Are you shooting away while on holiday only to be disappointed when you look at your images on your computer when you are back? Are you wondering how can these people everywhere online shoot such pictures that spark emotional responses from us? That’s why I created this little travel photography guide with easy tips you can apply today.
Photography is all about training your eye to see the light and see what’s around you with an artistic touch. While this needs practice and doesn’t come in a day, there are still some simple rules that you can follow to take your travel photography (and any kind of photography!) to the next level.
Let’s get started with today’s 12 easy tips (in no particular order):
#1 – Composing Your Pictures
When you want to improve your photography, the first and most obvious point to consider is paying attention to how you frame your image. A bad composition will inevitably make a bad image, no matter how interesting your subject.
One super basic rule you could try following is the rule of thirds. Divide the frame of your image into three thirds vertically and horizontally (imagine two equally spaced vertical lines and two equally spaced horizontal lines.
The horizontal lines are where you will want to align the horizon in your picture. If you consider that the sky is the most important aspect of your image, you will put the horizon near the bottom line, leaving about two-thirds of sky. On the other hand, if you have an interesting scene in the foreground, it is with the top line that you will align the horizon, leaving about one-third of the image for the sky.
The same applies to the vertical lines. Say you are taking a picture of a tree in a meadow. Unless it is a really big, impressive, and magnificent tree that could deserve a central spot, the picture would look much better if you put the tree at the 1/3 line on either side.
Where the lines meet are also important spots where you want your most important subjects to be placed. Go and try to take a few pictures and you will see, that following this simple rule will already make your pictures much more dynamic.
Look at the examples below:
#2 – Look For Interesting Foregrounds
When I first started to apply this advice to my photography, the results blew my mind. I had clearly underestimated the value of good foregrounds, particularly in landscape photography. And it’s true that when we want to take pictures of a grand landscape, the foreground may not be what first comes to mind.
Having an interesting foreground marks the difference between a dull and random landscape photo and an interesting one. The foreground helps tell a story, often brings THE interesting piece of detail that makes your image pop, and enhances the landscape you are showing.
The foreground can be anything really. An interesting texture, colorful rocks, a tortured piece of dead wood, a picturesque plant, an animal, a person sitting and looking at the landscape… Any of these (and many others!) can make interesting foregrounds. Instead of just showing a landscape, you are telling a story.
#3 – Define Your Subject
This is somehow related to the previous point, as that special thing you show in the foreground will often be your subject. What I mean by “define your subject” is that what you want to show must be crystal clear. If your image is too messy and has too many subjects of equal importance, you will get the viewer wondering, “what the heck is he trying to show?”. “What story is he trying to tell?”, “What is there to understand in this picture?”.
Generally, pictures that work well show a scene that is super obvious and easy to understand, with one or a limited number of subjects.
To know if you are doing well, try looking at your picture and ask yourself, “what do I see”. It has to be obvious. If you see “A beautiful tree growing in a wild landscape”, “someone from an Asian village working in his beautiful rice field”, “a person sitting on a rock looking at a canyon”, or “a strange-looking rock found on a wild beach”, etc. All these are perfect.
However, if your description turns out to be something like “A person looks at a tree, and in the tree, a squirrel is jumping on a nut, and the clouds are really special, and we can see clearly beautiful flowers in the foreground…” then your picture might be a little too messy! Too many elements are distracting and the story told by your image becomes confusing.
Let’s take the same example images and study them a little more to illustrate points #2 and #3:
#4 – Look for Patterns, Textures, or Interesting Shapes
This is a good exercise to train your photographic eye. Many times, we look at something and find it interesting or eye-pleasing, but we don’t analyze it further because we are already pleased with the feeling.
Being able to really notice and focus on shapes, textures or patterns will give you more unusual picture opportunities. If the pattern is really interesting, you can even fill the whole frame with it. Make it super intriguing and explain what it is in the caption. In this case, the pattern itself becomes the subject of your image.
Often, objects with a special texture, pattern, or shape make good foreground subjects.
#5 – Look for Unusual Angles
Do you really want to take the millionth identical pic of this monument? Don’t hesitate to move around your subject! Look for the best angle, the best background, get closer to it, get further from it. Keep shooting with various angles, and you will have many good pics to choose from.
