THE BLOG
05/05/2014 09:35 am ET Updated Jul 04, 2014

Ralph Velasco Talks About Improving Your Travel Photography

Velasco is a photography instructor and tour guide. Ralph has photographed in over 50 countries; some of the exotic locations have been the Danube River, Cambodia and Nepal. These trips are not photography workshops. They are cultural tours, and Ralph is your expert guide.

Ralph explains, "These guided photo tours are not photography workshops. They are cultural tours, which are casual, very fun and guided by me." Velasco does host tours in the U.S., like Chicago, but most of his tours are international.

For 2014, Velasco's calendar looks very busy. He will be in Morocco, Central Europe, Iceland, Tuscany, Bhutan, Nepal and Cuba. The People-to-People Exchange Program to Cuba is one of Ralph's favorite guided tours. Velasco explains, "Cuba is one of my favorite places to visit and photograph."

One of the most intriguing events in Ralph's life was after he sold one of his restaurants. Velasco bought a ticket and traveled the world in a single journey crossing every single meridian on Earth. "It was one the greatest experiences of my life," he explains.

So Let's Talk about the Shot List

"A shot list is a photographic to do list. It should keep you aware of things to take pictures of when you are out there photographing." Understanding how important the to do list is Ralph created an iTunes app, My Shot Lists for Travel. You don't have to use Ralph's app -- the list can be as simple as writing it in your notebook.

A shot list should urge you to think about what you're going to capture.

You should bring back a well-rounded set of images that truly captures the essence of the place. You want to tell the complete story of the place you went to and not just bring back historical site shots.

My Shot List for Travel app attempts to inspire the photographer. It offers a Challenge Me feature where a new category pops up and it challenges the photographer with an assignment that is normally outside of your comfort zone.

How do you Take People Shots While on Travel

"I am always asked do I solicit for permission before taking pictures of people? My answer is no." Explains Velasco. This does not mean that Ralph is being sneaky or does not want to ask for permission. Ralph simply wants to capture the moment as it develops, naturally. He wants to get the candid shot.

There are obviously exceptions, and when Ralph does ask for permission he will show the person the picture. If they are a vendor, Ralph will buy something from them. But Velasco makes it clear that he is not in the habit of paying people to take pictures of them.

"In many cases, it's a cultural thing if people will even accept your money. In cases like the cigar ladies in Cuba are there to make a tip, so you tip them."

In travel photography, it's very important to be ready to take the picture. This means that you need to know your hardware and settings. While you're traveling, people are not poising for your or waiting for you to figure out your camera settings. Ralph explains, "Many of these shots are once in a lifetime, and they cannot be reproduced once they are gone."

Why Should You Get up Early

"One of the best things you can do to take your photography to a different level is getup earlier," he explains. He is not talking about getting up before sunrise. Velasco is only saying to get out there around 7:00 a.m. or 7:30 a.m.

This is a great time of the morning where the city is just starting to wake up. You will be able to get some incredible shots of the natives going about their morning rituals. Not to mention that, in the early morning, you will have better light. "Seventy-five percent of photography is just being at the right time and place."

So How do You Pack it Up and Back it Up

Some photographer's travel with all their gear. While this might be useful it is not practical, for example, Velasco has travels very lite:

  1. MacBook Pro
  2. External storage
  3. Lots of memory cards
  4. A good power strip
  5. Batteries
  6. All necessary cords

Ralph's backup workflow looks like this:

  • Take the images from the camera and copy them to the MacBook Pro
  • Copy the images from the MacBook Pro to the external drive
  • Never overwrite the cards until you get home

For Ralph, this has been a very reliable backup process. He rarely uses online storage services like Dropbox or Google Drive. In many of the locations, Velasco frequents the Internet connection is poor. So uploading RAW files become problematic with an unreliable Internet connection.

Call To Action

I think that traveling with Ralph Velasco would not only provide you with a great deal of inspiration, but you will also get an incredible cultural education. As I mentioned above, Velasco has a number of upcoming trips.

If you can't afford to join Ralph, then perhaps plan a weekend trip a few hours away from where you live. If you can't do that then perhaps visit your favorite part of town before 8:00 a.m. Don't forget your shot list.