As a travel photography instructor, author and tour guide, I’m often asked if I can provide some basic pointers for improving one’s skills for capturing better images while on the road, and the first thing I’ll tell people is that it’s not about the camera. In the beginning, it doesn’t matter how many megapixels your camera has or whether it’s a disposable point and shoot or an expensive D-SLR with interchangeable lenses. The idea is to learn to “see like a photographer” and to begin to notice and take advantage of unique photo opportunities wherever you might be.
It’s my opinion that 75 percent of photography is just making an effort to put yourself in the right place at the right time. The truth is that anyone can point their camera at a beautiful or interesting subject and with a bit of persistence, and a little luck, probably get a decent shot. But the trick is to go beyond the snapshot and with just a few simple considerations, take one’s photography to another level.
Photography is an art, not a science, and each of us needs to develop his or her own style, and if it means getting a better shot, that may entail breaking the “rules.”
1. Make it automatic
If you’re a beginning photographer the camera manufacturers make it very easy for you. Simply set your camera to the Auto mode and the camera will do its best to adjust to your environment, whether you’re indoors in low light, outside in the harsh mid-day sun, or shooting at night. Be aware, however, that this doesn’t always guarantee the right settings, and as you improve, I’d recommend learning how to adjust your camera’s shooting modes and settings, allowing you to be more creative.
2. Practice, practice, practice!
Practice before you leave on a trip, especially with new equipment. Don’t be afraid to read the manual that came with your camera and to make those inevitable mistakes close to home by being a tourist in your own city before you leave. Just as you would never bring a new, untested pair of shoes on a trip, you don’t want to travel with a new camera before experimenting and learning how to use it properly.
3. Always think about the light
Get up early and stay out late. Try to be out during what’s called “the golden hour,” that window of time around sunrise, and before, during and just after sunset when the sun is low in the sky and it casts your subject in what I like to call “Rembrandt light.”
~ Patrick Symmes
An additional advantage is that you’ll likely have a lot less tourists and distracting people in your images. Get up early, before the crowds, and see how the locals live. Capture people on their way to work, or the children on their way to school, and be out before the cruise ships or tour buses unload. But be careful because this can go against you, as well. Certain images with no people in them to provide human interest and scale can be extremely dull, so you have to strike a balance.
4. Embrace the weather
It’s been said, “When it comes to photography, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just varying degrees of good weather.”
Don’t stay inside when the weather shifts. Celebrate when it’s rainy, foggy, cloudy, windy or snowing outside. These conditions present a great opportunity to make unique images of what are likely “overshot” subjects. Famous and much photographed sites require extra effort in order to come up with a new approach. A picture of the Eiffel Tower on a sunny day at noon may be fine, although that’s typically the worst time of day to be out shooting because of the harsh sunlight, but how about one where it’s shrouded in a mysterious early-morning fog or is being criss-crossed by a rogue snowstorm at night? These conditions present unique photo opportunities that not every photographer will make the extra effort to capture.
5. Simplify your shots
Be careful not to put too much into a single photograph. You should have one or two main subjects in the image and that’s about it. Any more than this and your viewer won’t know where to put his eyes first and this can be confusing and make your audience uncomfortable.
6. Hold steady
Even the slightest camera movement can cause blurry photos. Ideally, and if you’re serious about your photography, use a tripod or bean bag, even in the daytime. If you don’t have a tripod and the light is low where you’re shooting, brace yourself against a stationary object like a tree or building to help keep the camera still during what will likely be a longer shutter speed. Take a deep breath and hold it as you depress the shutter release, this goes a long way towards minimizing camera shake. Also, hold the camera to your eye while keeping your elbows in close to your body to provide additional support.
In part two of this article, I’ll continue with these basic tips to improve your travel photography. In the meantime, keep an eye out for good photo opportunities and take them! To read more tips, grab a copy of On Travel Photography: 101 Tips for Developing Your Photographic Eye & More.