When Craig and Caz approached me to put an article together on tips for improving travel photography, I have to say I was flattered.
I love taking photos, and to be asked to share my thoughts on how travelers can get the best from their camera was a wonderful opportunity.
Of course, as soon as I was asked, my head started whirling. Photography isn’t a small subject. Craig and Caz cater to a diverse audience. Putting out an article that covers everything at the right level was clearly going to be a challenge.
With this in mind, I decided to split the article into two. This first post will be covering the practical side of photography, with tips and ideas for composition and dealing with different subject matters.
The second post will cover things like photography equipment, a basic overview of photography jargon, and getting the best out of your photos with digital editing tools.
As this article is specifically aimed at improving travel photography, it is not going to go into too much detail on the technical side of photography.
I will cover some jargon which is essential, but for more detail on how a camera works see my article on the differences between an SLR camera and a point and shoot.
Enough with the introduction. Let’s get on with this first article…
The Real Basics of travel photography
Photography and travel go hand in hand. In today’s article I plan to give you a few handy hints that you can use to improve your travel photography.
As well as the memories you’ve captured, with any luck, you’ll get back from your trip and people will be clamoring to see your shots.
This may seem obvious, but ensuring your shot is properly in focus is vital. Your camera will most likely do the focusing for you – but before you press the shutter button, make sure that it is focusing on what you want it to.
Most cameras will allow you to set the focus point manually, so if your camera isn’t playing ball, don’t be afraid to override it. There is nothing worse than a perfect shot ruined by incorrect focus.
After you have taken your shot you should review it on your cameras screen, but bear in mind that the small screen may not be the best way to see what is in and out of focus, so if in doubt, and if possible – take the shot again.
Poor lighting can ruin a shot. From a subject which is entirely in the dark against a brightly lit background, to poor definition on a landscape shot due to an overly bright sky, the end result is the same: shots which aren’t worth the digital memory they take up.
Your camera will usually do its best to work out the lighting in a scene for you, but the mechanics of a camera are no match for the capabilities of a human eye, so as with the focus, don’t be afraid to override it if you can.
Most cameras allow you to under or over expose fairly easily, as well as change the white balance setting for different situations.
Shooting in the early morning or late afternoon will give better light, and avoid shooting towards the sun unless that is the effect you are trying to achieve. If necessary, force the cameras flash to on to illuminate a darkened subject.
Just before you hit the button
Before you commit to taking the shot, run through some checks in your mind. Is everything you want to shoot in frame? Is the horizon level? Is your camera set to the right mode / ISO setting? Is your thumb over the lens / flash?
These may seem obvious, but failing to capture the moment because your camera was on “M” mode from that last long exposure you took – or having your thumb over the lens – is a really frustrating and yet somehow commonplace occurrence.
And don’t get me started on the ruination of an otherwise great picture as a result of an imbalanced horizon. Two seconds of checking before you take the shot can improve the result no end!
Know your subject
What you are shooting affects how you compose your shot. Here are some common subjects and ideas for shooting them:
If you are shooting a person, a handy tip is not to frame them in the center of the shot – try placing them off center. If you have control over how much of the shot is in focus, known as depth of field,manipulate this. On a digital SLR you do this by changing the aperture so as to bring out the subject and reduce emphasis on the background.
When shooting people, get them to pose for the camera, not for the photographer. This should result in more natural poses. Alternatively, shoot them when they are not paying attention for more natural looking shots – but be sure to let them know afterward!
If you’re shooting animals, get down to their level so as not to make them appear dwarfed. Consider using a telephoto lens to get up close and personal, or if you are shooting on the tiny scale of insects, use a macro lens.
If you are shooting landscapes, go for nice wide shots. Pay particular attention to what is in the foreground and background of your shots. Consider how the different pieces of the image work together. Find something like a hut or a road when shooting large scenes, to help convey a sense of scale, and to draw the viewers eye through the shot.
When shooting popular sites, try for something different. Many thousands of people will have already shot the scene from the same places – if you want to intrigue your viewers then you will need to do a bit more work. Try different angles, or picking out details that others may have missed.
This said – don’t forget to take the classic tourist shots as well. Photography is a record of where you have been and what you have seen, and you’ll want those memories later on, even if you only show them to yourself.
Photography is an art, and like any art form, there are a number of rules that you can follow (or spectacularly ignore) to improve your work. The human eye is drawn to various patterns and prefers certain image compositions over others. Here are some of the basic composition techniques that you should be aware of:
The rule of thirds
The rule of thirds is one of the easiest and most important of the composition techniques. The idea is fairly simple: imagine a grid over your image like a tic tac toe (or noughts and crosses) board, which divides your image into thirds.
When composing a shot divide the parts of the image into thirds to fit into this grid. So if you are taking a shot of a beach and some sky, the image would be divided horizontally, with the bottom third being beach, and the top two thirds being sky.
This will result in a far more pleasing image than just splitting the shot half and half.
Framing is a technique that focuses the viewers eye on the subject you are capturing. The idea is to create a picture frame effect from natural objects around the subject of your shot.
Frames can be found in all sorts of places, from natural frames (think tree branches, or rock arches) to man made frames (scaffolding, windows, and so on). The list of possibilities is almost endless, and can result in some eye catching and unusual photography.
Depth of Field
As was briefly mentioned under photographing people, controlling the parts of the shot that are in focus is a great way to emphasise your subject. Controlling depth of field is done by manipulating the camera’s aperture. More on that in my depth of field article
This may not be possible on a point and shoot camera – but can be achieved on a digital SLR with either the Av or M modes.
All of the above techniques can be combined to achieve different results.
Well, that is pretty much it for the first post. The second post, which will be published soon, will focus on photography equipment, getting the best from your shots with simple digital editing tricks, and an overview of photography jargon.
Until then, if you have any questions, let me know in the comments below!
Laurence Norah has been exploring the world for many years and is currently based in New Zealand. He shares his photography tips and travel stories on Finding the Universe. You can also follow his updates via twitter and hang out on his facebook page.