If you have ever looked at other people’s photographs of a travel spot you’ve been to and wondered why their photos of the exact spot you’ve shot are so much better that yours, I feel you. But over the years, I keep researching and learning how to light and compose better, how to make the most out of my gears and most importantly, keep on shooting and having fun. Because pressuring myself into making a perfect image only spoils the supposedly fun and heartwarming journey.
Here are a few tips I’ve learnt about during my photo travels all these years, and hopefully when you’re somewhere breathtaking, they will be useful for you too.
Look for that magic glow
Golden hour makes every place look a million times more magical. I always google “sunrise/sunset” times in my destination place and set my schedule and locations around them. The hours differ in every country and season, for example I had to wait until 10 pm to get the perfect sunset shoot in Europe in summer, or start the day a bit late on winter. Give a two hours time frame between sunrise and sunset on your preferred location to get your beautiful shots. Conversely, in the midday when the light is the harshest, the heat is unforgiving and the crowd is all over the place, you can reserve museum time to chill and snap some photos inside.
Give yourself an Assignment.
Make a theme and sub-theme for your trip – like beautiful ornate doors in Paris, your breakfast in Tokyo, coffee shops in Stockholm, decorative floors in Marrakech. It will keep you curious and excited during the whole trip.
Solid composition is the key to a great photo. I won’t give you the “Respect the Rule of Thirds” or “Instagram Perfectly Centered Symmetry” propaganda here because I’m sure all of you know it already. And also because they’re not strictly the only way to compose. Play around and break the rules.
However I keep one specific thing in mind while I’m composing: that the human eye can only take in so much information at a time. The more you are able to “guide” the eye through your photo, the better. Exclude information the eye doesn’t need. Focusing on too many details within a photo will distract from the main subject of your image. Only add details that will strengthen the story of the image, which will bring me to suggest you to…
Fill the frame
Get close to your subjects. Often a photo lacks impact because the subject gets lost among the clutter of its surroundings. Make use of your lens large aperture or crop tight around your subject to eliminate the visual background noise.
Be a People Person
At times, landscapes are better with people in them. It helps to enhance scale, and give a sense of perspective of the majesty of the place. Try to capture travel partners, the locals or (if you have no other choice) other tourists to make your shots more impactful.
When doing portraits of the locals, treat them with respect. That means a simple hello (in their language) and a smile. Don’t steal shots from a far distance and don’t shot people who don’t want to get shot.
Landscapes and cityscapes somehow look better and more magical when viewed from above. Google or ask the locals for high vantage points for your viewing platforms (buildings, rooftops, sky bars or cable car rides, etc)
Wait for it
Sometimes you arrive at a lovely spot, compose your shot and you still need the patience to wait for people to move, people to walk in, the clouds to clear or something to happen. Good photos don’t just happen out of the blue. Sometimes it is worth waiting for the perfect picture. Which is exactly why you have to-
Make Photography a Priority
This tip is only directed towards those who’s willing to take an extra mile for to get a beautiful travel shot. A good travel photography requires a time commitment. Taking some quick snapshots as you rush from one photo spots to another one will leave you unsatisfied in the end (“Why didn’t I do this composition?”, “Why didn’t I take close ups?”). Dedicating a few hours of Photography Time in your travel schedule is essential. However, if you’re traveling with friends or an organized tour, it will be a bit difficult to break off for a few hours to take photos. Your only way is to wake up earlier and wander alone before the tour starts; the sunrise will even add more magic on those photos.
Also, there’s nothing worse than being stuck on a bus while passing an epic photo opportunity, powerless to stop and capture it! If your situation (and budget) allows, splurge on a rental car for a travel photography road trip. This lets you control when and where you stop for photos.
The Road Less Traveled
If you’re visiting a new place, walk pass the mainstream photo spots (The ones usually crowded with snapping tourists) and push yourself to go even further. Try to walk an extra mile to see it from another distance and you might be awarded with a new composition rather than the same postcard-shot everyone shoots. Wander around and you will find the real heart and soul of a place—the little discreet things that guidebooks never tell you. Ask questions (even though you may struggle with only your basic understanding of the language), keep your eyes open, explore and most importantly, have fun! (But of course, use common sense. No need to wander down that dark alley at 2 in the morning and put yourself in danger)