The more you do it, the more you will unlock and develop your photographic creativity, and shoot pictures that stand out.
#6 – Make Full Use of The Golden Hour
The golden hour is a one-hour (or even two-hour) time frame after the sunrise and before the sunset. The light becomes softer, with a delicate golden hue, the shadows are longer, and it makes your main subject stand out beautifully.
The golden hour is a sacred moment for all travel and landscape photographers! But please, the world has seen enough “sunset pics”, with just the sea, the horizon, and the setting sun. Remember the previous points! The sunset will make a gorgeous background for your subject and cast a beautiful light on the scene you are capturing.
A sunset is not a photographic subject, it enhances the scene. The best is a weather with some clouds. But if it is totally clouded, no golden light!
#7 – Embrace Not-So-Great Weather
I don’t know how many times I heard “weather is bad today, no need to take pics, we won’t see anything on them”. That couldn’t be further from the truth! If a perfect blue sky does look great over a Mediterranean village, what is considered bad weather also makes awesome images.
Weather conditions make pics interesting, they add an atmosphere and a mood to the scene. As far as I am concerned, I particularly love foggy and misty pictures. The mysterious atmosphere they create is extraordinary.
The light is also softer, which is usually better for photography. On the opposite, shooting at midday under a hot bright sun can somehow kill the colors because the light is too harsh, and make your image a little dull.
#8 – Look for Natural or Artificial Frames
It can be interesting to include in your picture an element that will act as a frame around your subject. In some cases, a really special frame can even be your subject.
For example, a stone arch can be a great frame for the landscape behind it. Tree trunks and branches can make a frame too. In a city, we can imagine a gate to a monument. Most people would walk through the gate and take a very random picture of the monument. What about trying to shoot the monument inside the opening of the gate? It’s more creative.
Frames don’t always have to be all around the photo, partial frames can also work well.
#9 – Look for Leading Lines
It is always good to have natural lines leading the eyes to a subject of interest in the picture. A little like the frames we just talked about, leading lines help the brain understand instantly what we should be looking at in the image.
In some cases, leading lines made of something interesting can be your interesting foreground leading the eyes towards the beautiful landscape in the background. You can imagine cracks in a rock or fallen tree trunks, for example.
In a city, the sides of a road are typical leading lines, leading to a monument at the end of the road. But if you search a little more, you can probably find something more creative. In a city, lines are everywhere!
#10 – Ask When You Want Portraits
Travel photography often includes shooting portraits of the locals. As a mark of respect, it is always better to ask for their consent before taking any pictures of them. You never know what people would think or how they would react. So it’s much better to just ask.
Moreover, “stolen” pics are rarely of great quality. If you ask people for the favor of letting you take their picture, most of the time they will accept trying a few poses and enable you to try various angles or situations, increasing the chance to get a really nice photo.
#11 – Plan Your Shots
This can be a little difficult when you are traveling, but if you have the luck to spend enough time at the same place, planning your shots will often lead to much better results. Without planning, you basically just rely on luck and what will catch your eye – with the possibility of missing many things.
If you can visit a place several times, you can study the light, and the shadows, take the time to find the best angle and look for this interesting detail that most people miss because they are not paying attention.
With all this information, you can then go back to the place, position yourself at the best spot, with the best foreground, at the best time for the most beautiful light – and get an awesome picture!
#12 – Shoot in RAW
Of course, this only applies if you are shooting with a DSLR. “Why shoot RAW? JPG looks good to me…”
Well, If you are serious about improving your photography and still shooting JPG, you are missing out! RAW images, unlike JPG, have gone through zero compression and still hold all the details of your image.
By shooting RAW, you offer yourself a whole world of possibilities in post-production, to enhance and give your image the look you want. Adjusting the white balance, shadows, highlights, saturation, sharpness, and many, many other things becomes super easy. Adobe Lightroom is by far the best post-production software that exists, and mastering it will definitely take your photos to a whole new level.
Photography is an art that one can take a whole life to truly master, but if you are just started and want to take images that are better than average, these 12 tips should be a good start. You won’t be able to respect all 12 tips for each photo you shoot of course, but you can keep them in mind and see what you can do.
If you manage to follow several of these tips for each picture you shoot, you will definitely notice a quality improvement. 🙂