For many travellers, photos make the best souvenirs. They’re memories manifested – instant and enduring reminders that let us relive the excitement of an overseas adventure, the splendour of a rooftop view, or the spirit of characters encountered on our journey.
Thanks to digital cameras, taking photos is easier than ever. Doing your travel experiences justice in those photos is, on the other hand, something of a challenge.
Whether you’re a practised shooter or an enthusiastic beginner, here are 10 travel photography tips to help you get the kinds of photos you’ll want to look at again and again.
While there’s no disputing the benefits of a good camera, many underestimate the importance of a good lens. Generally speaking, the better your lens, the better your pictures—especially in poor lighting.
At the same time, however, you’ll want something that’s easy to use and carry. Many aspects of travel photography happen quickly, be it a fleeting moment in nature or short pit-stop on a road trip. This means gear that’s easy to set up and pack away, and cameras that are easy to operate in a pinch, will give you the best chance of capturing those special moments.
The genre of ‘travel photography’ actually encompasses many other styles of photography, all of which require a slightly different approach when deciding what gear to purchase/pack. Are you shooting natural landscapes along the coast, wildlife on a safari, action shots of your latest skiing adventure, portraits of locals, or street photography in the cities you visit? Or even all of the above? Knowing which styles you’d like to focus on will help you decide on the best gear for you, whether it’s a very specific set-up or one designed with versatility in mind.
It’s often said that amateur photographers take photos while skilled ones make photos. Even if you shoot with the best camera equipment, a picture can look very ordinary if it lacks good lighting and composition.
Learn to understand how light behaves at different times of day (it’s most photogenic during ‘Golden Hour’, i.e. just after sunrise and just before sunset), in different settings and when hitting your subject from different directions. Photographing your subject from another angle might make a dramatic difference to the lighting, for example.
To develop an eye for composition, i.e. arrangement of elements in the image, you just need to observe and practise. Look at professional photographs or images that really grab you and take note of what they have in common. Many will, for example, follow the ‘Rule of Thirds’ principle, which places a dominant element one-third from the left, right, top or bottom of the frame.
Rather than trying to capture absolutely everything on one trip or taking heaps of shots and hoping for the best, concentrate on shooting a few images really well.
Variety is the key to producing an interesting, memorable portfolio of images that don’t look like everybody else’s. Get the ‘safe’ shots if you want to but be sure to get a mixture of wide, close and super-close angles; vertical and horizontal frames; high and low viewpoints; and ‘busy’ and minimalist compositions.
The best travel photos aren’t there to be taken. They’re there to be discovered—or created. By all means, get those must-have shots of famous landmarks. But don’t forget to (safely) explore beyond the beaten track. That’s where you, and your camera, will find the true soul of a destination—in the smiles of locals, in history-weathered surfaces, and in one-off moments reflected in windows or puddles.
While untouched landscapes and deserted streets have their place in a travel photo collection, it’s important to take photos of people as well. Portraits of locals help capture the personality of a location and, with thought given to proportion and perspective, people can emphasise the scale of a landmark or event.
Even if you’re not people-oriented, be sure to take snapshots of you or your family/friends in front of places you visit (not everyone does!); these are the images that will mean more over time and won’t be found elsewhere.
Effective photos will recall not just the look of destination but the feeling of being there at the time you visited. Note what your five senses perceive—be it the smell of local markets, the rhythm of street music or the sting of a frosty wind—and look for ways to incorporate it into your photos.
Along with lighting, timing is everything in photography. An hour could be the difference between roaming freely and jostling with 1000 other tourists, while a minute might ignite a featureless sky with the dramatic glow of a dawning sun. So where possible, plan your photos around the lighting and atmosphere you want to capture.
Timing isn’t a luxury for a lot of travellers, but preparation is the next best thing. Research your destination, get to know your camera and practise your craft before you go to have the best chance of capturing interesting, well done images.
Monuments rarely move but that fleeting, image-defining element—a golden ray of light, a child playing in the square, or something even more special and unexpected—may never return to the place and time you want it to. So keep your batteries charged, memory cards clear and camera settings ready for whatever photo opportunities might arise.