Do you sometimes wonder how some travel photographers manage to make photos that simply take you to a different world – a world of wanderlust? Do you marvel at how, through a single picture, they can convey a story that makes you want to promote their destination straight to the top of your travel list? Travelling is amazing in itself, but what’s even more wonderful is travelling ánd being able to capture your experiences so you can relive them, over and over again. Many people struggle with their travel photography and feel that their photos often turn out as a watered-down version of their experiences, failing to accurately represent the wonder of the place, the sensation of the adventure.
In this article, I’ll be sharing 7 essential travel photography tips that will help you catch the glory of extraordinary places and moments as well as add to your travel photography an artistic surplus that will astonish yourself and, who knows, the world. An added bonus is that following these tips, and thus making higher quality travel photos, will also increase your chances to be featured on the @dametraveler Instagram page when you use the hashtag #dametraveler.
An explosion of textures in the awe-inspiring Court of the Lions of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain
If, after reading the tips below, you want to further up your photography game, I invite you to download the free e-book I recently wrote for my blog readers on this subject. The 79-page e-book includes all the principles, techniques and personal secrets that I use for my photography. It will take you less than an hour to read (it’s written in a clear language and is full of illustrative photos), yet contains all you need to know to make the kind of photos you see in this blog post. Apart from my tips on camera settings, composition, lighting, location and editing, I’m also sharing which camera and lenses I’m using for my photos and I offer my recommendations of camera gear for every budget.
Admiring the luscious Generalife gardens of Granada (Spain
1. Use Pinterest to prepare your travel itinerary
Especially when it comes to travel photography, location is what carries a photo from the commonplace into the “wow” territory. Consciously planning the places you want to visit in advance not only allows you to have a more relaxed travel experience, it also keeps you from overlooking
unique places you might have missed out on otherwise. I don’t only use a travel guide but I also type in the places we want to visit (or consider visiting) on Pinterest. It’s an incredibly visually-oriented platform, through which I often stumble upon wonderful spots I wouldn’t have found otherwise. For example, Pinterest is how we found the castle of Gourdon with its magnificent gardens during our holiday at the French Riviera (see the photo below). Even though the castle was not normally open to the public, we discovered after a few google searches that it was possible to arrange for a private guide to show us the gardens, at a reasonable price. If it hadn’t been for Pinterest, we would have missed out on that opportunity. Another place I found through Pinterest is the Château de la Chèvre d’Or in France Èze, France (you can get an impression of its gardens two photos further down in this blog post). However, don’t be afraid to mix up your itinerary during the journey itself, as you sometimes run into unexpected beautiful places (unpredictability is what makes travelling so exciting!).
The meticulously trimmed gardens of the mountain castle of Gourdon (France)
2. Get up early
Don’t underestimate the impact of the lighting on your photos. I feel the secret to good lighting is to avoid strong, direct light (e.g. sunlight at noon) as this creates harsh shadows that make it tricky to expose your subject correctly. A wonderful time to shoot photos is the “golden hour”, when the sun is low on the horizon (either in the morning or in the evening) and produces a soft and warm light that gives a romantic touch to your images. I use the iPhone app Sol to plan what time it will be golden hour in my location. Since the light is so much better, I really believe it’s worth it to get up super early and visit the most photogenic spots during the morning golden hour. An added bonus is that you’ll be able to take your photos when most other tourists are still asleep, so they won’t be spoiling your shots. In my e-book I’m sharing a few other situations which will give you good lighting as well.
For this photo, taken at the blushing-pink baptistery of Parma (Italy), we woke up at the crack of dawn and waited patiently until the crisp morning light started to illuminate the street
3. Know your camera settings
No matter whether you use your Iphone, a point-and-shoot camera or a DSRL, knowing how to use your equipment is essential. Many people buy an expensive DSLR and then only use it in automatic mode. In order to be able to control the result of your photography, it’s vital to understand the three most important settings: aperture, shutter speed and ISO. (A complete explanation of what these settings are and how I use them can be found in my free e-book.) Being able to choose certain settings for artistic reasons gives you the ultimate freedom to obtain the result you want. For people using a DSRL camera, a great tip that will immediately help you to take better photos is to always shoot your photos in RAW format (I use the highest quality setting) rather than in JPEG format. You can select this format in the settings in your camera menu. Shooting in RAW allows you to produce higher quality images, as well as correct problem images that would be unrecoverable if shot in the JPEG format (over- or underexposed images for instance).
For landscape photos, you generally want both the closer parts and the distant parts to be in focus. This can be achieved by using a narrower aperture (higher f-number). In this photo (taken at one of the most beautiful hotels in the world, the Château de la Chèvre d’Or situated in the medieval city of Èze (France), I wanted both the dolphins in the foreground and the sea in the background to be in focus.
