- Nico Bistolfi
Regardless if you’re an amateur photographer or just a passionate traveler, I’m sure you want to take the best travel photographs you can in order to remember what you’ve experienced and shared your trip with others. Although photography is a profession that demands knowledge and practice, there are some tips that can seriously help you to achieve stunning and interesting photos. Spoiler alert: we know that storing hundreds of pictures seems like a headache nowadays… Keep reading to get the best tips for travel photography and to optimize your time during your trip!
1. First of all, change your attitude :)
Before starting with our photography advice, the most important thing to acknowledge is that every place we visit is unique. Each place has its particularities, culture, idiosyncrasy, smells, food, and people. Good photography captures this, captures what’s lying underneath what everyone sees or googles about a place. A good photographer feels rather than thinks in the outcome.
Pre-trip research is essential. First of all, to understand traditions and make sure you’re being polite in that country’s terms and secondly, to make the best out of your experience. Try to stay open to new cultures, different realities, and write your impressions in a notebook. Always try to be connected with you but mostly to place: there’s nothing worse than looking to a place with a narrow attitude.
2. Tell a story in your voice
Good travel photography is much more than a nice picture. This is why our first tip, instead of being `buy that camera´, is learning how to be a storyteller. There are thousands of pretty images online: it just takes seconds to see that on Instagram. Travel photography should be much more than that. Although this kind of photography fits into documentary photography, it’s almost impossible leaving yourself out. From the moment you choose to frame this and not that, you’re making a decision to leave something out. So when you’re photographing a place, you’re also putting yourself in those pictures.
"Make use of people to give your images life and scale. If the facade of a particular building appeals to you, the picture may be that much better if you show people walking in front of it. They will give it scale and also let viewers know what sorts of people live there, how they dress, and the like. An outdoor café may be more interesting crowded with people than empty."
The idea is to make a place come alive in the eyes of who’s seeing that, to capture the context, to use emotions, to freeze unrepeatable moments. You have to train your eye and your mind. It will take practice and patience but it sure will be worth it. Be original, be authentic and be sincere. It’s the best way to make your pictures unforgettable.
3. Know your camera
It doesn’t matter if you own an incredible full-frame camera or a point-and-shoot one, you should know your tool. Read the manual, watch online videos, practice - this is the best part of digital cameras!-. Figure out what all the buttons do, study the menu, and be aware of your camera’s limitations.
You don't need the best camera in the world. You just need the correct camera and lens for the trip you are going to do. Be careful, because each decision you made, is more weight you must carry on. But here are some recommendations about my favorites lenses.
If you like portrait photography, take your best 50mm lens or even 85mm lens with you. If you are going to take pictures to Africa and make a Safari, you need a lens that closes up the animals (a teleobjetive, maybe 70-200mm). And if you are going to take pictures from the landscape or you want a versatile lens, have a look to the following lenses:
- Tokina 11-16mm (MY FAVOURITE!) - You have it for Nikon and Canon mount
- Canon 24-70 mm --> Buy it here
- A 24 or 35 mm lens
We could write pages and pages on framing. The truth is that there’s a lot of awesome material to study from. Since the beginning of the history of art - and art itself composition is THE big debate. There are some classical rules you may have heard of: the rule of thirds, leading lines. Of course, it’s important to learn the rules but it’s also important to break them when necessary.
Although today tends to focus on content over formalities, we are going to explain one of the basic (travel) photography rules: The rule of thirds. To visualize this rule, it's necessary to put a grid pattern laid over the image, showing two vertical lines, and two horizontal lines, as shown in the image below.
First of all, the horizon: needs to be straight right.
Secondly, this rule is most common with objects in the picture, but I use with landscape too. You can read more here.
Last but not least, this rule helps us to create a balance and invite the viewer to explore and analyze deeper your image.
