Awesome travel photography doesn’t happen overnight. Even the pros have had to work on improving their composition, equipment, and methods. Here are some of our best tips from decades in the travel business.
Note: I use the word camera here, but you can easily apply these same tips to smartphone cameras.
Engage with your Subjects.
Don’t simply snap an image and walk away. Like you should get to know your destination, get to know the people there. Speak to them, and ask them about their day, their family, what they are doing. If you don’t speak the local language, try hand gestures, nodding, word of greeting, or smile. Open up, and you might find that people open up as well.
Ask people for portrait shots. The worst they can do is say no. Most people will likely smile in agreement. Make sure you thank them, and if you can, show them their own photo. You can even offer to send them a copy if they have email or postal address.
Talking to people even before you bring out your camera can also help you get a sense of place. Say hello to passersby. Ask for directions. Buy souvenirs. Use your interactions as inspiration for the mood and essence you want your photos to convey.
Be your true self, and engage with people authentically. Become part of the story that you tell.
Perhaps a difficult task if you have expensive photography gear, but traveling light is an important tool to learn. Pack only your camera, memory cards, lightweight mini tripod, portable storage unit, flash unit, selection of lenses—all in a supportive camera bag that protects from weather conditions and terrain.
As to whether lenses you take, choose a fast zoom like 18-200mm or 28-300m. If you have space, also grab a portrait prime lens, a wide angle lens and a telephoto.
Research your location.
The best travel photography comes in part due to Research. Know your destination, the festivals, the scenic routes and panoramas. Consult your travel agent. Read guidebooks. Read articles online and blog posts from writers you admire. Scan through Instagram.
Know what other photographers have managed to capture in the region, and decide if you want to pursue similar shots or look for unique angles. Make sure you keep track of the light via an app—download The Photographer’s Ephemeris, which tells you what time the sun rises, sets, and the position of the moon to your location. You can also check the tides for access to cool shots and locations during low tides.
Late to Bed, Early to Rise
I know, you’re on vacation, so you’d rather not wake up early! But some of the most fantastic light for your next iconic shot will be early in the morning. The soft, warm morning light is perfect for images—and plus you can beat the tourist crowds, too. Need that epic shot of the Taj Mahal—wake up before sunrise.
Make sure you’re outside for sunset, too. The golden hour and subsequent blue hour of photography bathe cities and landscapes in magical light. Time to make some forever memories.
Rule of Thirds
Maybe you’ve heard of this one—one of the basic tenants of photography. Understanding the Rule of Thirds will change the way you look through the camera lens. This is about composition. Imagine breaking down the image into thirds horizontally and vertically. Place important parts of the photos into those sections. This means, for example, positioning a person on the left grid line instead of the center. Shift the horizon on the bottom third, rather than straight down the middle. Remind yourself of the Rule of Thirds by switching on your camera’s “grid” feature.
Many of the best travel photographers recommend a lightweight tripod fashioned specifically for travel. These will keep your images in a steady position and let you play with all types of tricks: video production, exposure, time-lapse, panorama. Tripods also let you shoot non-optimal subjects, like waterfalls or low-light stars, without that annoying shaking camera.
Did you know that some tour guides offer special photography tours? Our clients have done these special-interest tours in Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Norway, Iceland and more! Ask your Willamette Intl Travel agent about more of these incredible, eye-opening photography tours.