4. Develop your photographic eye
Put in an effort to develop your photographic eye. A lot of people just walk past places that would make a terrific photo because they fail to notice them. Simple details like peeling paint, chequered paving, ancient houses, unique colour combinations and wrought-iron latticework (all present in the photo below) could be all you need for a great photo. Always keep your eyes open for the inconspicuous details of the world around you. Over time, you really develop an eye for spotting great photo opportunities. In order to develop a creative eye, it also helps to find inspiration in other people’s work. For instance, go through your instagram feed and have a look at your favourite photographers’ style. Take note of what makes them special. And why not watch the work of some great photographers elsewhere on the Internet? I love browsing through the photos on the website of Magnum, a prestigious photographic agency that unites some of the most amazing photographers in the world) or even looking how classic painters approached subjects like composition, use of light, focus etc. (some of the masters I’m inspired by are Johannes Vermeer and Edward Hopper). These are creativity-stimulating exercises that will also make it easier to develop your own style, your visual voice.
Photo taken on the Plaza de las Cruces (or Crosses Square) in the Barrio Santa Cruz, the former Jewish ghetto of Seville (Spain)
5. Switch things up
When trying to make a good photo and capturing the best representation of your subject, you need to make decisions about angles, focal length, horizontal or vertical orientation, position of focal points and background etc. Try to think outside the box when it comes to composition. Even though at first glance, it looks like there aren’t many options to take an original photo of the Eiffel Tower, you’d be surprised to see how many variations photographers have come up with of this famous landmark (try searching Flickr for photos of the Eiffel Tower). For instance, I love fellow Dame Traveler @morganetgi’s different take on the Eiffel Tower. You might use your sense of humour. You could look around to see if there’s a way you can frame your subject creatively, by using vegetation like tree branches or windows and doors. Always be on the look out for new interesting points of view. Allow yourself a few seconds to think about anything interesting that might be happening. Also, don’t just stick to the well-trodden tourist path. Go outside your comfort zone. Get lost and wander down alleys. Search out unusual and little known places that other tourists miss out on.
Photo taken in the Château de Beloeil (Belgium). The floor pattern in the foreground and the space created by zooming out as much as possible, give the photo a distinctive touch
6. Know the Rule of Thirds
An easy way to improve your travel photography is to know the Rule of Thirds. The principle behind it is that photos are often more aesthetically pleasing when you split them in thirds horizontally and vertically and aim to place the main focal point(s) of the image on one of those intersections. This means moving the subject out of the centre of the photograph. This might seem a little counterintuitive, but you’ll see that it often works. Also, according to the Rule of Thirds, a horizon should sit on one of the two horizontal lines splitting your image in thirds. Don’t worry though if you don’t get your composition completely right at the moment of pressing the shutter button. In post-production (Lightroom, Photoshop or any other image editing software) you can easily crop your image in order to achieve a better composition. Most cropping tools have the thirds grid built into their design, which makes the Rule of Thirds super easy to apply. However, don’t treat the Rule of Thirds as an absolute rule. I strongly believe rules are made to be broken sometimes and the Rule of Thirds is no exception! Often I just like to use my intuition and use a symmetrical or any other composition, depending on the circumstances.
Photo taken at the Plaza de España in Seville (Spain), applying the Rule of Thirds. In addition, this photo exemplifies some of the tricks discussed earlier: it was taken at the first blush of day so we could get the best lighting possible and weren’t disturbed by tourists. I intentionally wore a colourful, summery patchwork dress for which the glistening colours of the sequence of azulejos tiles provided the perfect backdrop.
7. Take lots of photos
Have fun. Move. Experiment with different compositions, perspectives, locations, different lighting and see what works and what doesn’t. There isn’t really a drawback to taking lots of photos, like there was in the old film days when you had to pay for each film roll. A big mistake a lot of people make is to think they have found the right shot and then essentially take the same picture over and over again. Try and be dynamic; photography is not a sedentary business! Move around your subject and background and squat up and down to avoid distracting objects in your image. Shoot lots and you might be rewarded with that one perfect shot.
Photo taken in the picturesque little town of Menton (France). We took lots of photos in this beautiful setting and this one turned out to be my favourite.
So, these were my tips! Have fun with them and let me know in the comments how you get on with it or if you have any further questions. If you want to know more, I’m referring you to my free e-book I’ve talked about in the beginning of this blog post.
Photo taken in the Old Town of Nice (France), where we got lost in quaint streets and ended up on a film set that transported us back decades.
You can download her free photography e-book here.