How to Take Great Travel Photos
Last updated on 11/08/2021
The Secret to Beautiful Travel Photos
One of the main things on everyone’s packing list is a camera. It doesn’t matter if it’s a phone camera, a point-and-shoot, or a DSLR with interchangeable lenses. What makes a great photo memory of a holiday is how you take the picture, not what you take the picture with. Advanced technology and post-processing/editing are great, but if you don’t have the foundations of what makes up a good picture, then even the most cutting-edge technology won’t help. Here you’ll learn how to take great travel photos no matter what camera you use.
It all starts with composition, which is simply how the picture is created in your viewfinder – deciding exactly what you are taking a picture of. Sure, you want to get that picture of Billy and Susie in front of the Eiffel Tower. But if you want a good picture of Billy and Susie then you want to think about composition before you click the shutter button. Consider what you see through the viewfinder at the moment before you click as your canvas. Just like a painter, you decide what is going to go on the canvas and where it is placed. You can control this by moving your body around to various viewpoints, moving closer, moving away, laying down, standing on something, or turning in circles if you want.
For your next trip, we’ve compiled a list of composition photography tips so you can learn how to take great travel photos. These tricks can be used with any camera, so come back with pictures you are proud to share. Just remember, these are all things you need to do BEFORE you click the shutter button.
1. Avoid Centering the Subject
This is the one tip for every traveler taking a picture – don’t put your subject in the center of the picture. It is the simplest thing you can do to change a picture from ok to great. The concept in art terminology is referred to as the Rule of Thirds:
An image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines, and those important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections. It is believed that by aligning a subject with these points creates more tension, energy and interest in the composition than simply centering the subject would.
This basically means that instead of placing Billy and Susie, or the Eiffel Tower in the center of the photo, you place the subject in one of the thirds of the photo. Our brain often comprehends this as more pleasing to the eye. Out of all these travel photo tips, this concept is most important.
Rule of Thirds
There are exceptions to the Rule of Thirds of course, like when you are composing a shot to be symmetrical. A shot where everything is exactly symmetrical in the frame can also have a powerful effect. It adds stability to travel photographs and can give your compositions a sense of calm, peace, and "rightness."
2. Lines & Curves
The second easiest tip to improve your travel photos is ensuring you compose a shot for leading lines. Lines can be used to direct the viewer's attention to the subject of your photograph. When you first glance at a photo, your brain automatically starts to decipher the picture by trying to figure out what the subject is. Without us being aware of it, our brains look for lines that lead us to the subject. These lines can be straight, diagonal, wavy, or any other creative variation. They can be roads, fences, shadows, mountain landscapes, or even the curve of a hat. To be most effective, try to create your overall composition so that the lines appear to be moving in or out of a corner or corners of the frame.
This is a pretty easy concept because we all know what a frame is. It is simply something that goes around a picture. Framing in terms of photography composition is something that frames your main subject to call even more attention to it. This is probably one of the easier composition techniques for learning how to take great travel photos. Framing brings more depth to the picture and a better focus on what the main subject is. It’s also a great way to highlight something that is commonly photographed. As a result, it brings a new perspective and interest to the subject.
4. Scan for Distractions
Before you click the shutter button, take one last look around your frame, especially the corners. Look for pesky power lines and other distractions like people or signs. There’s nothing worse than trying to get a great shot of the simplicity of village life in remote areas than power lines running through your shot. If power lines are in frame, then go to another vantage point (squat down or stand on something) so you can get a nice clean shot. Right before shooting, it's good practice to move your eyes around the perimeter of the frame to make sure it’s clear. Only then should you take the shot. Yes, you can remove these with editing software after the fact, but it takes much less time to simply move a few steps than removing/editing it after the fact.
5. Go Wide for Travel Pictures
Many travel photographers like to use super zoom cameras, but the best travel photos are the ones where you can see the people or subjects relating to their environment. Good pictures tell a story. A wide angle shot will include people and how they are interacting with their environment. People in a wide angle shot also provide a way to show perspective of something. If you use a DSLR, use a wide angle lens for a day and see how your travel photography improves.
6. Get Up Close & Ask Permission
If you are taking photos of people, don’t simply zoom in and "steal" pictures of them while they are not looking. If you are really interested in people photography then the first step is to form a relationship with the person. The personal touch is great, especially when learning how to take great travel photos. By not relying on the crutch of a zoom lens, it will force you to get up closer to your subject and interact. The first interaction should be to ask them if you can take their picture, which ensures your abiding by the tenets of international travel etiquette.
The worst they can say is "no" and you move on. Getting permission is key, as in some cultures taking a photo of someone has very negative connotations. By asking, you’ll actually interact more with your subject and that usually makes a better travel picture. Interaction causes them to look at you and the lens. When people look at the lens, it creates a powerful image. A candid shot of the subject looking directly into the lens is commonly the "money" shot.
If you don’t want to stand out as you are taking travel photos, then try to blend into the crowd more. This is done by crouching down or squatting and taking photos from a lower viewpoint, which prevents you from standing out too much. If you are photographing children, then crouching is a must to get to their level and interact with them. It also helps put them at ease. Crouching has additional benefits because it normally offers a more unique and pleasing perspective for travel photography.
8. Share the Photo
When you are taking travel photos of people who you’ve received permission from and formed a relationship with, remember to always offer to share the photo with them. Show them what you shot. People almost always love to see photos of themselves. Additionally, in some countries seeing your own photo can be quite a novelty. You can even offer to take their address or email and send them the image to really go full circle and give back.
These are just a few composition tips that you can digest for your next trip, but the best advice is to practice and ask for honest feedback. Show your travel photos to others and ask for advice. This way, you will get better and better travel pictures. Furthermore, you’ll learn how to critique a photo yourself. The more we learn to say what is good or bad about a photo’s composition, the better we become. Consider watching some instructional videos online or take a course on photo critique skills to help you learn how to take the best travel photos.