How to Take Good Travel Photographs

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This is a guest post by Maria Rainier who is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, researching areas of online colleges and blogging about student life. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop. If you would like to write for TheDolt’s Blog, do read our page Be My Guest; Write A Guest Post.

People take pictures for different reasons—humor, memories, reference—but the ones that we remember most have one thing in common. They tell a story.

Traveling presents some of the finest opportunities to tell stories through the camera lens. You get to share new experiences with viewers, and they get to know the story you saw just by looking at the photograph. How, then, does one take the most effective travel pictures?

Know the Basics

Basic photography rules apply for travel photography, too, although this won’t be the focus of my post.

  • Frame the image. Make sure everything in the viewfinder are relevant to the story you want to convey. Also look for natural ways to frame your image, like building columns or trees. They don’t have to be two same things; a tree could be on the left third of the image and a person in the right third.
  • Don’t put everything in the middle of your viewfinder—that creates a boring, amateur image, unless you’re going for a particular effect. Instead, remember the law of thirds. Look through your viewfinder and imagine the view being split by two lines equidistant from the edges going both vertically and laterally down the screen. Key points of focus should land where those lines intersect. In short, think in thirds and place important parts of your photo one-third away from any edge.
  • Wait for good lighting. You can edit to a certain degree with Photoshop, but nothing makes up for good, natural lighting to begin with.
  • Keep an eye out for dramatic lighting, angles, patterns, textures, contrasts, and the like. A well-manicured and “thirded” image is great, but look also for asymmetry. They produce a different kind of story—usually a more dramatic one. Drama is what keeps people coming back to the story on TV, isn’t it?
  • Change your point of view by taking a picture low to the ground on your knees or from a flight of stairs.
  • Instead of just taking a wide angle shot to try to fit in a scene’s full grandeur within the screen (it’s tempting, I know), take a few more tightly-focused shots on details within the big picture. Instead of taking a picture of an entire landscape, focus instead on the intricate carvings on the side of it or the shadow cast by it.

Where the Traveling Comes In

Traveling to places many people haven’t been is a great opportunity to hone your skills as a storyteller. Don’t just take pictures to record your stay abroad—look for dramatic angles and events to make your adventure memorable.

In 2007, I lived in Europe for three months. Every city I visited made itself ripe with photographic opportunities, but Rome possessed a unique mixture of ancient Roman antiquity with modern urbanity that warrants notice. Rather than pointing-and-shooting left and right, however, photographers must choose their frames wisely, since not everything makes a good picture or tells a good story. As stated above, rarely do professional photographers place their main point of focus dead center in the viewfinder, but this particular image framed itself well.

In it clashes two worlds, the old and the new, the new automobiles literally framing the picture that is focused on the old fountain. In fact, the automobiles—trademarks of a fast-paced era—are blurred in motion while the fountain itself is still, quietly dynamic as it keeps water in motion. Choosing to edit the photograph later into a sepia image was a stylistic choice that enhanced the story of the ancient remaining despite the world moving on about them. Thus, despite there being very little actually happening in the picture, it tells a story.

Traveling anywhere from overseas to down the street are fantastic opportunities to practice your photography and, as trite as it may sound, broadening your outlook on the world around you. When you ask yourself the questions photographers must answer in their heads before snapping a photo, you expose not only the scene but yourself to story. What story does the photograph tell?  Where is the emotion and where are the dynamics? What angle can you take and how can you frame the image to make it dramatic? While your friends may appreciate the blurry, random, and I-tried-to-capture-it-all images, most viewers will want more. Give them the drama they’re looking for.

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2 thoughts on “How to Take Good Travel Photographs

  1. Excellent post, Ms. Rainier. I too, have a penchant for photography, but it is somewhat limited by my point-and-shoot digital camera. Nevertheless, most of the points you mentioned are things I try to do whenever I shoot, and are pertinent to both common digicams and DSLRs.

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