I am by no means a professional photographer, but my experience of taking travel photographs over the last three years has taught me a few important lessons. I’d like to share ten of my top tips for improving your travel photography.
1. ‘Learn’ your camera – Before You Leave
Travelling isn’t the ideal time to learn your camera’s functions – this should be done before you leave. Make sure to invest time as well as money in your new camera, learning it’s functions and getting comfortable moving from AUTO mode to Manual mode.
2. Break the ice for portraits
Taking good travel photographs of people isn’t hard, but in general people make one of two mistakes. Either they’re way too hesitant and try to sneakily take photos of people without the subject noticing, because they don’t want to offend, or they stick their cameras in people’s faces and snap away, without offering any respect. Get the balance right – say hello, ask or point at your camera, and if the person agrees than take the photos you want to take. And say thank you afterward.
3. Do your research on locations
To get interesting pictures you need to research the best locations to visit both before and during a trip. This is highly dependent on your aims, but even if you want a ‘typical’ sunset photo, for example, there will be places where more or less people congregate at this time. Chose those less known locations for a more enjoyable experience, and original pictures.
4. Learn about light
Learn about light and how it dramatically affects the quality of your images. Shoot early in the morning and during the ‘golden hour’ in the late afternoon / evening for the best pics. The color of the natural light has a huge effect on the pictures you take.
5. Take your time
Henri Cartier-Bresson is known for capturing the ‘Decisive Moment’ – but these moments didn’t just appear to him immediately. Cartier-Bresson invested a lot of time, hanging around the streets, to capture what have now become world-famous images. Invest time in your photography, wait for tour groups to leave, wait for people to line up with interesting backdrops. Take your time and you will get your reward.
6. Learn Lightroom
The ‘Digital Darkroom’ is as essential as the actual darkroom used to be, and learning to use Adobe Lightroom, by far the most popular choice of post-processing programs, will improve your photography no end. There are plenty of good Lightroom tutorials out there on internet.
7. Technique beats gear any day
Read about exposure and composition. Learn how to use your camera. Know your modes, when you should use each one, when to bracket exposures, when to raise or lower the shutter speed and/or aperture. And practice, practice, practice. Buying a new camera or lens is far less important than knowing how to use them, both in a technical and an artistic sense. This is a subject I want to return to in a future post, but in essence because photography appeals to both the artistic and the technical sides of our personalities, it is easy for the technical ‘gear geekery’ to cloud the artistic. Don’t let it.
8. Take photos you care about
Love your photos – invest time in them, have conversations with the people whose photographs you take – and you will come to treasure them more. This is true for me in the case of the photo at the top of this post – of two kids I met while in Burma. Seeing this photo brings me back to that time, and makes the experience part of the enjoyment.
9. Invest in a prime lens
Fixing your focal length forces you to learn new skills, while also allowing you to play with shallow depth of field. Invest in a reasonably cheap 50mm 1.8 lens or, for a crop-sensor DSLR, a 35mm 1.8. This plus a mid-range zoom (and perhaps a telephoto) is all you need.
10. Don’t forget accessories
There is a lot of crap out there that people will try to convince you is worth buying. But there’s also a lot of useful photography accessories. Get a lens cloth, spare memory cards and a spare battery. Get a cheap spirit level for your camera’s hotshoe. Buy a tripod if you are happy to lug it around with you. Prepare before you travel so you aren’t caught out during your trip. Again these are subjects I will return to in a future post.
Photography can be a wonderful, fulfilling hobby. Enjoy it!