Whenever I travel, photography plays an important part for me. This is not only because I enjoy the process of taking pictures itself, but also because I take great value and pride in capturing moments that are precious to me and others. Moments that without the capture may be forgotten over time.
Besides preserving special moments, photography also helps me to create experiences. – With a camera in my hands and a strong dose of curiosity, I have gained experiences that I would have not made without this hobby of mine. Climbing a mountain peak to capture a beautiful scenery from an advantageous perspective, getting up early to catch the sunrise and making acquaintances with awesome people through the help of photography are examples of how photography enriches my travels.
While some of my favourite images with high emotional value are casual shots depicting people in a moment in time, I also aim to capture landscape and cityscape scenes that show off the beauty and/or atmosphere of the respective destination.
A beautiful sunset on an Australian beach, a buzzing Vietnamese metropolis by night, a moss-covered temple complex in Cambodia, the unreal colour of a New Zealand lake, the sunrays that break through a thick forest in the Austrian Alps, a Japanese woman in a gorgeous kimono. These are only some examples where I was fortunate to take away high-quality photographs, thanks to having learned a thing or two about travel photography. Being mostly self-taught, I now want to provide a couple of tips that will hopefully help you to improve your own travel photography. Having said that, reading this post or watching online tutorials alone does not make you a better photographer. You have to get out there and practice. But don’t worry, it will be fun!
Tip 1: Care about light
Personally, I almost never use a flash but instead take all my photographs in natural light. The most beautiful outdoor images I’ve shot have been captured in the morning or evening time and I recommend you to get up early and to stay out until late in order to capture the best light of the day for photography. The harsh midday sun is mostly less favourable for your images than the warm light that the hours before and after sunrise/sunset provide. That being said, there are still lots of gorgeous images to be taken during the day!
Tip 2: Composition
Ever photographed in an amazing place only to be disappointed when looking at the resulting flat, boring looking images at home? You probably have not thought much about composing your image. Considering the following aspects will dramatically improve your photography!
One basic rule of photography is the rule of thirds, meaning that you should break an image into thirds horizontally and vertically and then place important parts in your photograph along those lines and especially on the generated intersections of those lines. Cameras usually have a grid feature that displays those lines on the display/in the viewfinder for you and further helps you to get straight horizons. I have this feature always enabled! For example, taking a landscape shot with the horizon in the middle is mostly less pleasing to the eye than if you allocate two thirds for the land/sea and one third for the sky or the other way around, depending on where you place your focus (e.g. exciting landscape or amazing clouds or colours in the sky).
Also, when shooting portraits, it is almost always better to place the person along the left or right line instead of dead centre. I mostly prefer the depicted person looking towards the centre/open space of the image, like seen here:
Having said that, rules are also there to be broken and sometimes centring your horizon or subject of interest may result in better images, such as for instance in this case:
Less often used than the above rule but also very helpful are leading lines in your composition, meaning to use natural or man-made features which help to draw the viewer’s attention to the main subject/focus of the image. Examples for leading lines could be rivers, trees, roads, train tracks, clouds, a fence etc.
Somewhat related to the use of leading lines is framing. With this technique, you use a feature in the foreground (e.g. vegetation or archway) to frame your main subject in the background and thereby draw attention to it, such as in the featured image of this blog post or as in this example:
Considering the foreground and background in general is another important aspect to reduce the chance of a seemingly two-dimensional, flat and boring image, especially in landscape! For instance, to convey the grandeur of a vast landscape, it is advisable to provide a sense of scale through a rock/tree/building/car/boat/animal/person in the foreground. For portraits, the background may seem less important but also plays a big part in the overall pleasantness of the image. Pay attention to the background not diverting the viewer from the illustrated person, such as through obstacles or distracting colour. Unless you want it to of course.
Last but not least in my little composition list is personal perspective. Taking all your images with your camera at eye-level may not be the best option. Instead, try aiming the camera upwards from the ground (frog perspective) or raise it above your head and point it downwards (bird’s perspective) to create new angles that could enhance the effect of the photograph. This is especially helpful when capturing children or animals, but may come in handy in many other kinds of situations too.
Tip 3: Get out of Auto-mode
Yes, auto mode has come a long way, is convenient and likely to satisfy most of your needs. However, there are many situations where you simply can’t get the shot that you want out of automatic mode. Want shallow depth of field, meaning a blurry background? Want long-exposure shots for capturing flowing water or car lights in the dark? Want sun-stars? Want to freeze fast motion? Want to over-/underexpose on purpose? – Then you will have to set your camera to either aperture priority, shutter priority or manual mode, depending on your needs and you may want to consider setting your ISO manually too. Personally, I shoot 95% of my photos in aperture priority combined with manual ISO. I plan to write a separate post about these more technical options, but until then, I’d recommend you to watch a YouTube tutorial or to contact me individually for further elaboration.
Tip 4: Improvise!
When I mentioned long exposure just now, there is of course a need to have your camera in a fixed position and use the self-timer, because hand-held shots would end up blurry as you just can’t hold super still, even if you try with all your might. So what if you did not bring your tripod or if you don’t even own one? I feel a bit stupid saying this but I heard quite a few people complaining about missing a shot because of a supposable lack of a tripod, and others asking me perplexed how I created a certain long-exposure image. I hope that you, valued reader, know that you may place your camera on the ground or improvise an underlay/support for your cam in such occasions. Of course, getting the right position and angle for the long-exposure you seek without a tripod may be difficult, but honestly, my backpack made for a perfect tripod replacement numerous times. And if you don’t have a backpack, use your jacket, packs of paper tissues, railings or natural resources, such as stones or sticks or a combination of any such items to set up your camera relatively stable for a short period of time to get that shot you crave. Just make sure it sits secure so that it won’t fall down and break in the process.
Need a lens-hood but didn’t bring it? – Use something else for cover (e.g. your hand), even if it is not as perfect. Need a person in your composure to give the image a sense of scale like discussed above? – Ask someone to jump in for you or be the one yourself after having set up your camera safely and activating the self-timer. Is your subject to dark? – Use your phone as a light source… You get the point.
Tip 5: Get into (basic) editing
Now I am certainly not a pro when it comes to editing photographs and – to be honest – I don’t want to change my out of camera images vastly, because I seek to get it right in the first place. However, there are a few simple things one can do in post-processing that may dramatically improve the resulting image. And again, I am not talking about photoshopping and altering your image drastically. But a basic crop or simple black and white style may make all the difference. There are tons of free tools available online that will help you make those and other edits, such as adjusting contrast or sharpness of your photographs. If you want to get the most out of your image in post, I would recommend shooting in RAW (plus JPEG).
Tip 6: Practice, practice, practice
What? You are looking for elaboration? 😛
If you enjoyed this post and want to know more about (travel) photography, feel free to get in touch for a discussion or even a more in-depth training.
If you wonder what kind of camera and/or other equipment is most suitable for travel photography, let me know. I may write another post on travel photography gear.
Thanks for reading!