You’ve just gotten home from the journey of a lifetime. Told your friends & family about this amazing place & the amazing travel photos you’ve taken. How incredibly breath-taking the views, surroundings & architecture is. A little while later you invite them over, pop your memory card into your laptop & you’re excited to share the awesome images of your trip.
The excitement fades slowly as you keep saying things like, it was much more impressive in person, you just had to be there or it was beautifully lit up on our way back from dinner. (Argh, why didn’t I bring my camera along?!)
Beautiful pictures & wanderlust-inspiring adventures are what we all imagine when we think about and want to capture in our travel photos. We’re not all travel photographers though & luckily, we don’t necessarily have to be in order to photograph some incredible moments & monuments during our travels.
By following a few best practices & tips, you’ll be taking better travel photos in no time & leaving you wondering why you didn’t think about how to take better travel photos earlier!
Those frustrating moments are things we all know too well. When you look back on your pictures & think what could have been. Even the most experienced and awarded photographers had, & still have, plenty of shots they’re not very proud of.
These 8 best tips for travel photography will help you leave those moments in the past & look back on some great memories you’ve captured on your digital camera or even smartphone.
Pay attention to the light
The first rule everyone is taught when it comes to photography… and if it isn’t, it should be. 😉
Light is not just about whether or not you can see what you’re trying to photograph. It affects the colors, shadows, details & emphasis of the subjects in your photos.
If you’ve read through the manual for your camera & know how to use your camera properly, light is the ultimate deciding factor that can turn a decent photo into something that blows peoples minds and gets them to book a ticket for their next trip!
Have a look at all of the big travel sites & magazines like Discovery, Fodor’s, Lonely Planet, etc. The best photos always have excellent halo-like lighting.
Most of these imagines are captured by taking photos during the golden hour… I know right, it even sounds impressive. 😉
The golden hour in photography is the hour after sunrise & the hour just before sunset where the light is just the tastiest… Ok, maybe not the tastiest, but you’ll find most people either eating breakfast or dinner at this time… What you should be doing instead is taking photos.
The light is redder and softer than during the day when the sun is directly above. In the morning you’ll get a cooler, fresher, light whilst in the evening the light is warmer & gives your subjects a beautiful glow.
The hour before sunrise & after sunset is known as the blue hour & is another great time to take photos. You have a bluer light at this time, which is evenly diffused over your scene as there is no direct sunlight.
It’s not just about waiting for sunrises & sunsets though.
You can also take great photos throughout the day.
This is where shadows and details of your subjects come into play.
Most of the time the midday sun doesn’t provide the most flattering of shadows. The light is hard, with shadows being very dark and the area’s in the sunlight being very bright.
You could use this to amplify specific features on a subject making it more impressive (or vice versa).
Pay attention to where the sun is, which direct it’s moving and how the light is falling on your subject. Either move your subject, yourself or come back later when the light is more suitable.
P.s. If you’re looking for a great how-to guide on mastering your camera, Tony & Chelsea Northrups How to Create Stunning Digital Photography is the perfect resource.
Take photos from different angles
Long gone are the days where it was the norm to just take a single photo of a subject & hope that you managed to capture it in all of its glory. With modern digital cameras & smartphones, images are taken so fast and you have so much storage, you can capture thousands of high-res images on a single memory card. That’s not to say you shouldn’t aim to take one shot. Just take plenty more in case one of the others are better. 😉
Where am I going with this you ask? If you can take so many photos of your subjects, why would you only take photos from one angle? Right, you shouldn’t.
Now don’t just think this means you should walk around that cathedral and take photos from different directions. Take different types of photos. Close-up, panoramic, wide, zoomed in from afar, etc.
These all capture different atmospheres & can create a different story. For example, an image of a person peering up at an impressive cathedral presents a completely different story to the close-up fine details of the building or a wide-angled view of the cathedral from afar.
Apart from taking photos from different sides, try for at least 3 other types of photos. One that captures the entire scene, one fine detail and one from a unique angle that could spark curiosity.
Return to the scene
Remember when I said that you should come back later if the light isn’t right?
That’s just one of the reasons you should return to a place if your itinerary allows for it.
