Hack #4: The speed electric
Urban travel photography doesn't have to be all about taxis, traffic, landmarks and #peoplewalkingpastwalls. If you know where to look, there can be a lot more adrenaline lurking in plain sight. In Hack #2 I discussed shooting long exposures at night, but today's post is the opposite: finding action in full sunlight, and freezing it with a fast shutter speed.
Skill in reading the light and finding a canvas for your subject are again crucial (see Hack #1), but first, decide what kind of action you're after. The classics are skaters, break dancers and parkour free runners - because they hijack otherwise mundane streetscapes for thrills.
Related story: 5 hacks for travel photography that pops: Part 3
And because these kinds of sports are visually performative, their exponents are often relaxed (sometimes even a little too eager) to have their talent appreciated behind a lens. Still, it never hurts to introduce yourself and ask if everything's cool - particularly when there are certain protocols to observed (like not entering the skate bowl without pre-coordinating with the BMX rider who just dropped in).
As a side note there's no point hiding behind your camera - because it's obvious what you're doing. And if you start a conversation you might even make some new friends (this is a good approach for a lot of travel photography). You'll also learn about other people, places and events to shoot - as well as build enough rapport to do setups.
Related story: 5 hacks for travel photography that pops: Part 2
Once you're in there you'll need to find an interesting perspective, so don't be afraid to climb, crawl and crouch your way around until something works. I took the photographs illustrating Hack #4 as a road-test of the new Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II and its mind-bogglingly fast electronic shutter speed of 1/16000th of a second.
For kicks, I pushed the shutter speed right to its fastest in most of these images, but shooting at anything over a thousandth of a second should be fine - and that way you won't have to compromise with a high ISO (for letting so little light in with a hyper-fast shutter speed).
Related story: 5 hacks for travel photography that pops: Part 1
Getting in as close to the action as you can (safely) is important too, as might be a wide-angle lens (I used the M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm F2.8 Pro) so you don't end up cutting some dude's head out of frame as he flies over a jump.
Finally, once you've found an angle, compose and wait. Concentrate on your timing - even for the moments when you go into full burst mode at 10 frames per second.
Cam Cope was awarded Travel Photographer of the Year 2014 by the Australian Society of Travel Writers, and teaches short courses in Contemporary Travel Photography at RMIT University in Melbourne.