture far superior to the competition, within the boundaries of a small and compact camera system. As I have owned or used virtually every camera brand and system on the market and find that the zoom lens on the Leica X Vario is the most high performing compact zoom lens I have ever used, hands down, across the board. The photographs are captured in the raw digital negative (DNG) format and quickly processed for output in Adobe Lightroom. I do not use Photoshop at all for my digital darkroom workflow.
In your opinion, what makes a good travel photograph? I believe that a good photograph must do two things. Firstly, it has to stir the soul and secondly, it has to eventually orient the viewer towards positive action. The image itself could very well be a portrait of a person, an awe-inspiring landscape, the celebratory aspect of culture or society, or the capture of moments and circumstances in life that unsettles us. An image has succeeded when the viewer takes action to either educate himself more about the place, people, culture or event; or to visit in the future; or doing work to improve the situation being portrayed. I find that as I grow older, images that are technically perfect are less appealing than images that appeal to the depths of one's soul.
Where are some of your favourite locations to shoot at? This is a tough one as I have not traveled enough to form a clear consensus. For now I would have to pick Iceland, Bhutan and Indonesia. These places encompass a blend of safety and opportunities to make images.
Iceland, the land of fire and ice has some of the most stunning landscapes I have ever come across. The welcome of the people of Bhutan as they maintain their traditional ways of life in a globalising world are a delight for environmental portraiture. Indonesia herself contains a blend of volcanoes, lush forests, beautiful seascapes, exotic cultures and long history that makes for plenty of opportunities to discover and photograph.
What are some tips you would give to travel photographers looking to improve their skills? One has to take a great deal of photographs, and more importantly, has to seek inspiration by looking at a great number of photographs as well. Photography itself is a medium of failure, where it takes many mistakes and misfires before a keeper emerges. One should being mindful to make every single shot count — preferably avoiding the "spray and pray" route. For me, I believe that it is better to shoot a small pool of images with several keepers, than to make many images with a few keepers. I find that progress is slow and hard won and for me personally, it is very hard to make outstanding images, so being prepared both technically and visually tends to put the odds slightly better in my favor. I've found that masterclasses from esteemed professional photographers to be helpful as well, but most of all, what has given me the most improvement is being under the regular tutelage of a grandmaster photographer. Someone else with vastly more experience and wisdom can quickly correct my mistakes and help me to improve faster than any other way so far, given that I am making a sufficient number of keeper images for critique and feedback. I am fortunate to have found someone like this to help me on a regular basis.
DAVID TEO Street and documentary photographer based in Singapore
When you're on the road, what type of camera do you usually bring with you? I'm never without my Leica M rangefinder camera and my 28, 35, 50 and 90mm lenses. In addition, I also bring along a compact camera such as the Leica X Typ 113.
What's a useful accessory to pack in your camera bag when you're travelling? Extra batteries for the cameras.
Which travel photographers inspire you? While not strictly travel photographers per se, these photographers have travelled the world over for their documentary and reportage pictures and they inspire me the most: Sebastião Salgado, Elliott Erwitt and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
In your opinion, what makes a good travel photograph? A good travel photograph conveys a sense of place and allows glimpses into the culture of the country.
Tell us more about the photographs in your thermal dreamscape series. What process did you take to capture the final shots? I was awestruck by the combination of the rising sun and steam coming out from the geothermal hot springs. It had an ethereal quality and was almost dream-like. That interaction of light and water became a central theme of the composition, with human figures as actors completing the drama that unfolded before me.
I shot the photographs using a Leica X in manual exposure mode to preserve the mood of the scene and exposed for the highlights. I chose to shoot this series in black and white the subtraction of colour allowed for the light forms, steam, and human figures to become the centre of attention.
Where are some of your favourite locations to shoot at?
Tokyo is my favourite city for street photography and exploration of urban life while Iceland is now my favourite place for landscapes.
What are some tips you would give to travel photographers looking to improve their skills?
Study the works of the masters to get inspiration, and get a good pair of shoes — you'll need it!
Where can we see more of your work? You can see more of my work at my blog or follow me on Instagram and Facebook.