Travel Photography - Questions and Answers

Dettifoss waterfall, North East Iceland, (photo by Ming Tang-Evans)
Dettifoss waterfall, North East Iceland

Ming Tang-Evans answers some of our questions

One of our key photographers, Ming Tang-Evans, stopped by the office the other week and kindly answered some questions about his experiences of travel photography. He was the photographer for our latest shoot in Morocco (our destination of the month for September) and has also just returned from an assignment in Paris.


Ming, how do you approach somebody to take their photo when you may not speak their language?

Firstly, it depends on if you want something candid or more engaged. If you want something more than just a quick snap then it's a bit like speed-dating. Smile, point to the camera, smile again, sign language, charm... Then you've just got to weigh up whether to back off or go for it. There's no set approach, but be confident and prepared and don't mess about. But don't be disrespectful and just 'gun and run'. When you've got what you want, have a chat or show them the photos or at the very least smile and offer some sign language of thanks. If you can make even just a small connection with someone local, that can be one of the most rewarding and memorable aspects of travel photography.

Do you always show people the photos you have taken of them?

Sometimes I show them the photos afterward when you're thanking them and explaining what you're doing.

Do they ever want them deleted?

I think I've only had one occasion when someone wanted me to delete the photos.


How much do you tweak the pictures you take in Photoshop?

I shoot all my images as RAW files so they all need an overall tweak because they don't look very natural straight out of the camera. If I do manipulate images, it's usually just to make them look more 'natural' and to evoke the feeling of how I saw the scene when I took the photo.  

How much planning goes into a photo? Do you have an idea of what you want before you are even in the country?

Planning for a trip is two-fold. Firstly, just to have an overall idea of what I'm going to encounter so I can think about packing. And secondly for visual reference, but that's a double-edged sword. On the one hand it's good to have ideas and think about what you could do beforehand. But on the other, looking at too many images can prejudice your creativity at the time and you just end up doing what everyone else has done before. It's all about making the best images you can at that moment, being flexible in your thinking and being open to serendipity. It's the unexpected that can give you the most interesting images and the biggest adrenalin rush.

How do you adjust your technique when shooting outdoors on grey/bad weather days? 

If there are interior shots that I can do then I concentrate on those. Otherwise, it's just one of those things that you can't control. If I  don't have the luxury of waiting for better weather another day, I just have to go with it and try to get something dramatically different from all the usual postcard perfect scenes..

Are there any places you haven’t visited and are desperate to?

Too many places, too little time. It's like trying to write a bucket list. Machu Pichu would be amazing, a virgin tropical rainforest somewhere, the Great Barrier Reef...

What camera gear do you take with you?

I've come over all old school recently. For the Morocco trip I took a trio of prime lenses - wide, standard and telephoto, albeit esoteric - a 24mm tilt-shift, 50mm macro, and a fast 135mm. I also had a 24-105mm zoom lens as backup. For cameras I took two DSLR bodies and an old compact camera that is over the hill now but shoots RAW files and still produces decent results. And I always find it hard not to travel without a carbon fibre tripod.  

Are you ever tempted to just use a small compact digital camera all the time instead of carry around bags of heavy equipment?

Yes, in terms of convenience and weight saving it would be great in theory because some compact cameras are more than capable for publication quality. I usually carry one anyway, but that's on top of all the other gear. It's more about having the right tool for what I want to do. For me that means using a DLSR because I can use the lenses I like and also because it forces me to think more about the process rather than just snapping away in program mode, spraying and praying. I think the real benefit of compact cameras comes from being unobtrusive. They're great for stealth photography and candids because I can just pretend to be a tourist. However, some recent cameras are really pushing what's possible so I might rethink things when I'm next in the market for a new compact camera. It would be really interesting to have that feeling of freedom. But for now, if I were to go lightweight, I would probably choose a DSLR and a single prime lens.

Have you ever had any bad experiences when out taking pictures?

None that have turned out particularly badly. I did have a rifle waved at me in Beijing, and I was unexpectedly shouted at and rudely harranged by a shop manager in Tokyo (everyone else was so polite).