Travel Photography 101 - An Interview with Photographer Nathan Lee Allen

What are the essential gear items for getting started in travel photography?

I think for anyone starting in travel photography, knowing they want to make this a serious hobby or career, they need several things.

First, they need a solid full-frame DSLR or mirrorless camera. It doesn’t have to be a flagship model or the best camera the camera manufacturer offers, but you need a full-frame camera. The reason I say full-frame over crop-sensor, is you get a much bigger camera sensor, which means greater depth of field, better low light performance, and your lenses stay true to their focal. All these reasons are incredibly important for travel photography.

Second, you need quality glass. I always tell people, invest in quality glass over a quality body every time. When you have an amazing lens, it truly changes the way you shoot, and expands the realm of possibilities. For example, the lower the flat aperture, the more expensive the lens, due to its ability to perform in poor lighting conditions.

You have to invest in quality glass, and to me, that comes first in the world of progression, over buying a new camera body. Always invest in lenses that can grow with you, because a camera body is much more easily adaptable to a camera kit than lenses.

Third, you need fast, professional memory cards and fast, durable SSD hard drives. You want memory cards that can read and write at blazing speeds, so you don’t get caught sitting and waiting in the mist of a beautiful moment, and your camera is on lock down because your memory card is really slow.

Same with SSD drives. You want one or two that are super portable and durable, and can withstand a drop or spill. You need these in the field to back up, protect, and organize your content, while freeing up space on your devices.

Fourth, you need a portable, reliable tripod that can handle your camera and lenses.

Fifth, you a camera bag to fit all of this in, and one that can handle the elements and abuse you sometimes give you a bag when you travel and are in the outdoors.  

What advice would you give to aspiring adventurer photographers, looking to create a career out of photography?

Go for it. But here are two things to remember:

One, passion is what gets you started, but perseverance is makes you prevail. You can have all the passion for adventure or travel photography, but if you don’t persevere through the hard times, you won’t ever succeed, and you’ll probably give up.

Two, set goals and reach them. Don’t just do this because everyone else is. Do it because you’re passionate about it and you want to define or dominate a niche you love. So set short and long term goals, brand yourself, and define a focus for your craft and personal brand that is consistent from day one.  

What is one photography tip you wish you had known when you first started shooting?

Patience. In the beginning of my career, I gave up on so many shots, and lost out on opportunities. Patience is a virtue for a reason, and when you shoot, it’s most important to hold on and wait because the best moments come when you least expect them.

How do you sustain an income traveling as a photographer and Influencer?

You have to be willing to put in the work, reaching out to brands and potential clients, but most importantly, you MUST be focused on developing long term relationships. Always put forth your best work, and make sure to deliver the best for your clients. Developing that trust and foundation will lead to much more consistent and profitable gigs down the road.

What is the most important factor when setting up for “The Shot.”

You have to put forth the effort to research these locations beforehand. Many photo destinations have peak seasons that offer the best light, weather, and conditions. You have to do your research to know what goes into capturing the best possible shot.

You also need to set aside time to scout the location beforehand. Sometimes scouting takes an hour or two, to a full day. It depends on the complexity of the project, but putting yourself at that destination, allowing for the best angles and perspective, truly make a difference when capturing the best possible shot.

Is it more about the right camera gear or the skill behind the camera?

I think it's a little bit of both, but if I had to choose one or the other, I would say skill. The best photographers can work with entry level cameras and create masterpieces. For me, if you have solid glass and great technique, can you create anything.

How important is the post processing element of photography?

It’s incredibly important. A lengthy knowledge of post process software like Lightroom or Photoshop can really allow for much more control on what you can create and develop as a photographer.

Post work also can define your work as a photographer. You can brand your work based on your custom edits and presets you develop. People are sometimes drawn to something as simple as an editing style, and that can set you apart from other photographers if you use post work to your advantage.  

What skills are the most important to editing a photo?

For me, it’s about color, and balancing the hue, saturation, and luminance. That is when your image comes alive, when you adjust and balance color levels.

What is you favorite travel destination for photography?

This is the hardest question ever. I would have to say Yosemite National Park if I had to narrow down to one location (and I’m hurting inside, leaving out so many incredible destinations I’ve been to). Yosemite is just so unique. You have thousands of feet of sheer, Sierra Nevada granite and some of the most epic waterfalls on the planet, all in one place. All four seasons in Yosemite are incredibly amazing to photograph, and super diverse. There’s just so much to shoot, and it’s a mecca for landscape and adventure photography.

What are the top 3 locations you want to explore next?

I hope to visit the Peruvian Andes, Patagonia, and the Dolomites this year. These have been high on my list for quite some time.

Is landscape photography really about chasing the light - Sunrise & Sunset?

Yes, to an extent. Sunrise, sunset, and golden hour definitely offers the best light.

However, you can create breathtaking photos with the right conditions, especially if there is a storm rolling in or breaking. I always tell photographers to not let a “peak time period” limit them. Be ready to shoot throughout the day because you never know what kind of incredible conditions could emerge.

How important is Instagram to your business and how do you separate yourself from the crowd?

It’s definitely important, especially since I’ve grown to over 100K followers now, and I’ve gotten several jobs, simply from marketing or social media managers of brands finding my page and reaching out. Instagram is like a living portfolio for your work, so it’s definitely important to my business.

However, it’s important to not put all your eggs in one basket, and have a business that still thrives outside of Instagram. Whether that’s diversifying into new social channels or growing commercial work that isn’t reliant on social media to succeed, do what you must to keep a business strong and self-sustaining.

In regards to standing out and separating yourself from the crowd, I think it can happen in two ways:

First, you can stand out by developing your personal brand and editing style. It can be a distinct preset or style, or a look that is unique to you.

Second, you can stand out by pushing the limit to what has been seen or photographed before. This could be shooting places that few people have captured before, or capturing a moment that is rare or fleeting.

The other amazing aspect to travel, outdoor, and adventure photography is that each day is unique when visiting most places around the world. You could go to a place that is “not unique” technically or popular to shoot and still capture a unique experience that is incredibly rare and beautiful. You just have to make the effort to put yourself out there and go to these places, and push the limits to what is possible to create.

Follow along with Nathan @nathanleeallen

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