Etiquette & 10 Tips For Taking Better Travel Photos
By: Ben Crawford
Ben Crawford is a freelance travel photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand. You can read more of his tips and see more of his incredible photos on his website:
Whether you’re taking holiday photos to brag about on Facebook or you’re trying to build a portfolio, these ten tips will help improve your travel photography, no matter what type of camera you have.
1. Do some research
A little bit of research yields great results. I use Flickr before I leave home to guide me on locations and the best time of day to be there. For example, I recently had 24 hours at the Grand Canyon and I wanted to capture the sun rise and sun set. By searching through Flickr I was able to determine the best spots along the rim which meant I arrived knowing where I had to be and I was confident I had the best location. Then once at my destination I visit a local book store as soon as possible and look at the postcards. They always show you the icons of the area and provide good ideas on where to shoot from.
2. Try to shoot during the golden hours as much as possible
Without great light you’re not going to have great photographs.Typically the best light is one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset, also known as the golden hours. During this time the light is softer and the contrast is less than the middle of the day, making the shadows less dark and the highlights less likely to be overexposed. Of course you can’t always shoot during these times while travelling, but try and identify some key locations on your trip and schedule your itinerary so you can be there for a sunrise or a sunset.
3. Use a tripod
You can find a tripod in any shape and size these days, even small enough to fit in your pocket. While you don’t need one all the time, having one with you will allow you to take better photos in certain situations. Firstly in low light, such as during the golden hours, you need a steady camera to avoid camera shake and guarantee a sharp image. Secondly you can create in-camera effects like the motion blur of a waterfall with a tripod, something you can’t do by hand. And finally, there are only so many hand-held self portraits your friends and family can handle! Use a tripod to capture different angles and well framed shots of your travels with you in them.
4. Make interesting foregrounds
If there was one composition tip I have, it would be to add something of interest to the foreground of your images. This is because it adds depth and context to the scene, especially landscapes. It could be anything from an architectural feature through to you or your friends. And for most situations, try not to centre your subject.
5. Take control of your camera settings
One of the best ways to consistently take better images is to get your camera off its automatic setting and take some control yourself. In automatic, your camera makes a lot of assumptions about what settings to use to expose the photo you are taking. A lot of the time it gets it right, but a lot of the time it gets it wrong. It doesn’t take long to learn how to do this and it can be a gradual process, from controlling a single variable like the shutter speed, right through to full manual control where you decide all of the exposure variables. Either way, as soon as you change the setting away from automatic, you will love the creative control you now have and the better images you can create. For more on how to do this you can read my free tutorials.
6. Use a polarising filter
One of the handiest pieces of kit you can have is a polarising filter that you screw onto the front of your SLR/dSLR lens (and some compacts). It basically cuts out reflections and makes the colours pop in your image, especially blues, greens and reds. If you’ve ever looked at a photo and wondered why the sky is so blue and the clouds so white, chances are the photographer has used a polarising filter. It’s a great tool to use when shooting during the day to get more contrast and colour in the scene. The best results are achieved when you are at 90 degrees to the sun. But be careful because you can over do it, either making the colours unrealistic or casting an ugly hue over the scene.
7. Take your time
Before you even take a photo, spend five minutes absorbing the scene in front of you and take in all the details. Think about the possible angles and compositions then go about capturing them. I can guarantee you that your photos will be a hundred times better. Plus you’ll be surprised how quickly you morph into the environment, letting you capture natural looking images as the locals forget you are there.
8. Tell a story
Don’t arrive home with a bundle of similar photos that say very little about your destination. Try and tell a story with your photography by getting a variety of images, from wide angle establishing shots right through to detailed close ups. Include the local people to add personality, and always try and give your images context, such as street signs or local icons.
9. Ask permission
If you want to take a photo of somebody then ask them; mainly because it is good manners, but it also allows you to build a rapport with your subject which results in more candid shots.
10. Carry spares and always back up
There is no point getting to your destination to find your batteries are flat or your memory card is full. Make sure you always carry at least one spare battery that is fully charged and a spare memory card with you. And whenever possible, download your images and back them up, because you never know when your gear might fail, get damaged or even get stolen.