Taking better travel photos doesn’t have to be complicated. In this guest post, expert photographer Bethany Salvon offers some simple tips for taking better photography – no matter what your skill level is (and my skill level is pretty low so I’m excited for these tips!)
Everyone wants to take good travel photos, but most people are frustrated when what they see doesn’t translate accurately onto film or into pixels. Taking good photos takes time and practice.
However, there are some quick tips that can be used to make your photos better right away. It doesn’t matter if you’re taking photos with your phone, a point-and-shoot, or an expensive SLR, some basic photo tips are universal and will help create engaging images that you’ll love.
Sometimes the only difference between a mediocre photo and a great photo is composition. Luckily, this is a very easy issue to fix. When most people take a photo, they put the subject dead center. What you want to do is draw the viewer’s eye into the photo and create an image that is compelling to look at. To do this, try using the rule of thirds.
Strawberries at a Paris market. Example of a boring, centered composition.
Same subject with the rule of thirds applied.
Putting it into practice: Take a blank sheet of paper and draw two lines down and two lines across. What you end up with is three columns vertically and three rows horizontally. The points where those lines cross are ideal places to put your subject. The next time you’re looking through your viewfinder, take a few seconds to remember the rule of thirds and adjust the subject appropriately. You’ll end up with a more visually engaging photo. The more you use this tip, the easier it will become.
Turn Around/Sidestep the Obvious
What could be worse than a million photos of the same place, all carbon copies of one another? We’ve all seen the scenic overview sign, the one that says, “Stop here and take the same photo as everyone else!” Or perhaps you’ve visited a “must-see” city landmark. In both instances, there are usually hordes of tourist snapping photos of the same thing. By shifting your focus to the surroundings and away from everyone else, you can pick up the less obvious but equally beautiful things to photograph.
Across the street from the Moulin Rouge, Paris in HDR. After taking a picture of the Moulin Rouge, I turned around and saw hordes of tourists and the amazing light streaming through the dark clouds. It’s much more interesting than the straight shot of the Moulin Rouge, and this photo never would have existed if I hadn’t turned around.
Putting it into practice: By all means, stop at the scenic overview. But step away from where everyone else is. Better yet, turn around. Find a different way to look at the famous scene. Sometimes the opposite of what you should be looking at is where you’ll find the real gem. Whenever I’m at a popular spot, I always go out of my way to walk to a different, overlooked area and take most of my photos there. You’ll get an awesome, unique photo, and you may discover an even better viewpoint than the one that was created for the masses.
Shoot in Black and White
Terminal love – street photos, Paris. The light in the Paris metro isn’t very inspiring. The colors in this photo are cluttering it up, and the lady and the blue signs are also distracting.
Sometimes shooting in color can be overwhelming. A lot of times there are so many colors and patterns that you lose sight of what you’re really trying to convey. Switching to black and white can make the photo pop, because the eye has less to look at and can focus on a specific element in a photo. Shooting in black in white is by far the easiest and most immediate way to change the look of your photos.
Compare this to the above color photo. The lack of color draws your eye directly to the couple. Everyone seems distracted and worn out. The black and white also accentuates the desolate anonymity of a subway station, giving the photo more impact.
Putting it into practice: Switch your camera setting to black and white. Spend a day shooting your travel photos this way, and you’ll be amazed at how different your images will look. This tip also works well when you have a variety of lighting sources affecting one image (fluorescent, tungsten, etc.). If you aren’t familiar with changing your white balance, you can end up with a muddy-looking photo, but shooting in black and white will make that a non-issue. This is especially good when you have a gray, overcast day. Instead of wishing for more contrast and brilliant hues, switch to black and white and watch the magic happen.
Use Your Heart
Your camera has the power to show the living, breathing soul of your travel adventure. To really take unexpected photos, start looking with your heart and then the eyes will follow. Photography is truly the only medium that can stop a moment, freeze it, and allow people to relive it. Why not let that little point-and-shoot you keep in your pocket or the heavy SLR you leave in your hotel room start doing its real job?
Boys on a train – Sorrento, Italy. The boy’s sad expression and overworked hands make this is one of my favorites from Italy.
Putting it into practice: Shooting with your heart sounds a little abstract, huh? Well, really it’s pretty easy. The key is to shoot ALL the time. A great way to get over that hurdle is to pretend you’ve been given a crazy opportunity with a huge travel magazine (think Budget Travel or National Geographic). Of course, there will be a lot of bad shots and that’s OK. What you’re aiming for here is finding your voice through the camera. Just keep on shooting, and over time you’ll find an underlying theme. Most people simply don’t shoot enough to discover their hidden photographic voice. The key is not to overthink it. Just shoot it. The rest will happen naturally.
These tips will help take better photographs on your next journey, whether it’s to an exotic land or just your own backyard. The key is to think about your photographs. Spend a few moments setting up your shot and thinking differently. But no matter what you do, practice makes perfect, and simply taking lots of photos will help improve your photography. The more you shoot, the better you’ll get and the more you’ll discover your skills.
Bethany Salvon is a professional photographer and travel junkie. She can be found at her travel site, BeersandBeans.com, and her wedding photography site, Nariko’s Nest.