Sometimes the best place to find a great angle is the place itself. That doesn’t mean that everything will fall into place in that specific moment that you’re there. It may be that it’s too crowded… or not crowded enough if you want that body of people to emphasize the story in your image… or the light would be better just after sunset, or at night with the city glowing in the backdrop, etc.
It could even be that you left and got an idea later on or the following day.
There is a number of reasons why you may want to return to a scene, so don’t rule it out if your itinerary allows it.
Look at other photos
This doesn’t mean copy other photographers. Use other photos for inspiration & for getting a first-hand look at a location before you actually visit.
You can gain quite a lot by looking through some of the best travel photos of an attraction. You’ll quickly know where the best angles are to be found and what times the light is best.
One of the best sources to get some creative ideas is to look at Instagram’s location tags. Here you’ll see a wide variety of different images and you could find some unique locations. Locations where you can create some fun & creative angles for your pictures.
Related: The most Instagrammable places in Italy
Bring along a tripod
A tripod is essential to capturing high-quality photos when the light is low. Your camera will try to compensate for low light by using a higher ISO. That can introduce noise into your images, however, reducing their quality.
The trick is to use a slower shutter speed. This introduces the problem of your images becoming blurry if you’re taking photos handheld and your shutter speed is below about ¼ of a second.
A good rule is to use a tripod if your shutter speed drops below your focal length…
DROPS BELOW MY WHAT NOW?
It’s not as complicated as it sounds. Focal length is the distance your lens is shooting at, basically the distance between the subject and the camera.
I.e. if you are working with 50mm lens, if your shutter speed goes below 1/50th of the second, it’s time to grab a tripod to make sure you capture sharp images. Another example would be if you’re working with a 300mm lens. Your shutter speed shouldn’t go below 1/300th, otherwise, you should get your tripod out.
Now when it comes to picking a good tripod for travel, you have a number of options.
- Travel Tripod – Compact & quick to set up.
- Tripod with Fluid head – Essential for capturing smooth video.
- Monopod – When entering some buildings, like the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, tripods are forbidden because of the area they take up. Monopods stand on one foot and generally are allowed in places where tripods aren’t.
- Smartphone Tripod – If you’re going to be taking photos with your smartphone, you’ll need to get a phone mount for your tripod or just get a compact tripod like this one.
- Gorillapod – Not just for vloggers, Gorillapods can be placed in all sorts of interesting places to capture unique and interesting images.
Shoot portrait & landscape
By shooting both vertically & horizontally, you’re maximizing the possible uses of your images without reducing image quality.
For some situations, a vertical image may highlight the subject best. By then taking the photo vertically, you’ll be capturing the most details of the image. This is because you won’t need to crop into the picture as much. The same can be said for horizontal or landscape images.
I like to take images vertically & horizontally mainly for social media. Some platforms, like Facebook, prefer horizontal images, whereas others, like Pinterest & Instagram, prefer vertical images.
How you will be sharing your photos & what details surrounding your subjects will best decide which orientation you should use to get the shot. With memory cards being so large, however, you should be able to take both vertical & horizontal images without having to worry too much about space.
Take a course or read a book
Learn the best tips & tricks that the professionals use to capture those amazing photos you see in magazines & on travel sites.
Whilst you might be able to learn the tricks of the trade on your own, it may be more beneficial to speed things up a bit by learning from some of the best.
Taking a course or reading a book by a professional, you can be assured that the information and techniques they teach work. Whereas if you go the self-taught method, who knows how many great shots you may miss before you discover the best setting for a specific scene or the correct technique for shooting the northern lights. 😉
Lonely Planets Guide to Travel Photography is a great book that, if followed, will drastically improve your photos when you’re starting out.
Practice, practice, practice!
I know, it sounded too good to be true, right.
So here’s the catch; You have got to practice!
They say practice makes perfect, but I like to think that practice makes you more efficient.
By practicing you’ll learn how to use your camera more quickly, which angles and places to look for, the best times to photograph certain subjects, when to get out the tripod, etc.
All of this means you’re better prepared to capture the best travel photos on your next trip.
Now if you follow these 8 tips, you will be capturing better travel photos in no time.
When it comes to sharing them with friends & family, it will be like they’re right there with you on the journey.