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How to Take Good Travel Photos

Jaipur

I wrote a popular instructional post earlier this year about How to Take Good Photos and How to Use Your Camera. I’ve also given some pointers about How to Compose Good Photos. Today’s entry is some general advice on the art of travel photography.

1. Stop thinking that Travel Photos are any different to normal photos. Start carrying a camera with you wherever you go. Take a photo a day for a year. This will help train your mind to “see” the interesting shots that are all around us at all times, not just when we’re travelling.

2. Do your research. Before I go anywhere I search for images from the place on Flickr. Sort them by “Interestingness” to see what Flickr deems to be the best photos.

3. Take the standard snapshot as soon as you arrive. Get it out of your system! Everyone secretly wants to have that shot. Then start looking, really looking, prowling, concentrating, searching for that truly good photo.

4. Take a siesta. Broadly speaking the middle part of the day produces the least-interesting photos. Shoot furiously at dawn and dusk, wander the streets late at night, capture landscapes lit by lunar light (lovely for ‘lliteration too!)

5. People usually make for the best photos. Be brave in the western world at asking to take people’s photos, be respectful in far-flung lands, or go to India and be prepared for the majority of a billion people to grin and pose with amazing, wonderful exuberance and vanity and demand you take their photo! I am a total wimp when it comes to asking people in Britain if I can take their photo. I take very few ‘people shots’ in remote countries because most of my travelling focuses on emphasising what I have in common with the people I meet, and waving an expensive camera around often portrays a message of “I’m a rich, western tourist. You’re a funny foreign person”. And yet my time in India has always been a photographic delight.
If you are brave you end up with wonderful portraits of strangers like these ones shot in Singapore.

6. Prioritise. Don’t forget to appreciate where you are. Sniff the air, listen to the music, talk to people. There’s much more to travel than taking a zillion photos. However, if you are serious about taking an incredible shot then it takes an all-consuming effort.

7. I get annoyed when I see people taking photos of beautiful things from the very first position that they happen to be in. You have to move! Seek and you will find. Step closer to your subject. Step further away. Crouch down. Stand on a chair. Compact cameras with zoom lenses are the true criminals here. It is so easy to take a hundred photos that no thought is required. The zoom feature adds to the laziness. If you want to get good and really start thinking about your photos then use a prime lens (one that can’t zoom). It forces you to move, think and be creative. Plus there’s the bonus that prime lenses usually take crisper images than zoom lenses.

8. Pound the streets. Get off the beaten track. Not only are people more likely to be amenable to your photography if you get away from the main tourist hotspots, you are also likely to find more “real”, less cheesy images than if you stay in the central plaza with all the other tourists.

9. If you are taking photos for a magazine story think hard about how you are going to tell the story: you need photos to set the scene, photos of details, photos of the story’s key characters. And you need a killer shot in portrait orientation with plenty of clean empty space ready to grace the magazine’s front cover! (I’m not that good yet!)

10. It is easier to ask forgiveness than permission.

What else would you add to this list?

This piece originally appeared in Wanderlust.

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Comments

  1. Really great advice. Agree that using only a prime lens teaches you a lot about composition and vantage point. My U.S. West Coast ride was done with a 28mm lens alone – no regrets!

    Reply
  2. Very informative indeed. The picture above is captivating in terms of details, sharpness, colours, and the very ability to show street corner activities and people.

    Reply
  3. A picture a day project is helping me stay focused on improving my photography.

    The community at 365 project provides helpful and supportive feedback. It’s free to join :
    http://365project.org/

    Reply
  4. I wish I were on photo a day project too for I would have gotten a skunk’s picture today during my late evening walk with my dog. Well, it is never too late.

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  5. I’m no expert.

    But I particularly agree with 7. and avoiding zoom lenses. Makes sense to stick with one prime lens and really get to know it before adding others in to the mix.

    Also: before posting or circulating your pictures… Edit. Edit. And edit again. Might mean that you only show a handful of pictures in the end. But in editing you begin to really – properly – examine what you’ve done, and are aware of what needs to be improved next time.

    There will always be something to be improved next time.

    Reply
  6. Orchard Road in Singapore was a good choice for that project. Lots of good and varied subjects there for sure, I remember that as well.

    Despite being somewhat of a novice, I have to disagree on some points with this article, although I suppose it comes down to personal preference. On 2) I like to avoid all photos of a place before visiting it. I want to see things first with my own eyes rather than arrive and think “yep, like the photos”. However maybe 2/3 or 3/4 of the way through your visit to somewhere it’s not a bad idea (if you’re in a city or touristy location) to wander past a postcard stall to check what sights you’ve missed out. Although the down side is that I always think, that’s slightly depressingly so much better than the shots I took, I wish I had his/her sunset/helicopter/years of experience/£1000 camera when I visited that place…

    Reply
  7. The other thing I see differently is the zoom. Bought a camera with about 30x zoom this year and I’m loving it. A few days ago I was taking beautiful action photos of the 100m hurdles runners from about 150 metres away. I also took a photo of Bobby Charlton last week from the opposite side of a stadium, and very crisp photos of Nadal, Federer and Djokovic from about the back row at the French Open. There’s a limit to how much you can move around in a stadium.

    OK, so you’re talking about travel photos not sports but I can’t afford (or aren’t serious enough) multiple cameras or lenses, I just want one size that fits all. Anyway travel includes wildlife that runs off when you get close enough if you don’t have a zoom, boats on the horizon (you can’t get any closer than the shore) and many other things.

    Took a nice photo of The Sacre Couer in Paris from the Arc de Triomphe 2 or 3 miles away with my zoom that wouldn’t have been possible to get from near The Sacre Couer, unless you were somehow flying.

    It’s also far easier to get people shots without people realising that they’re having the photo taken, leading to natural photos. (This could be of your family and friends, not necessarily a sneaky photo of a stranger.)

    Reply
  8. These tips have been useful, I want to improve my photography. I’m guilty of taking poor photos when there are great ones to be taken. I only have a cheap camera. But I’m going to stick with that for a while until I get better at the basics.

    Thanks

    Reply
  9. I love suggestions number 5 – take more shots of people. I think many photographers (or bloggers) who travel shy away from taking these kinds of shots. It’s a great excuse to interact with locals and the worst somebody can say is ‘no.’

    Reply
  10. I’m a journalist by profession – so writing for my blog never poses a problem – but I’m far from a good photographer. It’s definitely something I need to work on, so thanks for this!

    Reply
  11. great tips! you make taking travel photos sound easy. I will practice your tips in my next weekend trip while still doing #6 tip 😀

    Reply
  12. Andrea Downes Posted

    Thank you, great tips. Off to Marrakech on Monday, looking wto getting some interesting and memorable photos.

    Reply

 
 

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