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Top Travel Photography Tips: Interview With Neil Buchan-Grant

Holiday photographs often do more to evoke the memories of our travels than anything else. Capturing our experiences on camera is important to us, so if you were going to ask someone for some top tips on taking pictures, the British Travel Press Photographer of the Year Winner for 2013, would probably be a good place to start. Well we are in luck as that particular expert just so happens to be one of our Spontaneity Champion competition judges. Award winning photographer, Neil Buchan-Grant, is helping us pick our Spontaneity Champion over at www.lovelivinglastminute.com, using his eye for images and creative expertise to help choose a worthy winner. However today we have turned the tables on Neil to ask him what inspires him to be spontaneous with a camera:

What inspired you to become a travel photographer?

"I wouldn’t call it ‘inspiration’ as such, more like luck I’d say. I’ve always loved traveling and photography so I’ve always done both as much as possible. My break came when I entered a competition in the Independent on Sunday and won it. The prize was a commission to shoot a book for Insight Guides and that shoot fortunately led to many others."
© Neil Buchan-Grant

What is your favourite country to shoot in, and why?

"I’d have to say Italy. I love the people there, they have a gregarious nature and you have to concede, they can be rather stylish!"

lastminute.com is looking for its first Spontaneity Champion. What has been your favourite spontaneous trip? Can you include an image from this trip and an anecdote on how you captured it?

"Probably when I was visiting my brother in Jakarta a few years ago. I managed to get a cheap flight out to Sydney for 3 nights. I’d never been to Australia so I thought it would be a good opportunity. I had to fly overnight and I don’t sleep well in transit, so I crashed out in the hotel and woke up about 10pm! I was determined to make the most of the city so I headed out and ended up having an amazing night, I met some great people, a few of whom I still keep in touch with, they really know how to enjoy themselves in that town! I knew an old friend from the UK living in Sydney so I spent much of the trip seeing him and his family but I did manage to squeeze in a quick half-day shoot around the harbour with a model who drove in from the Blue Mountains. The only actual travel pictures I took were on the plane back to Jakarta, and that’s where I made one of my favourites which is of the northernmost tip of Australia."
Australia from above ©Neil Buchan-Grant

What travel image, from throughout your career, are you most proud of?

"It’s very difficult to choose one favourite but I’ve always been rather fond of this one. It’s a shot made on the Aeolian Island of Panarea, off Sicily. I was there shooting a guidebook and finished up a day ahead of schedule but I still had a night booked in my hotel. The girl in the picture was the hotel receptionist. She had a friend who owned the best boutique on the island so we spent the best part of 2 days doing a spontaneous fashion shoot around the island. I like this shot because for me anyway it captures the glamour of Panarea."
Spontaneous shot - Panarea, Sicily - ©Neil Buchan-Grant

What makes a good travel photograph? Would be great to hear about location, subject, composition, lighting, atmosphere etc…

"A good travel photograph is any image that makes you want to get your credit card out and book a flight on the spot! For me those are usually ones where people feature. I prefer natural light and preferably at the start or end of the day when it’s warmer and softer."

Do you have any tips on shooting with camera phones and compact cameras for all the wannabe spontaneous adventurers out there?

"You can still get great shots with your phone and compact camera; it’s really not about the size of your camera anymore. When shooting your friends and family, most people position their subject(s) in the sun, so they end up squinting or having to wear sunglasses. Try shooting with the sun behind the subject and use your flash (forced flash) you’ll get a much more dramatic and fun photo. If you’re shooting on a smartphone, get Snapseed. It’s an app which is a cut down version of some very professional software and it works brilliantly. Just don’t go mad with those crazy effects!"

You must have to leave on impromptu trips frequently. How do you make sure you are ready to leave at a moment's notice?

"I wash my clothes regularly so they’re always ready to go and I have a lot of lightweight performance clothing that doesn’t need ironing. I have one huge hard case I have been using for years, it’s so easy to pack, and I tend to just leave a lot of frequently needed items in it. My camera gear is the biggest issue, you want to have that with you in your hand luggage if possible and with airlines allowing less and less weight in the cabin, that can be difficult. I sold all my big heavy DSLR cameras and lenses and now use smaller Olympus gear. I can now fit 2 cameras and 10 lenses in a small bag."
Neil Buchan-Grant

You're spending Christmas in New York this year, how do you make sure you are prepared to shoot those amazing, spontaneous moments?

"I tend to carry one camera in my hand all the time and have another with a different lens ready in my shoulder bag or just on my shoulder. To be able to be spontaneous in your photography, you have to really plan ahead. You have to have your equipment set up for the conditions you’re going to be shooting in and have plenty of 'spare everything’ batteries, memory cards, filters etc. There is a certain joy to be had just going out with a single body and lens but in the main, I take it all:) For hot countries I have a waist belt which has a pack on the front and one on each side. Together with the obligatory silly sun hat and the lack of a regular shaving regime, you can end up looking like a bit of a nutter, but I usually find it helps get a smile out of the locals!"

Thanks Neil!

To find out more about Neil and his amazing photographs - check out his portfolio. To follow Neil's adventures online, catch him on Twitter @buchangrant .