8 Ways to Improve Your Travel Photography
Most of us take photos one way or another: with a DSLR camera, with our smartphone, or with another type of camera. Photography is a perfect way to document and capture those beautiful moments in general, and certainly during travelling, and it’s also a different way of experiencing a trip.
Photography enthusiasts will always aim to get the perfect photo of each location and scene during their trip, but don’t always know how to do so. In this article I will give you some ideas and pointers about how to get better photos of your travels, using photos I took during my trip to Madrid in May 2018 as examples.
Be original, even when the subject is not
When you travel to a place for the first time you want to visit all those main sights that are on every tourist's list, and you want to take the obvious images of those main sights, just as you have seen in that travel magazine or on postcards. Sure, go for it and get it out of your system. But then look at the place through your own eyes and remind yourself that it is your journey. What do you see now? How does it make you feel? Look at the textures and the colors, shade and light, flow and layers.
Same-Same but Different - Sometimes an entrance to an underground car park, in between regular apartment buildings, can create a good image that will convey the ambiance of a place. Think about the composition and don’t be afraid of getting down low…
Overview & Details
Show symbols of the country where you have traveled to: the flag, the taberna which is half-closed, the fact that it's broad daylight and there is only one kid in the street… siesta… pretty obvious, huh?
We tend to take overview photos of a place or a scene, but life is also about the details. Take some photos of details that tell a story about the place you visit or indicate a special thing. Look for the colors and the right composition. This empty jug and glasses of Sangría says it all…
Those main sights that are on every tourist's list are great. After all, they are on that list for a reason. But in order to get more authenticity from a place, walk off the beaten track, onto side streets and into somewhat remote neighborhoods—and sometimes you’ll unearth photographic treasures!
Look for the real locals in their natural place. The owner of this café-bar in a local indoor market is on his way to clean the table outside. When photographing freehand indoors, increase the ISO and open up the aperture.
The unknown factor
The challenge with travel photography is that we have (almost) no control over what we will come across. Like weather conditions: sometimes it rains, but so what, you are not made of sugar, are you? And anyway, the puddles after the rain are just begging to be photographed! Get a bit low and make sure that the reflection is clear enough.
Or street construction: it’s a street scene that tells about the history as well as the present, old buildings, new buildings and street construction in action to connect them all. Make sure that the vertical line in the middle of your frame is 90° and that the exposure is balanced.
People in the streets
Observe the people in the streets and tell their story with your photographs. You can be polite and ask people for permission to take their photo, running the risk that they will say no or you might lose some of the authenticity. Alternatively, you can practice candid photography and take the chance that people will shout at you, or even worse. When practicing candid photography, position the composition in your frame and wait for the right moment to click.
Photographing Street Art
I know you just love taking photos of street art… so when you do, have depth and perspective in your photos. If you also manage to fit a person or two in the right position in the frame, you've nailed it!
Try different angles
Look up. We tend to take overview photos of a place or a scene, but life is also about the details. Take some photos of details that tell a story about the place you visit or indicate a special thing. Look for the pattern and the right composition.
But also look down! You might find something valuable there on the sidewalk and you definitely want to find a subject to be photographed from above.
Make sure to walk around and take photos from a few angles. Only later, on your computer screen, can you see the difference and choose the best shot. My first instinct with this one was to stand in front of the monument and take a straight shot to create a symmetric image. When I looked at the photos later on, on my computer, I realized that with the straight forward shot, Alfonso XII de España on his horse wasn’t nicely visible. Luckily, I took a few other shots of this monument from different angles.
Be the judge of your own photographs
A good way to check if the photo you took describes a place is to think of adjectives that you would use in order to describe that place, and then see how many of them apply to the photograph. Here I’m showing warmth, brightness, calm, relaxation, service-minded, and food and drinks-oriented.
Why not give storytelling with your images a go? I certainly hope I’ve inspired you to try. Please feel free to share your thoughts and storytelling images in the comments section below.