I’m an amateur photographer who travels a great deal, giving me many great opportunities to have some fun with my favorite hobby. Photography and travel are two activities that were made for each other. Even non-photography inclined people feel compelled to take a camera along when going on a trip.
However, just because you find yourself with a camera in your hand, in an exotic or majestic location, does not guarantee that your photos will be equally stunning and fabulous. So I’ve compiled a list of ten tips to help you take better photographs while traveling.
1. Get up Early.
The absolute best time to get amazing travel photos is quite often early in the morning. Why is this? There are many reasons, one of the big ones is the lighting. Quite simply put, the lighting in the early morning hours is more colorful and less harsh than the light in the middle of the day. A second reason to get up early is to capture the ‘true’ local culture. In even the most exploited of tourists traps, the early morning scene is quite often dramatically different than what you’d see the rest of the day. Most travelers tend to sleep in, so the early morning hours generally belong to the locals. So if you want to catch local culture, bathed in beautiful warm light, set your alarm and get out out early!
2. Talk to Locals.
Speaking of local cuture – taking time to talk to the ‘locals’ is one of the secrets to moving your travel photography from ordinary to extraordinary. Locals who know the area better than anyone can clue you into all kinds of info about sights and local activities that you’d never know about otherwise. In addition, being friendly with locals can get you the opportunity to take some great portraits and have some engaging stories to go along with them.
3. Before you go, check the internet for photos, after you are there, check out post cards for photo ideas.
There is nothing wrong with getting a little inspiration for your photography by looking at what other photographers have done in the same location(s) you plan on visiting. The internet provides a great avenue for checking out a location before you go. A photo site like http://flickr.com is one of many great places to start. You can simply do a search for the place you are planning on traveling to and then check out the photos that other’s have taken. A bonus that web 2.0 sites like Flickr offer is that you can interact with the photographer(s) who’ve already photographed the location and ask for some advice. If you are already on the road, another great source of inspiration is the local gift shop. Check out the post cards and see which photos made it onto a post card and you’ll have a start on some ideas for interesting places to shoot.
4. Bring extra memory cards.
Don’t be caught in an amazing location with a full memory card and no more room for additional photos. With the price of memory cards at an all-time low, there really is no excuse for running out of room on your card. Before you take your trip, pick up an extra memory card or two. Having ample room on your memory cards will give you the freedom to shoot liberally without fear of running out of space and potentially missing a great shot that is just around the next corner.
5. Carry less stuff – try to blend in.
One of the biggest mistakes made by less seasoned travelers is that they carry far more ‘stuff’ than what they actually need. This is just as true for photographers. When going out to shoot some photos, don’t take ‘everything’ with you. Think through the location you will be photographing and think about what equipment you will likely need. Avoid carrying around gear you will never use. Not only will this allow you to be more mobile, it will also keep you from standing out too much while moving among locals. There are definitely advantages for not ‘sticking out’ when traveling, I’m sure you can think of a few without me mentioning them.
6. If you are only in a location for a short time, don’t try to photograph everything.
If your travels are brief and you only have a short time to photograph a location, don’t feel obligated to capture ‘every’ angle and vantage point. In my opinion, it’s far better to capture one or two vantage points well than it is to capture five or six vantage points poorly. Photography is a creative endeavor, if you remove the pressure to capture every angle and view of a location, you free yourself up to be more creative and your results will be much better.
7. Change up your perspective – don’t let all your shots be from 5 feet off the ground.
If you really want to make a dramatic improvement in your photography, you can do it by simply changing your perspective. Make a vow to not take any photos with the camera five and a half feet off the ground. There is nothing that can add more interest to your photos than bringing your camera down low to the ground or finding a tall vantage point to shoot from. In addition to ‘height’ changes, distance can also make a dramatic difference. It’s been said that the most effective and the most under-used photographer’s resource is his / her legs. Taking ten steps closer to your subject, and then taking 5 more, can dramatically alter the results of your photography. Getting closer is almost always a great thing to try when trying to step up your photography.
8. Adapt to the weather, don’t stop taking photos just because there is ‘bad’ weather.
At some point in your travels, you will likely encounter ‘inclimate’ weather. Don’t think this means that you should put your camera in your bag and wait for the sun to come back out before taking more photos. Dramatic weather can sometimes really help set the stage for amazing photographs. Some of my favorite photos were taken with thunderstorms looming over the ocean off the shore of Phi Phi Island in Thailand or heavy snow swirling around me while standing on the Great Wall of China. Another advantage to heading out when the weather gets ‘bad’ is that most of the tourists will run for cover and you’ll be able to get photos without dozens of other tourists cluttering up your shots.
9. Wear comfortable shoes.
When traveling, and taking photos, you will likely be doing more walking than you are accustomed to doing in your normal routine. This makes wearing comfortable shoes mandatory. If you’ve done your research, you’ve arrived at an amazing spot and the light is perfect, but your feet hurt and you can’t go on, your photography is going to suffer. A good pair of tennis shoes that have been broken in (not brand new) are probably going to be your best choice for footwear. You know your feet, make sure you take care of them.
10. Don’t be obnoxious.
This may seem obvious, but it’s amazing to me how many ‘obnoxious’ tourists I’ve encountered in my travels. Use some common sense, be considerate of others and of the site. Nobody likes the ‘obnoxious guy’ and if that is you, you can count out getting fun portraits of locals or getting useful tips from other photographers at the site. Being considerate will not only help improve your photos, it will help pave the way for those who come behind you to also have a positive experience in that same location.
I hope these tips help you out. If you have any more you can think of, or if you disagree with any of these tips, please let me know! I’m just an amateur myself and I’m still learning right along side of you.