Benefits of Catch-as-Catch-Can Travel Photography

As photographers we may have different views on how to approach travel photography. Some folks like to allow multiple days to photograph key locations. This increases their chances of having ideal conditions. No doubt this can contribute to some truly spectacular photographs. It’s likely that this level of photographic quality wouldn’t have been possible if lighting and weather had been left to chance. A completely different approach is to purposely allow oneself to be at the mercy of Mother Nature’s whims. This article discusses the benefits of ‘catch-as-catch-can’ travel photography.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Seeing and experiencing more within your available travel budget and timeframe.

The vast majority of travel photography imagines created do not generate an income for the photographer who captured them. For many people their travel photography is about experiencing a new or different location rather than making money, or shooting under perfect conditions.

Lake Peorua, New Zealand, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 9.2 mm, efov 24.8 mm, f/8, 1/60, ISO-160

During a recent trip to New Zealand my wife and I had no plans to visit Lake Peorua. The weather was cold and rainy that day. So, we decided to deviate from our planned photographic route. We grabbed our cameras and toured through some countryside not previously explored, to see what we may find. This deviation happened to take us past Lake Peorua during a very short, but fortunate, break in the rain.

Hooker’s Sea Lions at Waipapa Point, New Zealand, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 70 mm, efov 189 mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-800

Another of our impromptu explorations was a visit to Waipapa Point. This led us to a chance encounter with some Hooker’s Sea Lions, the most endangered species of sea lions in the world.

Waihi Falls, New Zealand, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 13 mm, efov 35.1 mm, f/16, 1/3, ISO-160, tripod assisted.
Creating time for other travel photography adventures.

Not choosing to be tied down to one location for multiple days waiting for ideal conditions frees up time for other travel photography adventures. Like driving more than 10 kilometres on a one lane gravel road to reach Waihi Falls. Trust me… every time my wife and I see the waterfall photograph above we have vivid memories of that drive!

En route to Wairoa, New Zealand, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 19.2 mm, efov 51.8 mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-400

There is an old adage that… “It’s not the destination that’s important, it’s the journey”. The experiences that each of us have during our travels is testament to the truth of that old adage. The image above is certainly not an award winner. The memory of shielding my camera from wind and rain while standing on an exposed lookout to capture this photograph, will endure in my old, porous brain.

Wharf in Glenorchy, New Zealand, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 10 mm, efov 27 mm, f/8, 1/200, ISO-160

During our trips to New Zealand we typically travel over 5,000 kilometres during a month long photography tour visit. Taking a catch-as-catch-can travel photography approach allows us to see and experience more each and every day of our journey. Not waiting for ideal conditions for multiple days at the same spot, frees up time. A precious commodity that can be used to do return drives to dead end locations like Glenorchy… pictured above.

Herbertville, New Zealand, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 30 mm, efov 81 mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-160

Or Herbertville…

Castle Point, New Zealand, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 12.1 mm, efov 32.7 mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO-160

Or Castle Point…

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 27.2 mm, efov 73.4 mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO-160

Or Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park…

Cape Reinga, New Zealand, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 10.9 mm, efov 29.4 mm, f/7.1, 1/400, ISO-160

Or Cape Reinga.

Pushing hand-holding skills to capture an image.

By definition, we have everything necessary when shooting at a pre-planned location. Other than perhaps waiting for ideal photographic conditions to occur. Shooting on a ‘catch-as-catch-can’ basis is often the opposite experience.

Seven Stairs to Heaven waterfall, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 13 mm, efov 35.1 mm, f/16, 1/8, ISO-160

We can find ourselves without key pieces of gear at hand, like a tripod and neutral density filters, when an image opportunity presents itself. Rather than miss capturing an image, we may choose to push our skills by shooting hand-held at 1/8 of a second, and stopping our lens down well past our normal shooting range.

Speeding up composition skills and exposure decisions.

When we are shooting on a catch-as-catch-can travel photography basis we don’t have the luxury of time and preparation. Image opportunities can be immediate and fleeting.

En route to Doubtful Sound, New Zealand, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 44.2 mm, efov 119.3 mm, f/5.6, 1/400, ISO-800

We may find ourselves on a tour bus when a photographic opportunity suddenly appears through the front window of the bus. In a matter of a second or two we need to frame our image to avoid glare from the window of the bus. Then quickly make our exposure decisions in terms of shutter speed, aperture and ISO.

Flower at Cosy Nook, New Zealand, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 100 mm, efov 270 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-800

We may recognize a photographic opportunity while driving on a single lane gravel lane during a downpour. Then ask our partner to quickly roll down their window so we can shoot through it to photograph a flower on the opposite side of the lane.

Challenging existing skills in post.
Paia Point Campground, New Zealand, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 10 mm, efov 27 mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO-400

Shooting under sub-optimal conditions can make things more difficult in post. This can be a good thing if it challenges us to experiment more in post and grow our post processing skills as a result.

Waiting for optimal photographic conditions can be a very wise decision. Especially if it helps to create powerful and moving images. Like all things photographic… everything comes with some kind of trade-off. Sometimes capturing an experience, and the memory that a photograph can enshrine, can be worth it.

If you would like to read more about photographing in New Zealand, you may enjoy our eBook, New Zealand Tip-to-Tip. It is available for purchase and download at a cost of $12.99 Canadian.

Technical Note:
All photographs in this article were captured using camera gear as per the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO PhotoLab, CS6 and the Nik Collection.

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Article is Copyright 2019 Thomas Stirr. All images are Copyright 2016 or 2018 Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, duplication or adaptation of any kind is allowed without written consent. If you see this article reproduced anywhere else it is an unauthorized and illegal use. Posting comments on offending websites and calling out individuals who steal intellectual property is always appreciated!

2 thoughts on “Benefits of Catch-as-Catch-Can Travel Photography”

  1. Tom,

    I understand what you’re writing about as it’s very close to home — even when I was still active in doing travel assignments, shrinking budgets mean little to no ocular inspections in advance. So we have to contend with what nature gave us on shoot day, banking safety shots with the thinking of going back if given a chance by circumstances/sked/weather to reshoot.

    One other thing you said that struck home was the importance of the journey, the experience, over the destination. What social media, particularly, Instagram, has warped is the illusion of a postcard-pretty vacation. It’s as if nature wears this set of pretty, filter-like, colors all the time; and if we get to a location under less than ideal or foul weather, it isn’t pretty/worth a snap.

    You also raised an important point — testy conditions do test our photographic and imaginative skills. Do we see a different mood given a scene different from what Google search normally shows? Is the prevailing condition augmentable with the use of post-processing?


    1. Hi Oggie,

      Thanks for adding your experiences and perspectives! I think we do nature a disservice if we only photograph during ideal ‘post card’ conditions. The world around us has many moods and our cameras give us the potential to capture and interpret those variations.

      Each morning when I wake up I take a deep breath and look around… giving thanks that I am still here on this spinning orb. I then remind myself that today is the best day that I have, and that tomorrow is little more than a promissory note. Keeping that philosophic touchstone near during the day does wonders in how one experiences life.


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