Explore. Experience. Engage.

19 Tips for Better Travel Photos

india woman doorway blue turquoiseDivide the scene into threes.
If you put something right in the middle of the frame, the photo is about that thing. Another great tactic for creating visual interest in a somewhat routine shot is to frame the shot such that your subject is not in the dead middle of the photo, but is placed off-center in the frame. An easy way to think about this is mentally to divide the frame into three sections (left, center and right), and put the main subject of the photo either entirely within the left or right section, or perhaps right on the line dividing two sections.

How to choose on which side to put the subject? This is easy -- put it on the side that has the least background interest in the overall frame. This way, the viewer can be tricked into thinking you took a photo of both the subject and the background activities, with equal emphasis on both.

When combined with the tactic of taking a vertical shot, this can be very powerful -- a vertical shot with the subject 1/3 of the way from either edge is one of the easiest ways to compose a compelling photo with minimal effort.

You can also divide the photo vertically into threes as well so that you have a grid of nine squares total to work with. This tactic has a name, long called the Rule of Thirds.

When taking a photo of a person, emphasize the person.
When taking photos of traveling companions, it is easy to prop them up in front of something interesting and then take the picture. If you go to some effort to get the attraction behind them, but cut off the top of someone's head, or include a sloppy untucked shirt, or cut the photo off at someone's socks, you have a good photo of the sight and a terrible photo of your friends. In this case, frame them first and then worry about the background.

Move.
I find that very often a decent photo could have been a great photo if I had just moved a little bit, whether to reframe the photo slightly, or to put something interesting into the background. This can involve moving a few steps forward or back, shifting to one side or the other, or crouching down. As a photographer, you have much more control over what you are doing and where you are standing than you do over the subject matter; if you just stand lead-footed in one spot, your photos will reflect this.

Zoom in and out until you like what you see.
If your camera has a zoom feature, and most do these days, you can help yourself to "move" by zooming in and out on your subject. I find that when you do this, at the point the scene becomes most interesting, your eye will notice it -- that is, you'll just like it more intuitively. That's when you take the shot.

Pay the most attention to the edges and corners.
A great photo is as often defined by what is left in as by what is left out. You have considerable control here, and while it is normal human behavior to look directly and in a concentrated way at the things that interest us most, the camera behaves otherwise.

Very often you can take a photo that seems like it might turn out extremely well, but when you see the print of a photo, your friend is a speck in the middle of a nondescript background. Take all that stuff out, and you have a great photo.

In the same way, if you zoom in very closely on someone's face, and cut out the monkey standing on her head, you missed the shot.

When zooming in and out, or moving around while looking through the viewfinder or at the screen to frame your photo, the first thing to scan is the sides and corners of the visible area. Is there anything of interest there? If not, consider moving again, changing the zoom, or tilting the camera up, down or to one side. When everything seems to fall into place, fire away.

At familiar sites, emphasize something other than the subject.
If you are photographing the Eiffel Tower, the Tower of London, Mount Rushmore or any other frequently photographed site, you would often do better to buy a nice calendar than take yet another point-and-shoot photo that will just take up space on your hard drive until it crashes.

But if you make it a photo about something else -- your companion's goofy hat with the Eiffel Tower in the background, or a bobby in front of the Tower of London, or a motorcycle gang parked in front of Mount Rushmore -- then you have a great photo.

Take control.
When I take photos of people, almost invariably they try to set up the photo themselves, arranging themselves and companions in a way that they think might make a good photo. And as often as not, they arrange themselves such that I would be shooting straight into the sun, or with half of the group in shadows, or with one person almost completely obscured by another person. None of these will make for good photos. You're the one with the camera -- you set up the shot.

Look, then think, before you shoot.
Before taking a photo, if you just take a quick look at your surroundings, and give yourself a second to think about anything interesting that might be happening, you will get a much higher percentage of interesting photos than if you simply pull your camera to your eye and snap without planning what you want to capture.

Try to take photos where you didn't "have to be there."
If you want to take a great photo and not merely a snapshot of your traveling companions in a certain location, think about how a complete stranger would react to seeing your picture. Photos that are thereby intrinsically interesting will enhance and retain their interest to you as well.

Use your sense of humor.
Do not underestimate the value of capturing or expressing a little humor when taking travel photos. Travel is usually as much about how we felt and thought while traveling, not just where we went, and photos that capture some humor often bring back the strongest memories and sensations as time goes by.

Use a good printing company (or printer if you print your own).
Ansel Adams compared photography to a piece of music, stating that "The negative is comparable to the composer's score and the print to its performance." Clearly most folks no longer deal with film negatives, but if we let the digital file replace the negative, Adams's truism still stands up. If you take a great photo but the print is washed out, grainy or otherwise sub-par, it doesn't matter if the composition is great -- the performance was not.


Go Anyway,
Ed Hewitt
TravelersEd@aol.com
Features Editor
The Independent Traveler
X

Thank You For Signing Up!

Please Note: To ensure delivery of your free e-letters, please add news@independenttraveler.com to your address book.

We're committed to protecting your privacy and will not rent or sell your e-mail address. By proceeding, you agree to our privacy policy and Terms of Use.