On the photo above, you can see three different grey scales on the thirds (horizontal). Of course, the photographer wants us to focus on the middle, where the buildings and the city is. The black "line" is filling the bottom third of the image with almost no information. The same is with the empty sky upper the image. But wait! The most interesting part is the crossing points. If you see, on the right, where the circle is, you can see an avenue with lights, that direct your eye to the melting pot. The most prominent parts of your image should fall on or near these crossing lines.
Train your look, learn how to be aware of everything that’s happening around you and make sure you run your eyes around the entire frame. Maybe you’ll have plenty of time to prepare a shoot but maybe not, and that trained instinct to frame on what’s really important, can save yourself from losing an awesome picture.
5. Ask permission to strangers before photographing them
One of the most useful tips we can give you is to ask permission to photograph someone when possible. It’s good to list a little also before starting shooting like crazy. Empathize, imagine you were in the opposite situation: wouldn’t you feel a little invaded? Say ´hello´, ask something, and then a ´can I take a picture of you?´will be better received for sure. This is really professional travel photography.
Most people will be agreeable and even flattered. It can happen - especially in highly touristic places. Tourists tend to be invasive and local people get naturally tired of it. Of course, there are situations like manifestations or even markets that are more natural not to ask permission, but always be aware of the context and be respectful.
Besides moral and legal, when you establish contact with your subject you will tell a difference in your picture. An outsider’s picture tends to be cold, neutral and empty. When you connect, you show interest and reach a level of trust that will surely show in your photograph.
Like in everything in this life, it’s all about commitment. It doesn’t matter if you just started with photography or you’ve been photographing for age, your compromise to it will make a difference. Always have your camera with you and always keep your eyes open. Destiny plays a huge role when getting lost in a place you’re visiting. You may run into something and it’s best if you’re ready. Has it happened to you before? To see a photo and realize you don’t have your camera with you? Luck plays also a role: sometimes it reduces to being there in a specific moment.
Carry batteries, cards or film, be prepared. Try angles, distances, lenses. And more important: make time for photography, even you’re in your home town, so when traveling, you’re quicker and more prepared for it.
7. Learn about technique
We can almost dare - almost - to affirm that there are fewer chances to accomplish high-level travel photography without learning at least the basics. Not because of the technique itself but for the freedom it gives you. Although you can get a perfectly exposed picture in Automatic Mode, you don’t control for example depth of field. If you don’t know the basics (aperture, ISO, speed) you can always start with an online guide like this.
The technique is not only about the camera, but it's also about image formats too. Read and learn which is the best image format to upload into your website, share with your friends.
8. Back up quickly
It would seem obvious but when traveling, you get to your hostel or apartment really tired and doing your back up may not be what you feel up to. A recommendation: do it and do it properly. Bring always a hard drive with you (Keep your hard drive from falling down to the floor, you can lose everything you have) or 3 o4 Memory cards from 32 or 64 Gb. I use always Sandisk Pro, and it is a pleasure. Fast and not expensive.
Another recommendation is when you have your photos, make and name folders even per day or just for each place you visit. Take a general look at that day, take notes of things you can improve and choose your daily 20 favorite ones. Leave them on a separate folder and take a closer look at them a minute after.
9. Edit while traveling
Though for some people editing is polemical and prefer to be purist, the thing is that most of the photos you see every day are edited. This doesn’t mean necessarily that they introduce a non-existent element or that they eliminate something that does.
The basic edit you need when traveling is to correct light and color. Play around with Lightroom, watch tutorials and see what we’re saying. You can now also download some presets that will certainly help you to get started. Or if you want to create your own presets, look this Video Tutorial!
10. Resize and compress
We know that nowadays storage is a problem. Everything is digital and we need space for all of our digital belongings. We also know that high-quality pictures tend to be heavy and we may have faced the situation of deleting entire folders to make space for new ones. No need to do that! You can always resize and compress images without losing quality - no pixelated pictures, please. Try a free online tool like this and store your photographs.
Now you’re more prepared to capture the essence of a place, to make authentic and interesting photos and to keep them forever! Learn how image optimization for webs works, and let us know if you have more tips for travel photographers.