You don’t have to look like a tourist and take your camera everywhere with you if you want amazing travel photos. I absolutely love taking photos, and I would love it even more if my camera was tiny enough to fit in my pocket, but it’s not. While I enjoy taking photos with my iPhone (which does fit in my pocket), I consistently get better results with my big and bulky Canon 6D. Every trip I take I want to come back with some amazing photos to share. But if I only take photos with my iPhone, chances are I will still have some great photos, but they won’t all be exciting.
So in order to make it easier on myself and not feel like a tourist (well at least not the whole trip), I always set aside a time for taking photos while traveling. I might make it a whole day of taking photos, or I might just commit to an hour or two. I love my photo taking time and while traveling I look forward to it. I simply put my walking shoes on, grab my huge camera, and off we go! I make sure to cover a lot of ground and take as many photos as possible in that set amount of time. I do it while on vacation, while visiting friends in other cities, and while solo traveling. That way, I don’t need to carry my camera around everywhere I go, and can leave it at the hotel the rest of the time. I still use my iPhone for those moments I need a photo and didn’t bring my big but lovely camera.
One thing I also invested in was a mirrorless camera. This camera is a lot smaller than my Canon 6D, but takes high quality photos as well. I haven’t used it on a trip yet but I am excited to see if this makes taking travel photos even easier. Even though I love my Olympus Pen and it’s amazingly sharp but compact lenses, I will still probably lug my Canon around, because it was my first love.
Here are a few tips to taking amazing travel photos:
Invest in a Quality Camera
Investing in a good camera doesn’t mean you go out and spend tons of money. You need to start somewhere. While I would suggest looking into a mirrorless system like the Olympus system or the Fujifilm, those can get pricey. A perfectly good place to start is a Canon Rebel. I STILL get out my Canon Rebel TI and it takes great photos. It is a smaller DSLR than my full frame camera and it does the job. The first photo of the girl jumping of the cliff at the beginning of this post was taken with a Canon Rebel. If you don’t like researching and don’t want to spend the time scouring the internet for the best camera for you, go to Wolf Camera, the salesmen I’ve talked to there have spent lots of time with me explaining to me the ins and outs of cameras and I never felt pushed to buy anything. Plus they ask you what you are looking for in a camera and can point you in the right direction. If you are on a budget, find out what camera you want and then go to Craigslist, you can find great deals on used cameras and lenses there.
Shoot in Auto
At first, you can always just put your camera in auto. I know most people will say you aren’t a real photographer if you can’t shoot in manual, but I say you are a real photographer if you have a camera and you use it! There is nothing wrong with shooting in auto. Your camera will do all the thinking for you and take the best photo it can using it’s inner calculating system. Of course you do want to eventually get away from using the auto program, your photos will improve by using manual. You shouldn’t, however, feel like you have to know all the technology before going out and getting some great photos! Practice shooting in auto and practice getting photos at different angles. You really can train your eye to see what makes a great image, just by going out and shooting!
Know Your Equipment
This really comes down to practice. You need to practice using your camera in order to know it better. It’s great if you know how to turn it on, but even better if you know what modes to use. Program mode is your auto mode, it chooses the shutter speed and the aperture for you. Aperture mode sets the shutter speed and you choose the aperture. Shutter mode allows you to only have to set the shutter mode. Of course manual mode you choose both the shutter and the aperture.
Knowing how to use your camera will set you up for great photos. If you’re ready to move on from Auto (Program) mode, try Aperture Priority. Just practice using it and see what results you can get. Also knowing what lenses are available for your camera system can really improve your photos dramatically. People spend a lot of time researching their camera then just stop and buy a horrible lens for it. Research what lenses are good for your camera and invest in a quality lens. Lenses are what most photographers live for! I remember the first pro lens I bought, and it was worth every penny.
Find a good editing software.
I use Photoshop and I love it. You can easily brighten dull photos or sharpen photos that need it. While photoshop is great, there are other editing softwares available if you need something more affordable. If you are serious and photography isn’t a hobby, then invest in photoshop and lightroom from Adobe.com. Don’t play around with cheaper editing software. I did, and I wish I had just invested in photoshop from the beginning. But if this is a hobby and you just need something affordable then using iPhoto to edit on your mac is great and the results are quite good. If you don’t have a mac, and since I am unfamiliar with windows, here is a good article on finding other software to use. If you just want to upload your photos to instagram then the VSCO app is wonderful.Below are too different photos, the first is fine, but it hasn’t been edited. The second one the color really pops because of a little brightening I did in photoshop. Just remember in editing, a little bit goes a long way.
