7 Easy tips for better travel photography

7 Easy tips for better travel photography

Just about everyone who travels takes along a camera or a smartphone to record their trip. Generally, we come back with photos of places and monuments such as the Statue of Liberty, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, a cool street scene in San Miguel de Allende or a colorful bridge in Prague.

But too often, our travel photography lacks a certain oomph that excites us beyond the subject matter in the photo. What we want are not just images of where we’ve been, but striking pictures that capture the essence of the places and people we’ve experienced during our travels.

Many how-to books or blogs on photography can get way too technical for someone who is not an aficionado or isn’t shooting with a high-end digital camera with a variety of lens choices. Well, whether you’re shooting with a $300 camera or a smartphone, here are a few tips that will help you take better pictures when you travel or enjoy a staycation.

Also read: Traveling solo, why you should do it!

1.- Location, location, location
Where you are and the angle you choose to take the photo from will make a huge difference in what the final image looks. If you are at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, you will get some distortion when you point the camera up at the tower. This might make for an interesting perspective, but it won’t match that aerial shot you saw in National Geographic. Now, you might not be able to rent a plane or helicopter, but you can check and see whether there’s a building or bridge nearby and try shooting the Eiffel Tower from it, for an entirely different perspective.

2.- Get up close and personal
The late and great war photographer Robert Capa used to say, “if your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” That holds true for your vacation photos too. We have a tendency to back away from our subject matter, people, places and things. Don’t be afraid to get up close and personal and you will soon discover your images have way more impact.

3.- Follow the light
Ever notice how the images in magazines like National Geographic have this unique look? This usually has to do with the light. The best times to take photos are early in the morning from dawn until mid-morning and again from late afternoon until dusk.

4.- Take a walk
Too many times when traveling we take on the herd mentality. We move with the crowd, get on the tour bus, get off the tour bus, go into the museum, follow the group to the restaurant, etc. Try adventuring on your own. Photography can be a solitary but also very rewarding experience. Take an early morning walk with your camera or smartphone in hand, you might be surprised by what you capture.

5.- Consider your foreground
Many of our travel photos consist of landscapes and cityscapes. We go up on the lighthouse and take a picture of the amazing view. Or perhaps we walk to the edge of the canyon for a wide panoramic. But next time you’re framing a vista, consider adding something in the foreground: a person, a twisted tree, or any other interesting shape that can help frame that landscape. This will give your image scale and perspective.

6.- Follow the rule of thirds
When taking a landscape or almost any other image, we tend to shoot from a middle distance and put things in the center: the sun at sunset, the horizon line, a great monument, etc. Next time you’re framing a picture, consider dividing the space differently so that your horizon line is in the top or bottom third of the frame instead of the center. This also holds true for whatever your subject matter is. Place the person to the left or right of the frame so you can capture the environment in the background. Watch the result and see the difference.

7.- Wait for the decisive moment
The great photography master Henri Cartier-Bresson was the inventor and master of the decisive moment, which refers to the perfect moment when the photo is taken. When taking a picture, be patient. Watch what’s going on in the frame and wait for the moment that will make the picture perfect: the sailboat cruises right in front of the setting sun, the boys line up properly on the road, your family member jumps off the diving board …

What are your favorite photography tips and what is your favorite type of camera?

Click on the photo gallery to see the slideshow with examples of the tips above:

Phillippe Diederich

Phillippe Diederich is a bilingual author and photographer born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Mexico City and Miami. His photography has appeared in The New York Times, Time magazine, U.S. News and World Report and other national publications. Phillippe's novels Sofrito and Playing for the Devil's Fire are both published by Cinco Puntos Press. He is the recipient of a PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship and the Editor-in-Chief of Viva Fifty!