Travel Photography Tips – Photography can offer photographers a huge variety of subjects – from striking landscapes to vibrant street scenes – as well as countless opportunities to tell stimulating visual stories.
What’s more, travel photography is accessible to everyone: whether you have a smartphone or a DSLR, there are always new things to try and novel scenes to capture.
Whether you’re a casual holiday snapper or photography is your reason for traveling, exploring new places is the perfect time to improve your shooting skills.
Travel photography tips: when to shoot what
Timing is everything with travel photography – and never more so than when it comes to light. If you’re planning to capture a sunrise or sunset, for example, you’ll not just want to find out when the golden orb is set to disappear but also be set up and ready for the unique light both before and after.
Similarly, it’s worth researching your location to know how the light will fall during the day. You might not have the luxury of several days in a location, so use a map to determine east and west. That way, you’ll know when to shoot certain building facades, for example, or when to avoid bright sun flaring down an eastward street.
For landscapes, early mornings and late afternoons tend to be best (with the former offering the prospect of magical mist and the latter glowing smog in cities), while for long-exposures it’s worth experimenting with both twilight hours and after dark.
Try this: Adjust the ISO
How light translates in your images depends on a combination of white balance and ISO – or your camera’s sensitivity to light. If possible, shoot in Raw and adjust the white balance later. As for ISO, adjust it alongside aperture and exposure to control how much light is captured.
Alternatively, try shooting the same scene at hourly intervals, from before sunrise until after sunset, adjusting settings as you go. Not only will this create a catalog of lighting conditions, but you’ll also see how the location itself changes throughout the day.
Travel photography tips: nailing your landscapes
From the temples of Myanmar to the hills of Tuscany, landscapes have long been the subject of choice for budding travel photographers – which only makes it harder to capture one that stands out.
The basic setup is a simple one: position yourself with a relatively high vantage point, attach your camera to a tripod and select a narrow aperture for maximum detail (push f/22 if you can). It’s not as simple as pointing your lens at the hills, though.
Start by finding a focal point – often a mountain – then compose your shot. Consider the rule of thirds (for example, positioning objects at the intersections of where your ‘3×3’ gridlines meet) and how it might work with your landscape.
If there’s a dramatic sky, you might want to include more of it; conversely, if the foreground is interesting it can take up most of your shot. Don’t be afraid to incorporate movement, either, and use lines (such as hedgerows, roads, and rivers) to guide the eye.
Try this: Landscapes at different focal lengths
How you frame your landscape will be affected by focal length. Try shooting the same landscape at different focal lengths and note how it forces you to change the framing – from a wide-angle with foreground detail, to a narrower crop with tight composition.
Travel photography tips: editing on the move
There’s no reason to wait until you get home to edit your travel photographs, especially if you have a ready audience of Instagram followers awaiting your next upload.
While we definitely advocate transferring shots from your SD card to your laptop on the regular (and, ideally, backing them up to the cloud), if you’re traveling without your PC or want a quicker fix, most travel cameras today come with Wi-Fi connectivity. Using it is as simple as enabling the connection on your camera, pairing with your phone (you’ll usually need to download a dedicated app), and picking which pictures you want to transfer.
Once your shots are on your smartphone, there are several apps you can use to tweak them. Snapseed is one of the best, offering an arsenal of non-destructive editing tools to rival the likes of Photoshop. It’s seriously simple to use, with a range of presets and more advanced options.
Try this: Smartphone masterpiece in a snap
Once you’ve outgrown Snapseed’s standard effects, try delving into the ‘tools’ section. Here you’ll find a host of options, including an excellent HDR setting. Adjust the filter strength to taste, tone down the saturation a tad and you’ve got an Insta shot with real pop.
Travel photography tips: shooting in the street
One of the joys of street photography is that you never quite know what you’ll be shooting until you step outside. As a result, you need a camera that can handle a broad range of subjects and styles.
Smartphones are fantastic tools for street photography thanks to their versatility and quick operation. If you’re shooting with a mirrorless or DSLR camera, a fast 35mm or 50mm prime lens is a strong bet: a good primer will be compact, sharp and offer an excellent aperture range, while the fixed focal length will encourage you to compose creatively.
You might also want to become acquainted with your device’s manual settings and how to change them quickly to capture changing subjects. Apps such as Camera+ 2 will allow you to do this on a smartphone. If you’d prefer to keep things simple, an ISO of 400 and an aperture between f/8 and f/14 will work well in most streets.
Try this: Shoot blind for an afternoon
Good street photography is as much about capturing fleeting moments as it is about getting your settings right. To demonstrate the point, fit your camera with a fixed focal length lens, go standard with the settings, and shoot from the hip. You can always crop down afterward.
Travel photography tips: capturing the city
Cities offer countless opportunities for travel photography – from broad cityscapes to arresting architectural details. Part of the art is knowing where to tread, so a city tour is never a bad bet – unless you prefer to get lost and shoot what comes to you.
Perhaps the quintessential postcard shot is the city skyline, best captured from a high viewpoint – usually a tall building – and with a narrow aperture above f/14. Take your tripod and head up at dusk to steal a scene illuminated by twinkling lights. If the weather isn’t on your side, use clouds and a Graduated Neutral Density (ND) filter to your advantage to capture the moodiness of the moment.
Give your travel photography series some perspective with close-up shots, too. Most cities are rife with intriguing angles, unusual architecture and urban textures. Captured sharp (ideally using a tripod) and with strong contrast, these can be as captivating as any city vista.
Try this: Long exposure light trails
Car lights are like the lifeblood of the city. Capture them from up high for a vast painting of urban movement or go low for swathes of glowing color. Try to find a spot where headlights aren’t shining straight into the lens, position your tripod and set the shutter speed to at least 30s.
Travel photography tips: how to take portraits
Evocative travel photos often involve people – and they’re at their most natural when not posing for the camera. Getting good candid shots takes practice and not everyone enjoys having their picture taken. To get around this you can shoot from the hip or, for more control, stand a distance away and use a telephoto lens.
Naturally, it’s easier to photograph people with their permission – but this risks photographs looking staged. Shooting people performing an everyday action they’re already comfortable with is a simple way to ensure that subjects don’t look wooden. A short telephoto lens – around the 70mm mark – is a good choice for portraits, while several modern smartphones like the Google Pixel XL and HTC U12 Plus also have excellent dedicated portrait modes.
Whether you’re shooting candid or posed portraits, it’s worth remembering the value of street furniture. Everyday items can be used to neatly frame your shots – such as taking your photo through a window or doorway, or placing a telegraph pole at the edge of your composition.
Try this: Fill-in flash
Fill-in flash is a simple but powerful technique that reduces the effect of shadows when a light source is behind your subject. On your camera or smartphone, set the flash to ‘on’ (reducing the power output by a couple of stops to make it more subtle) and adjust exposure to ensure the effect isn’t too overblown.
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