There are lot’s of travel photo tutorials, which tell you the basics:
1. Seize the golden moment = wake up ridiculously early
2. Be earlier than fellow photographers to get the best spot for tripod on a crowded photosight = wake up even earlier
3. Seize the blue hour = miss all the night activities or good night’s sleep
4. Take your time = miss all the other atractions
5. Use tripod
6. Travel light = leave your tripod home
And so on…
In reality, unless you are one of the lucky ones who actually travel alone and just for photography, there are lot’s of limitations on taking travel photos. Your trip abroad may have some other main venue than photography, which greatly diminishes the ability to take the best possible photos. You may be e.g. traveling with family or friends, you may be on a work trip with a tight schedule, you may be visiting some conference with a full day schedule and evening parties. You may be traveling with the significant other who demands all your attention. All these limit your photographic activities. So, some thoughts how I try to get the best of it all.
Travel light, this is actually a good tip and I usually apply it to all my trips. During few day trips I try to travel just with the hand luggage. This calls for good backpack that can fit in airline regulations and still hold your stuff. To be able to get DSLR camera with a good lense I prefer Lowerpro Video Back 350 AW (no money gotten for this ad). This backpack can still hold extra pair of shoes, trousers, shirts and a laptop when packed tightly.
Prepare for long walks. For this you’ll need comfortable shoes. If the main venue of the trip requires some fancier shoes than the comfortable walking shoes, I will try squeeze the comfortable ones into my luggage. I also prefer a sling strap over the standard camera strap which puts all the camera weight on the neck. If I get a change to do a photowalk during a trip abroad I want to utilize it fully, which usually calls for long walks. Planning the eating is also crucial as without energy one does not accomplish much.
Blend in. I often carry my camera with a sling strap that I wear under an unbuttoned shirt or jacket. That way even a camera with a big lense is quite inconspicuous. If there is a good opportunity for a streetphoto, it is quick to raise the camera and snap the photo and just move on like any casual walker. It also does not attract criminals as much when carrying the camera in a more hidden way.
Plan ahead, choose you priorities. If you are not able visit all the attractions, pick the ones you want to shoot most and plan your route accordingly. Check the opening times of the places and try to plan some photo activites that fit in your travel schedule. Remember that the most popular tourist attractions tend to have long queues during high seasons. Actually it may sometime help if you are photowalking during some odd hours.
Be fast, take plenty of photos, dont hurry, but be fast. If you stay at one sight waiting for the best timing or trying to find the perfect spot you will miss the other attractions. You need to be fast, but of course when arriving on a new sight try to calculate the best view point and the best framing.
Be aware, seize the opportunities, be creative. The best photos are usually those you missed as your camera was not ready. So be ready, like a scout.
But also take a break. Have some pauses to relax. I went to London Eye and like all the others I took lots of photos of the London city. All the similar nightly skyline types. When I realized that I already took photos from each and every angle I stopped and started to actually enjoy the view without the camera. I raised my head and saw the next car raising next to ours against the skyline and the view was like from some science fiction movie. So I raised my camera and took photos of other tourists in that bubble next to ours. That was one the best London photos I got. I would have missed it, if I had not stopped for a while to relax without the camera.
Accept the realities. If you do not have tripod or any other way of supporting your camera for a good evening scenery photo, skip it and try to take some other photos. In my London trip I went to Buckingham palace, but it was late at night. All the photos were bad. I had no tripod nor any extra time. I only got a photo of the sign saying that the next changing of guards will take place next morning. I did not wait. I moved on and got some other nice London by night photos.