Train your eye to find amazing photos.
I spend lots of time at Barnes and Noble flipping through magazines. I don’t always just pick up photography magazines, I pick up any magazine I am interested in (Domino, Real Simple, Travel and Leisure, Budget Travel etc). Magazines have lovely photos. If you are a magazine reader, chances are you already know what great photos look like, you just need to be able to find your own. Doubting yourself will keep you from being creative. If you’ve been looking at magazines your whole life, you are already trained to see a great photo. One magazine I love is National Geographic Kids. The photos are beautiful. I love how colorful they are! I am inspired because the photos are inspiring. It doesn’t hurt either that the photos are taken by professionals in travel photography.
Go find some magazines or get online and study some pictures. Find some you like and then ask yourself why you like them. Is it the angle the photo was taken at, the colors, what is interesting about them? Then go outside and take a walk. Look around you for inspiring photos. Is there a house that has pretty windows? Is there a bicycle parked next to some flowers? Is it a lazy afternoon and a kitty is outside sleeping on the porch? Inspiring photos are all around you, you just have to train your eye to find them. Training your eye when you aren’t traveling will most certainly help you when you are.
Below is a photo of a lookout inside a castle. I really only took it because I thought the flowers in the pots were pretty, but it’s turned out to be one of my favorite photos. I love how the light hits the tower in just the right places.
I also love this one that I took in Panama of a boat on the beach. I took the photo with a point and shoot camera, proving you don’t have to have expensive equipment to take a good photo.
Take your time to set up the photo.
Ok so you’ve trained your eye to look for good photo opportunities, but if you don’t take your time on setting up your photo you could get an almost amazing photo, and that’s not what you want. Below are two pictures of the Eiffel Tower, if I had stopped with the first photo it would have been a clear miss. I would have never shared it with you and you can see why. Even though I could adjust it to straiten it out, it still is just an ok photo. The photo on the right however sparkles, not only is it strait, but also the glow of the Eiffel Tower hits the water just perfectly and lights up the whole photo.
Get the right angle.
Once you are able to recognize a good photo opportunity, it sometimes takes a few photos before you get exactly what you want. So take a few photos from different angles to see what you like. I am not going to go into too much composing like some tutorials will do, there are rules to taking good photos, but honestly I just take several photos until I get what I want. Sometimes a photo looks better up close and sometimes you need to back away from it to get the best angle. Below are two photos of the same place. I like the first one. The composition in my opinion is better. You can see more of the water, and the subject (the building) is centered in the middle of the photo. In the second photo you really can’t see the water and there isn’t much composition going on.
Join a photo group online, like Flickr.
Flickr.com has a great community of photographers. There are thousands of groups to choose from and entire groups devoted to travel photography. You can sign up and then share your photos online. You can study others photos and comment and other people can comment on your photos. This is also a great community to go to for tips and tricks on all things photography. When I bought my Olympus Pen I joined a photography group dedicated to the Olympus Pen. I am then able to see what kind of photos other people are capturing with their Olympus system. If I am getting bad results with my Pen and someone is getting good results, then I know it’s not the camera, it’s me. Maybe there is something I can do differently to get better results. Plus it’s just a great way to learn from fellow photographers.
To Sum it all up:
To take amazing travel photos you need a decent camera and practice. Study great travel photos, practice looking for photo opportunities, and on your next trip set aside time to go out and look for inspiring photos. Practice shooting in auto, then try Aperture Priority mode and eventually work your way to manual. Don’t take pictures of just anything, look around you for something inspiring. Chances are if you feel inspired by something and capture it with your camera, others will love it as well. Take your time to set up the photo. Find an interesting angle. Make sure to crop or brighten the photos in an editing software, this can make a huge difference in the end result of your photo. Join a photography group online! You will continue to learn! Lastly don’t be too hard on yourself, especially if you are learning. Give yourself time and keep at it. Have any other travel photography tips or secrets you’ve learned? I would love to hear them!