Cover Every Angle: The Only 2 Travel Photography Lenses You Need

Well, almost every angle. We don’t mean to be misleading, but unless you’re capturing wildlife from a mile away or shooting macro underwater, these two lenses are the only ones you need to confidently capture 99% of your travel pics.


Considerations

Type of travel

Everyone travels different. Everyone shoots differently. You’re going to want a couple of drama-free lenses that can keep up with you, your itinerary and your subjects.

Weight

The adage “ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain” is used in basic training by the US Marine Corps. The same truth applies when packing for your travel photography trips. Camera stuff is heavy so only carry what you need, not what you might need. (Put that telephoto lens down and step away.)

Versatility

Travel photography presents infinite subjects and angles to explore from people to landscapes to architecture. You don’t know what you’re going to see and as a result, a lens (or two) that is as versatile as possible in terms of zoom, size and lens speed is worth investigating and worth investing in.


24-70mm: The most versatile zoom lens

Recommended: Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens

All-in-one versatility

This is the ultimate all-in-one, do-it-all lens. The 24-70mm is a standard zoom lens that can capture the majority of the shots you want. You can easily shift from wide angle for landscapes to close-ups for perfect portraits—without changing lenses.

All-round capability

Although not quite a macro lens, the 24-70mm is more than capable of taking high quality close-ups and offers an impressive depth of field for you to play around with. It’s low light capabilities also ensure your opportunities and image quality don’t go down when the sun does.

Build and size

Generally speaking, most 24-70mm lenses are built to withstand the odd bump and bruise here and there. Relatively short in length and manageable in heft, 24-70mm won’t be a burden to your neck or shoulders and can easily be stowed in whatever bag you’re toting.

Alternative: The 24-105mm

Just as spectacularly versatile as its more popular cousin, the 24-105mm lens offers similar image quality and shoot capabilities for about the same price (depending on what model you choose). The only difference is that it offers 35mm extra focal length. Up to you if that extra length is worth the extra weight.


35mm: The perfect prime lens

Recommended: Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens

Superior image quality

One of the most significant advantages of a prime lens over a zoom is better
image quality due to the fact that they don’t have extra glass inside their body
that zoom lenses require. What it lacks in zoom versatility, it makes up in
sharpness.

Shot versatility

Just because it doesn’t have the ability to zoom, doesn’t mean it’s not versatile.
The 35mm is versatile enough to deliver on both impressive wide angle and close-up shots with low light capabilities that make it great for indoors and outdoors.

One of its signature features is that it allows you to capture your subject relative to its environment. A person walking in their neighbourhood. A house in the forest. It is this ability of the 35mm, painting a complete story with context, that
makes it a favoured travel companion.  

Build and size

It’s got to be one of the smallest, lightest lens types around. It’s compact size not only makes it a dream to carry, but also allows you to blend in a little better than your telephoto-wielding counterparts.

Price

For the most part, prime lenses are cheaper than their zoom lenses of the same entry level. Sharper images at half the size and often half the price? You do the maths.

Interaction with subject

Although zoom lenses are convenient, they can often rob you of a level of intimacy with your subject that only a prime lens like the 35mm can arrange. And it shows in the shot. The 35mm forces you to move to get your perfect shot, often requiring you to get up close and personal with your subject.

Not only does this enrich your travel and travel photography experience, but gives you a unique angle of the world that perhaps many miss.

Alternative: The 50mm

The debate between the best prime lens, 35mm vs 50mm, is a debate with no winners. With its extra 15mm focal length, the ‘nifty fifty’ 50mm offers you slightly better depth of field than the 35 mm—which means better bokeh (background blur).

Now you know what lenses you need, it’s time to learn how to use them. Sign up to ‘Travel Photography with Richard I’Anson’ today and learn all the knowledge and know-how you need from one of the world’s most-awarded travel photographers.

The Not-Quite-A–Beginner’s Guide to Photographing the Northern Lights

No two auroras are alike. Similarly, guides to photographing them.
Some of them are too basic, others, too technical. If you’re not quite a seasoned pro, but know you’re way around an f-stop, this is the right guide for you — less of the stuff you already know, more of the stuff you need to know.


Hamnoy, Norway

Before you even get started

We can’t stress enough how important it is to know your equipment before heading up there — and we don’t just mean your camera. If you have to figure out what this camera setting means or what that thingy on the tripod does, you’re in for a very frustrating morning. Get well acquainted with your gear now, enjoy a stress-free shoot later.

Where to go

The Northern lights can be seen from all the countries within the ‘aurora zone’ in the Northern Hemisphere. The closer you are to this region, the better your odds of catching those spectacular visions in the sky.

The best places include:

  • Alaska
  • Northern Canada
  • Iceland
  • Norway
  • Sweden
  • Finland
  • Russia
  • Greenland

However, they can also be seen from:

  • Faroe Islands
  • Estonia
  • Scotland
  • Ireland
  • China

Bet you never associated Aurora Borealis with China, right?


