We know the feeling. You’ve been excited for your vacation for months, and you’re going to want to capture stunning photos to share across social media, show off to coworkers, and of course, for your memories. Taking great photos can feel intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. These tips will help you take better travel photos no matter what camera you own. No, you don’t (necessarily) need an expensive camera. Yes, you need a tripod. When I bought my first camera, I was clueless — and now I sell my travel photos to travel brands all over the world. Here are the tips and tricks I picked up along the way.
It’s Not the Camera!
Yes, having a great camera is fantastic but the truth is — 90% of a great photo is made by the photographer’s vision. A cell phone camera in the hands of a professional is more powerful than the best DSLR in the hands of a beginner. Teaching your eye what to look for and learning to use your camera are the two biggest keys. If you’re thinking about investing in a camera, we put together a list of our favorite cameras to travel with. But remember, the best travel camera is the one that’s with you. Don’t feel limited by equipment!
Learn About Composition
The Rule of Thirds tells us to divide your image into equal parts vertically and horizontally. It’s one of the most classic and simple of all photography tips. You’ll then fill those sections with the most important parts of your photo. For example, when taking a photo of your best friend in front of a gorgeous lake, try placing her along an intersecting line rather than directly in the middle. All cameras, including your phone camera, give you the option to turn gridlines on. Once you’ve used the gridlines a few times, your eyes will naturally piece things together following that rule.
Travel photography is about capturing emotion. It is freezing a cherished moment to look back on over and over. A great photography tip for capturing emotion is to fill the frame, meaning filling all the way to the edges of your shot. When you fill the frame with a smiling face, you are making a clear statement of what is most important in that shot. To do this you’re going to want to get close to the subject and when you think you’re close enough, step a little closer.
Most importantly, MOVE! Think of creative angles, climb up, crouch down, or shoot through something. I’m sure you’ve watched a photographer in a crazy position and wondered what in the world they are seeing. When you add elements to the foreground, midground, and background of your shots, it helps to convey scale. I’ve found one of the best tools to help me get more unique angles was to purchase a prime lens. A prime lens means there is only one set focal lens so you can get complacent using the zoom. Your legs become your zoom and that changes everything.
A little pre-planning goes a long way when it comes to getting great photos. Tribe Tip? Instagram and Pinterest are two of the most powerful tools for location scouting. Not only is it a great way to find lesser-known locations, but these tools also help inspire creativity for shooting the most popular landmarks. Something I find to be incredibly helpful is dropping a pin or saving a place I’ve found in Google Maps. Personally, that always makes it easy to see what photo spots are near those other things I plan to see and do that day. Lastly, don’t forget to ask locals for tips! Uber drivers, servers, hotel staff, etc. all know the area. I’ve found that they have great tips, especially for seeing unique spots with fewer crowds.
Invest in Accessories
Get yourself a tripod and a remote. You might feel a little self-conscious at first, but I guarantee when you look back you’ll be glad you’re in the shots. Even if you’re traveling with someone, you’ll want more than just a selfie to document your adventures together. This Joby GorillaPod is a favorite of mine. It fits in almost any bag and the flexible legs mean you can hook it on practically anything. Tripods are also an incredible tool for shooting landscapes and for capturing shots at night since capturing long exposure shots mean the camera needs to stay very still. Adding a lightweight tripod to your kit is an inexpensive way to really elevate your photography!
The “natural” shots you see on social media are not so casual — no matter how effortless they look. Sometimes you have to work to master the art of the “candid” and make that great shot happen. Buy a box of macarons to eat on a picnic blanket in front of the Eiffel Tower. Have fun, be creative!
Get Up Early
Or stay out late. To keep it simple, light plays a huge factor in getting great photos. The best times of day to shoot are usually right after the sun rises and right before the sunsets. This time is called “magic hour” and for good reason. During these “magical” hours of the day, the light is soft and the shadows are minimal. Also, who doesn’t love beating the crowds? Arriving early in the morning means you’ll probably have popular landmarks all to yourself. That not only makes for great photos but also makes for a better experience. I am not a morning person, so buying into this strategy took time. I distinctly remember waking up early to visit the Liberty Bridge in Budapest. Everything was so peaceful and I got shot after shot of the yellow tram passing through the bright green bridge without a single person in sight. Hours later that same bridge was overflowing with visitors and tourists alike.
Editing is often what makes a photo look polished. And now, editing in specific tones or styles that you like has never been easier. Lightroom Mobile is my favorite tool for editing on the fly because there are so many powerful features within the app. One of my biggest tips is to purchase a preset pack. A preset is similar to a filter because it changes the feel of the photo immediately. What makes it different is that it is completely adjustable. Tons of amazing photographers sell their preset packs and include tutorials on how to edit in their style. A great example of presets created specifically for travel photography are the Do You Travel Presets from the incredibly talented Lauren Bullen and Jack Morris.