The whole point of travel photography is to capture the experience of seeing something different from our usual day-to-day experience.
The beach we went to, the mountains of a foreign country, the people who welcomed us--you’re looking to encapsulate both the wonder of what you observe and communicate that in a composition.
Both to share it with others and as a kind of prompt to remind yourself how you felt at that very moment in time.
Cell phone cameras make taking travel photos easier than ever. No need to lug around extra camera equipment.
While today’s cell phone cameras help you take professional looking photos, there’s one key element they can’t provide that is crucial to any good photo--your eye and the decisions you make to frame a scene.
Here are ten photography tips to help make your travel photos more than just “went here, saw this” and more “wow, this was amazing.”
1. Plan Ahead for What You Want to See
If you’re going to be in Belgium then it must be Tuesday, but besides that, what is there about Belgium that interests you? Architecture, the food, the culture, what? Do a little research to find out what’s most likely to get you excited. Then go there. Because what’s likely to get you excited is likely to result in exciting pictures.
2. Get Consent to Take Someone’s Picture
You don’t want to be rude. Taking a person’s picture, especially without permission, could be considered an invasion of privacy. Okay, these days the notion of privacy is somewhat hazy. And many photographers contend that if you are walking in a public space, you forfeit the right to privacy. Legally, that’s correct. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be polite. Try this: If you want to take a picture of someone, smile at them, point to your cellphone, and if they smile back and nod, then you have permission. For shots of crowds this is not important, or practical, but if you’re taking a picture of people where you are focusing on their faces, try to get an okay from them.
3. Understand the Culture
This ties into the idea of taking people’s pictures without permission; in some cultures that’s considered taboo.
Similarly, you don’t want to do anything that might be considered offensive, and not just because it might ruin a shot.
It’s because you don’t want to be offensive. And the more you can comfortably move about and interact with people in a foreign culture, the more opportunities you’ll have to take great photos.
4. Get Lost
Don’t be a tourist. Be a traveler. Anyone can take a picture of a tourist attraction.
The traveler who sets off on the unbeaten path gets to see what the rest of us don’t, and take pictures that depict what we’ve never encountered before.
Your cell phone has GPS--don’t use it. Wander about and have an adventure, then take pictures that recount your unique adventure.
5. Block Out Time for Photo Taking
The great thing about cell phone cameras is convenience. But too much convenience is, well, all too convenient.
If you’re not focused (pardon the pun) on what you’re doing, your photos look as indifferent as you were when you decided to take a quick photo of something, anything, just so you could record it to show someone and say, “Hey, look where I went.” Now, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Except if you’re trying to take an inspiring and artistic photo that captures something besides a quick diary entry. Set aside a block of time at every destination where you are going to seriously concentrate on taking photos.
6. Make a List
Along the same lines as blocking out time to take photos, make a shot list. Write down the kind of scenes you want to capture. Look and you shall see. Not the typical shots of landmarks, but the surroundings, the shops, the people, the little details that give your photos a soul, as opposed to a tourist postcard.
7. Get Multiple Viewpoints
Nobody gets it right the first time. Or even the second or third. You want to work a scene, walk around, try different angles, change the depth of field. Later on you can delete what didn’t work. But what did work may turn on to be a thing of beauty.
8. Take Advantage of the Light
A good photographer understands lighting and how to take advantage of natural light. Generally, the best lighting occurs one after sunrise and one hour before sunset. Get out there during these times.
9. Take It Slow
This can be tough if you’re on a guided travel tour. For really effective travel photography, avoid these. Renowned french photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson attributed his photographic artistry to “moving slowly” in his world travels and get totally immersed in the environment.
10. Put Your Camera Away
You don’t have to take a picture of everything you see. That’s what tourists do. Photographers capture moments. And you can’t always be in the moment. You’re travelling. Enjoy the journey. Somewhere along the way you’ll take some great pictures of authentic moments.