11 Tips for Taking the Best Travel Photos
So you finally booked your trip! Good for you! Now what's your plan to document it? Are you taking a DSLR, iPhone, point and shoot, go pro? Small portable cameras have definitely come a long way in the last few years, and It's to the point where the camera in our cell phone can give a professional camera a run for it's money. The pros to these smaller cameras are many, like taking away the headache of lugging around a heavy camera bag, also allowing you to document your trip in so many different ways and then being able to instantly share it with the world. However, if you don't mind lugging around your beautiful and heavy DSLR like me, the trip becomes an artistic challenge to document the culture, community, and landscape of the country.
Perhaps you're planning a family vacation and feel as though you'll be taking mostly family portraits. Great! I challenge you however to look for unique moments.. perhaps something no one else is looking at. I believe the beauty of photography comes from taking time to observe life and take a breath. The world truly opens up when you do.
I recently had a request from a reader to write about how to take great travel photos, and I couldn't wait to get started on it! The photos below were taken in Thailand in 2015 and I think S.J. and I returned with over 1600 images on our card. We took our camera everywhere and challenged our skills and artistry to look for moments, and unique angles to create images we would cherish for years. Here are a few tips to consider no matter what type of camera you will plan to use!
1. BRING A TRIPOD
No matter if you're travelling solo, or with family and friends, the time will come when you want to take a group/selfie picture without handing your expensive equipment over to a stranger or setting it up on a bench only to notice the image is poorly composed! Tripods are also great for low light situations where you need to avoid camera shake with long exposures, landscape photography, or just to look super pro! As annoying as taking extra camera equipment is, you won't regret it! There are several tripods on the market made for travel that are collapsable and lightweight (here's some options).
2. PACK A ZOOM LENS
As weight restrictions on planes have become increasing more strict, packing extra camera lenses may be the first item to be cut. That's why a zoom lens is so great, it's basically multiple lenses in one! When we travelled to Thailand we packed the Canon F2.8 24-70mm L lens and it was perfect for nearly every situation. 24mm was great for wide shots of markets and streets to capture the hustle and bustle of daily life, and 70mm is most flattering for portraits.
3. PAY ATTENTION TO LIGHT
How many times have you taken a picture of someone in direct sunlight because you think that it's better than shade? Unless you were born with that expert knowledge I'm sure everyone reading this has said yes. Lighting is a make or break situation for a great photo. Pay attention to what direction the light is coming from, and always watch for unflattering shadows on the face. Look to see if there's an area where the harsh sunlight is diffused, or maybe wait for the sun to drop behind a cloud. Or try backlight (light source behind subject); this is typically best during golden hour (last hour before sunset). Backlight gives that heavenly glow and gives a great effect to the image. Just be sure to use a lens hood to avoid too many lens flares - unless that's the look you're going for of course.
4. PICTURES ARE ALWAYS BEST WITH A PERSON
One photography lesson I learned from my father is that photos are always better with a subject. Now if you're a landscape or nature photographer you may disagree. Having a person in your photo brings life to a picture. It will trigger memories, and it will also anchor your eye in the image.
5. LOOK THROUGH THE LENS LIKE A STORYTELLER
Everyone has a story, and the fun of taking photos while traveling is telling the country's story through the eye of the lens. Don't be afraid to take photos of those around you. I'm not saying be the Paparazzi because people may feel exploited. Be subtle and candid if there's something or someone of interest, or be brave and ask permission. Most people will feel flattered, however some may not. Whatever their reaction be respectful and understanding.
6. PACK LENS CLEANER
No matter what type of camera you bring, it's important to keep that lens clean. Whether it's your iPhone camera, or go pro, you will want to wipe it regularly with a microfibre cloth to avoid scratching it. The cleaner you keep your lens from dust and splash marks the better your image. If you're travelling with a DSLR, you will want to invest in a lens cleaner pen. One side has a brush, and the other has a microfibre end to get rid of water marks and splashes. I purchased mine at Don's Photo.
7. CAPTURE THE CULTURE
Why do we travel? Well, it's to experience a new culture and branch out of your comfort zone. I love the feeling of getting off the plane, and getting my bearings in a new place. Before your trip, make sure you do your research. Learn a few things about the country, and once you arrive, listen! You can learn so much more in person than on the internet. Live it and learn it!
Once you have identified a few cultural trademarks. Try them and document it! Try the food, watch the people, and take pictures of all of it! This is awesome not only for a great story to tell when you get home, but also to really immerse yourself in the country and experience new things. Be brave and have no regrets!
8. USE A QUICK SHUTTER FOR ACTION
For street photography, typically you're photographing candid moments and people are typically on the move, so make sure your camera is ready. If you shoot on manual mode, ensure your shutter speed is set quick enough. A quick shutter speed avoids motion blur, and gives you the most crisp image. You'll usually want it to be highest you can go without the image being under exposed (1/250 in darker conditions, and up to 1/4000 in bright sunlight). I would also shoot with a wide open aperture to let the light pour in. Once your shutter and aperture is set, play with your ISO to ensure you have the correct exposure (use your light metre).
Another option is using Tv mode (shutter priority) on your camera. Set your shutter to what is best for the subject/setting, and the camera will automatically adjust the settings with the correct exposure.
9. SHOOT WIDE OPEN
In most instances, I shoot with a wide open aperture with a fixed shutter and manipulate my ISO depending on the situation. I love the effect of shooting wide open and this also ensures you have the most available light. There is an option on DSLRs if you aren't feeling confident and quick enough to manipulate the settings. It's called Av - this is called Aperture priority and you set your aperture and it does the rest automatically. One caveat, If you're shooting landscapes, then shooting wide open may not be the best option, since you'll likely want more crisp details throughout the image. In that case, you'll definitely need to shoot at a smaller aperture (Fstop), and use a long shutter to let the light in.
10. CAREFUL WITH COMPOSITION
Typically you don't want your subject directly in the middle of you photo. Direct them to one side of the frame. Also watch the placement of the horizon. It's usually best to have a the horizon lower with a lot of sky, or mostly ground with a little sky. It tends to be a little uncomfortable if it's directly in the middle. These tips are basically the classic rule of thirds (click to read more).
11. CULLING + EDITING
So you get back from your trip and you've loaded them on your computer... over 1000 images! Well, that's too many! I don't think anyone (including your mother) will want to sit through a slideshow of 1000 travel images. Sorry! My recommendation is to immediately cull (delete) your photos and select the best ones. This is time consuming but so important! If you don't do it when you get back, you never will! Trust me! This will also allow you to share your best images with your friends and family, and you can create that travel album and get images printed to enjoy on your walls!
Lastly, never feel like the image is final once taken. There is so much you can do in post to create eye catching images. Feel free to crop, rotate, and play with the exposure to enhance the image. I use Adobe Lightroom to edit my travel photos, but I know there are plenty of programs out there including: Capture One, Camera Raw, and numerous other free online editing sites like Pic Monkey.
So I hope you can take a tip or two for your future travels! Feel free to share them with me when you return. I would love to see them!