Taking good photos on a great trip isn’t as easy as it looks; but it’s also not as hard as it seems either. Good photos rarely just happen—but they can occur more often if you know a few tips. It just takes a little pre-trip preparation and some eyes-wide-open situational awareness on the go.
We want you to take home some amazing pictures to match the transformative travel experiences you’ll have over the coming 23-days circling the globe. We know that capturing some of the eye-dazzling sights and scenes that simply defy words, will help you extend your memories of those experiences. Yet on the other hand, we don’t want picture taking to get in the way of your experiences, or the people you will meet along the way, and so, being fluent and comfortable taking those photos is important.
Over the years, we have been lucky enough to have some of our travel photos published in scores of international outlets; and our philosophy on travel photography is simple: that a little prep goes a long way. That said, below are a handful of tried and true photo tips that we’ve acquired over the years from both fellow travelers and professional photographers alike that have helped us take better pictures—one’s that verge on professional quality. Some, you already know but worth remembering their relevance; while some are new, that you should absorb before you go. Old or new, make no mistake, they will help you better capture your coming memories of a lifetime.
Here are eleven simple tips to help you take better travel photos:
1. Before you go: Know your camera, learn its options; read the manual, know manual mode. Give your trusty camera a tune-up too: clean the lens, reset dates, set picture size, replenish your batteries, and get a larger memory chip because it is always better to set your digital camera on the higher size and finest quality; because it’s easier to make them smaller—not bigger.
2. Before you go: Briefly familiarize yourself with a few basic photographic techniques/concepts, like: the rule of thirds; leading lines; balance; eye-lines; triangles; horizons; single points; frame within a frame; and depth…then go out and break all those rules. Consider taking an hour to take photos testing your newfound techniques…practice makes perfect.
3. Before you go: Look at your photos from a previous trip and study your worst pictures—they are your best teachers. Think of what you could have done to take better photos. File those critical thoughts away.
4. While traveling: Charge/recharge your batteries every night, and download/upload photos each day to prevent loss due to chip corruption or camera loss.
5. While traveling: Be more self-aware; we don’t want taking selfies to get in the way of experiencing it: live it, don’t just capture it. And practically, the easiest way to extend your camera’s battery power is to turn off your viewing screen and to stop chimping—looking at your playback like a trained monkey, going, “Oo-Oo-Ooo” Experience the present moment in front of you—not your camera’s memory of it! Try hard to counteract this impulse, you will have plenty of time to relive them later
6. Light matters, a lot! The best time (ambient light) for taking photos is just before and after dawn and dusk. Those couple hours are known as the photographic Golden Hour (brilliant & bolder hues); these transitionary periods are always the most interesting times of day as well as the best time because the must-see sights are usually not very busy. Markets look more colorful. Nature is alive. Religious rituals take place. Ordinary people’s day are either just beginning or ending. High, noon-day sun plays havoc on photos. (Always have your subjects facing the sun during daylight hours unless you like dark silhouettes?! Shade can be your friend; but remember that flashes at close range do work in the sun and helps to counter sun and shadows.) Remember that if you see glare in the viewfinder—it will be in the picture; so, use your hand near the lens to shield the sun/glare. Also remember that when taking pictures if you must decide between over-exposing or under-exposing a photo…chose the former, because it is always easier to tone down the light—much harder to add light later. BTW: Sunsets aren’t that interesting—it’s true. We see them—every day—and they mostly all look the same; much better to be counter-intuitive and turn around to see what interesting subjects the light that sunset is casting on.
7. Zoom in with your feet, not your lens. Get as close as you can to your subject/object…now get one-step closer…fill the frame. Get the details of a place instead of always taking wide angle shots by looking small rather than large; angle out clutter in your background by moving three feet left or right. Point is, Zoom in with your feet.
8. Make ordinary photos extraordinary by finding creative alternative unconventional vantage points. Don’t be lazy: walk, kneel, or climb to get a closer and better angle. Once you pick a central subject/object, build a good picture around it before you click it. Think about your framed picture: Is there anything here I don’t want in my photo? What is around the edges—do you want it in the photo? A blur of light? A sign? Litter? A thumb? Remember a picture is worth a 1,000-words. What are you trying to say taking this photo? Happiness, beauty, speed, a color? Look for scene juxtapositions that reveal contrasts: old/new, sacred/profane, big/small, geographic transitions. BTW: Vertical photos are good too!
9. To avoid shutter lag, always lock your focus before you snap. It is the difference between blurred and missed photos, and clear timely photos. Pressing your shutter release button halfway down, not only focuses but automatically picks an exposure setting too.
10. Most posed photographs suck. We know you went to Machu Picchu; we don’t need to see several photos of you there posing for an execution. Better to capture the feeling of spontaneity, of movement, of candid in-the-moment shots versus staged poses. Keep your subjects busy and look for fun shots, action shots, the weird and wacky; you know, the ones that are always much more interesting. And pet peeve: Don’t automatically encourage your subjects to smile: Allow them to be shy or pensive or curious, themselves.
11. Photographers need to have ethics. Always ask permission to take a close up of someone; and always adhere to the posted “no photos,” and/or “no flash” rules. If you’re ever in doubt about taking pictures, ask before you shoot. Two things make for better people pictures: 1) Make friends first and you practically invite great photos—never pass up on this opportunity to make new friends; and 2) Ask for their e-mail/text so that you can send them a copy. It’s just plain polite.
12. Finally, taking short videos with your camera can be fun too, when you follow a few rules of thumb: Avoid herky-jerky unnecessary zooming and panning (it is really annoying); try to pick your zoom levels before pressing record and then keeping them constant during your shoot. When scanning, keep each scene going for about 3-5 seconds, never longer than about 10 seconds. Shoot different angles and distances…there are three basic shots: Wide Shot, a Mid Shot and a Close Up. Always keep your camera as steady as possible—try not to walk too much while shooting… or talk too much either! Always shoot more than you need; you can always delete footage, but you cannot take more after you’re gone. And remember, good video is about action and reaction, try to have both in each shot. Finally, we are big proponents of 1-minute video takes—as you will soon find out.
Have fun and enjoy your around the world photos.
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