A couple of months ago I was invited to share my photo tips in Canon’s Finnish blog. They have a great collection of all sorts of tips and tricks for photographers, both rookies and the more experienced ones, but I decided to concentrate on a few simple tips for better travel photos. My aim was to share some wisdom that would help not only those who shoot with DSLR camera, but those with simpler, cheaper means as well.
So here we have it — a few of my favourite tricks that I keep in mind when taking travel photos.
I, like so many others, started my career in photography with compact cameras, but over the years, I kept upgrading until I reached my all time favourite: Canon 5D Mark II. Now, Mark III (as in the new version of 5D) has been out for years, but I’m still with my dear ol’ thing. I’ve had it for at least 7 years now, and not once did I need to take it anywhere for maintenance. So, we get along quite well.
I shoot bands, concerts, weddings, people, events, pets, basically anything that comes along and I love it all. But during the past few years (mainly because of this travel blogging madness of ours) I’ve concentrated more than ever on travel photography. Of course, I’ve always taken photos while travellling, but I never took it quite so seriously.
But now with about 15,000 people per month — as of today — looking at our stuff, there’s a bit of a pressure to take better photos.
So, here’s to hoping I’ve actually learned something useful and that it will help you guys too!
The most important thing in photography is light. Aside from learning how to look at your subject and capturing just the right moment, learn to look at light, to really see how it affects things in front of your camera. You can practice this easily even when you’re not holding a camera: pay attention to how the light affects a person’s face when it hits someone from different angles and different situations. Pay attention to the starkness of light and shadow in direct sunlight and compare it to the softness of diffused light coming from behind a thin curtain, or when standing in the shadow of a tree. When photographing sceneries, avoid the boring light of midday whenever possible. It’s really worth getting up early in the morning to capture the sunrise or to wait for the sun to go down.
It’s not always about owning the fanciest, most expensive camera equipment out there. The most important thing is to know how to use your camera, so that you can make the most of it. Familiarize yourself with the settings and capabilities before you travel. That’ll help you snap beautiful photos quicker and have less disappointment of missing a great moment. For me, knowing the settings, the effects they have and my lenses also helps me to plan ahead. If I know where I’m going and at what time of the day, I’ll know which lenses to bring and what kind of settings to prepare for.
Aside from the usual photos featuring the beautiful sceneries and your travel companions posing in front of things, try to shoot other stuff as well. Take photos of details: the beautiful decorations in buildings and statues, little bugs and shells on the beach, the most exotic food and other local specialities, the people on the streets, everything that makes the destination special to you. I’ve noticed that by always looking at things like I was looking for a good photo op also helps me to really see the place I’m at. I notice things more easily and remember them better afterwards, even if I didn’t snap that photo.
Whether you’re shooting a funny pose your friend is making, a selfie or just a cute dog on the street, remember to try different angles. Stand up, crouch, climb on a chair, lift your arms or just place the camera on the ground to point up — when you try new angles, you’ll get a completely new set of photos as well. Not everything needs to be seen from your own eye level.
There are a lot of jokes to be made about the funny postures and silly efforts of photographers hunting for that perfect shot, but the truth is, just a few steps away from your initial footing might affect the photo massively.
Never stop looking at other people’s photos. Look up famous photographers from the past and present. Browse photo communities on Flickr, Facebook and 500px. Search the popular tags for travel photos on Instagram, browse photo books at the library, go see the exhibitions in your home town. Spend some time looking at them and giving a little thought on why you like or dislike a particular photo. Try to imagine how it was done — where the photo was taken, where the light came from, how the photographer’s choices of settings and angles affected it.
I don’t tell you this because I want you to copy other people. I’m telling you this because in order to become a good photographer, you’ll need to have a subconscious library of sorts, a place for inspiration and ideas. Immersing yourself in beautiful photos will help you see all the amazing possibilities out there, and your mind will automatically start seeing things differently when travelling.