Monday, October 10, 2011

Travel Photography: How to get the most memorable photo's of your trip

Henri-Cartier Bresson : Santorini

Taking photo's is my greatest hobby. In fact, it's borderline obsessive. I thought I'd share some tips about getting those unique and memorable international snaps for the budding vagabond.
I use a DSLR which is capable of fully manual settings, I will assume you have something similar and you know the basic functions of it. If you just have a point and shoot, you will only really be able to apply the composition principles, but it's worth a read anyway. At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter what kind of camera you have, as long as you have the memories to show them with. 

The Elusive Airplane WIndow Shot
I'll just start by saying, this is a pretty difficult shot. I usually wait until the plane is tilted so you can see land below, or until the sun is rising or setting. On manual, switch your f-stop to f8 or f11 and find the appropriate shutter speed (this will vary depending on how much light there is, but you generally want it quite fast as you won't be able to use a tripod). Make sure your flash is off as it will not have any effect on the final shot. Point your camera out the window focussing on your subject, and cup your hand around the lens to remove any reflection from the window and absorb the vibrations of the plane. And Bang! I usually try and get the wing in the shot to give the photo some perspective but composition is entirely up to you. 

It could also be cool to get the silhouette of your traveling companion (or compliant neighbor) against the window. Do this by exposing for the light and thereby underexposing the person's silhouette.

Beach Shots

Beach shots are pretty standard. Avoid shooting in to the sun. Avoid shooting when the light is at it's harshest (the middle of the day), and try to shoot when the sun is on a side angle. Also try taking shots of the shore while you're ankle deep in the water (or if it's calm and no one will wet your camera waist deep) as this angle can give a flattering view of the beach. 

Silhouette shots at the beach also give an amazing effect. As with the window shot, expose for the light and let the point of interest turn into a shadow (best done at sunset). You can do this by turning your camera to aperture priority mode and setting an appropriate f-value. If it's a landscape f11 or so should be fine. Press the shutter button half-way down while pointing the camera at the lightest part of the frame, note the shutter speed. Switch the camera back to fully manual, focus on your subject and enter the f-value you specified above, and the suggested shutter speed. You might have to tweak your settings a bit, and if your shutter speed is slower than 1/60 you will need support to avoid camera shake (try a few bags piled up, a ledge, or a tripod if you have one). 

Keep the composition simple, as you will only see the outline and you want the object to be discernible. 

It's kind of hard to take a photo of a famous landmark that you haven't seen before. It's cool to get yourself in the shot too. These are all really good photo's. But it's a little bit funner to see if you can change the perspective of a famous landmark and get people to look at it in a different way. Try bending down, or moving to a different location and photograph the landmark from a different viewpoint. Or try zooming in on cracks, or small parts of the landmark people won't have seen before. 

You could also try capturing movement in the foreground, (you will definitely need a tripod or some good support for this) as in the picture to the right. Put your camera on shutter priority mode and experiment with faster shutter speeds to get the desired movement. Make sure you manually focus on the landmark and try using a remote shutter or self-timer to avoid additional camera shake. 

Fellow Travellers

Getting good snaps of your friends or traveling companions is easy. But try and get good photo's of them interacting with locals, when they are not posing. This will give you a more natural memory, and you might even catch a good laugh or too. 


If you are interested in taking portraits of people then traveling is the ideal place to find unique faces. A 100mm lens is ideal as it delivers the most flattering angle. You will need good lighting, i.e. from a window if inside or from the setting sun. Try to avoid using your flash as this will lead to harsher shadows on your subjects face. Set the aperture smaller so as to blur the background and make the subject standout. Look to get the subjects head and shoulders in the frame, and a natural expression. Of course, this will all vary according to your personal preferences so experimenting is key. However, people tend to get impatient and lose the lust for a photo if you spend too long fiddling around with your camera.

People tend to relax in to photo's after the first few frames so take a few and see how their expression changes. You can also put your camera on to burst mode and get a few successive photo's. 

Basic Principles

Of course, the best photo's are ones that break or bend the rules slightly. So don't get too caught up with all the technicalities. It's better to take the photo and think about how you could have improved it post-shot. But here are a few principles that will help deliver a more pleasing result. 

The Rule of Thirds

I'm sure you know this already, but divide your camera into thirds so there are nine imaginary squares on your screen. The eye sees a more pleasing result when main focus points are put where these lines intersect, with a maximum of four focal points. 


Try and take photo's from different angles. If you think a shot looks boring, try bending down and taking it from a low angle or standing on something to give the impression you are high up. You can also try putting your camera on auto and shooting it while it is hanging around your neck. 


Always try and frame the shot on at least one edge. You can use tree branches, door frames, arches etc. This will give you a deeper photograph and make it more unique. 

Lead in Lines

Draw your viewers eye in by having straight lines leading in to your focus point. Windy lines also render a pleasing result. 

But Most of All

Try to have fun. Don't get stuck with your camera glued to your face, or so worked up about getting the perfect photo that you miss all the amazing stuff on your travels.

Any questions, comments, criticism please leave me a comment or follow me on twitter @brazenvagabond

1 comment:

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