When to go

First and foremost, there is no guarantee you will see the Northern Lights. It sucks, but that’s just the nature of, well, nature. The best season to see the Northern Lights does depend on where you go, but in general September to March offers the best chance to see the lights.


What to pack

Warm clothing

You’ll be down the road from Santa’s place — layer up and layer up wisely.

Tripod

We’ve said it before in our sunrise photography checklist, your tripod is the foundation of all late night/early morning photography.

You’ll be setting up 10–20 second exposures so ensure you have sturdy, shake-free one. If that means investing in a new one, consider how much time, effort and money it’s costing you to get to the Northern Lights. It’s a small price to pay for huge peace of mind.

Camera with Manual Mode

You’ll need full control over your ISO, f-stop and shutter speed.

Full frame / 35mm camera

They provide better overall image quality with lower noise when shooting in low light situations.

Wide angle lens

A quality wide angle lens (14–24mm range) with an aperture setting of f/2.8–f/4.

Batteries

Did you know that the cold drains batteries faster? Pack extra batteries, and then pack a few extra on top just in case.

Remote control

These are technically optional, however, like the tripod, if you’re going all the way up there, why risk even the slightest bit of shake? Both digital and cable remotes are good, however, the cable remotes have been known to freeze in particularly cold conditions.

Torch

The skies might be lit up, but on the ground, you won’t be able to see a thing. In addition to it being a safety and convenience thing, your humble torch or headlamp can be used at a pinch for different camera effects (see below).

Camping chair

This one gets overlooked all the time. Unless you like sitting in the cold wet outdoors, we recommend bringing along a cheap collapsible camping chair.


 

Hamnoy, Norway

What to check

Like all outdoor shoots, you’re at the mercy of the weather. However, if you
do your homework before you head out, you’ll increase your aurora chances
astronomically.

Clear, dark skies

Dark skies shouldn’t be a problem up north in the winter, however, clear skies are far more unpredictable. Be vigilant and check the forecast for overcast mornings as well as rain or windstorms that generally precede clearer skies.

Kp index

Thankfully, there’s something that measures aurora activity. Without getting into the science of it, the Kp index is measured on a scale from 0 to 9, with 9 indicating high aurora activity.

You can still witness and capture some beautiful auroras even when activity is low. Remember, the activity can change within the same morning, so if the lights aren’t glowing to your satisfaction, hopefully, you’ll have some wiggle room in your schedule to wait or try a new location.

Aurora forecasts

Although there are global aurora forecasts like this one. Local and area-specific forecasts are better. For example, Iceland has its own, accurate aurora forecast you can find here.


 

Hamnoy, Norway

Camera settings for the Northern Lights

You’ve packed the right gear, you’ve done your homework and now you’re finally on location staring up at the Northern lights in all its green-lit glory.

So, how do you photograph it?

1. Set focus to

Flick that dial over to ‘M’ and you can get on with the trickiest part of the
Setup — trying to focus on something in the dark. If you don’t get this first
step right, your photos won’t be sharp.

By setting the focus to infinity, we’re basically making sure that your images
are sharp and in focus in the far horizon.

The best way to do this is to focus your camera during the day.
Yes, this might make things slightly inconvenient, but it really is the best way
to ensure your photos come out perfectly in focus.

Thankfully it’s quite easy to do. Switch your lens to Manual Mode, focus on infinity, adjust as needed and then mark your lens in the right position. This can be done with a Sharpie or some tape. Then, when it comes time to shoot, you can simply set your lens in position and fire away.

If you aren’t able to set your focus during the day, then look for distant
bright-lit objects (not auroras) like a house or highway to focus on.

2. Set aperture value at f2.4

Set your aperture as wide as possible. f2.4–f4 is recommended.  

3. Set exposure time to 10–15 sec

Your exposure times will depend on the speed of the auroras. If they’re moving slowly, start with a 12–20 second exposure. For faint auroras, you might need to slow it right down to  20–25 seconds. Conversely, If your subject is fast moving 5–10 seconds might be all you need.

4. Set ISO at 1600

If the auroras are very bright, we recommend shooting at ISO 800, however generally a good value to start at is 1600 and work your way up if it’s darker.

5. Set custom white balance

Shoot RAW. It’s best to capture aurora and night sky shots in Kelvin (K) Mode. 2800–4000K is a good starting point.


BONUS: Taking an ‘Aurora selfie’

What you’ll need:

  • Friend and a flashlight/headlamp OR a manually operated camera flash

Simply use all the suggested settings as above (with adjustments) and stand perfectly still in frame. Then, at any time during the exposure period, get your friend to quickly flash you with the light. That’s it!

Told you that torch would come in handy.

Preparing for an adventure up North? Make sure you pack the right skills and know-how to capture every moment. Sign up to ‘Travel Photography with Richard I’Anson’ today and learn from one of the world’s most-awarded travel photographers.