One of the best things about photography is that it allows you to capture your memories and look back at them some time in the future. When you look back later, though, some of your photos will be amazing while others are lacking the splendour that you saw with your own eyes. What separates a good photo from a not-so-good photo?
There are a lot of elements to great photography, but one of the simplest ones that you can improve right away is composition. These travel photography tips are purely to do with subject, framing, and style. There is no need to upgrade your equipment to take advantage of these travel photography tips!
Travel Photography Tips
The Rule of Thirds
The Rule of Thirds is a commonly used photography technique, in any style of photography. It’s also use in art and film. Divide your image in to 9 equal parts (a 3×3 grid). Place really strong vertical elements in the photo like a tree, lamppost, or the side of a building on the vertical lines of the grid. Place any strong horizontals like the horizon, a railing, or the top edge of a table on to the horizontals of the grid. If you want to draw particular interest to a subject like a person, monument, or flower place that subject on one of the intersections of the grid.
This powerful alignment will capture a viewer’s attention. The rule of thirds creates a well-balance, composed photo. Remember that this a rule of thumb – not an absolute rule!
Frame the Photo
One of the travel photography tips that is easiest to apply and that will instantly makes photos of landscapes and buildings/ monuments look dramatically better is to frame your photo. When it comes to travel photography, most people take the approach of getting as close as possible to the desired subject, and in so doing take everything out of the foreground of the photo. This really gives a point-and-shoot feel, and leaves the photo feeling uni-dimensional.
Take a step back, and look for plants, an interesting railing, or even a crowd of people that can serve as a framing to your photo.
Add People for Scale and Interest
The use of people in travel photography is an art that can really emphasize the vastness and grandeur of a scene, and add a sense of adventure that isn’t there when the photo is empty. Far too often, people take two styles of photos: landscapes that are totally empty, and photos of people that are close-up so you don’t actually see the scenery. Go for something in between.
Get far enough away that you can’t make out the fine details of the persons face, and ideally use the person as the subject that lines up with the intersection of your 3×3 grid.
Invite people (and yourself!) in to your photos by capturing leading lines. This is one of those travel photography tips where once you start, it’s almost hard to stop because it looks so good! Pathways, doorways, roads, train tracks, and even patterns can create lines that lead you in to the photo.
It’s a really powerful tool for travel photography because it helps to create the illusion that you could be there if you just took one more little forward in to the photo. One more step ’til Puerto Rico!
Leave Negative Space
Negative space is the space around and between the subjects in your photos. It doesn’t necessarily mean there’s “nothing” in the space, but whatever is there is not the subject, and is balanced with the subject. While it is the sky most of the time, it could also be a pattern that makes an interesting background, crowds of people going by, or shadows. Whatever you choose, it’s something that occupies space in the photo but doesn’t compete for your attention creating a more peaceful and thus more aesthetically pleasing image.
Rather than zooming right in on lady liberty, I left space in the sky and the water.
Find New Vantage Points
When you arrive at a beautiful or interesting spot, you are going to naturally gravitate towards the same views and vantage points that everyone else does. And that’s totally okay – get in there, get the photo you want. Then, take a moment to turn around. A few of my all time favourite travel photos are ones that I took by going to a spot that beautiful, and then turning back to see what was behind me (or beside, below, or somewhere else).
Choose One Subject
Resist the temptation to cram your photos full of everything. One of the things that I hear people say very often is “I wanted to fit everything in the photo.” While I understand the desire to capture everything, this is only going to make a photo look cluttered. The next time you’re taking a photo of an impressive scene with lots going on, reflect on the subject for a minute. The goal is to be able to say “this is a photo of x” and for someone else who sees it to say the same thing.
If you ever look at a photo and say “this is a photo of x… and y, and z” then it’s very likely that you’ve got too many subjects, which makes the photo a bit confusing to look at.
Capture Geometry and Reflections
One of the simplest ways to create striking photos is through symmetry. There are two main ways that I find symmetry in travel photography: geometry and reflections. When you have a subject that is clearly symmetrical (statues, doorways, architecture) it’s okay to deviate from the rule of thirds and centre that subject so that you get the power of symmetry in the image.
Level the Horizon
It’s a simple travel photography trick, but often forgotten. Make sure your horizon is flat (unless the angle of the horizon is a subject of interest in your photo). The moment your horizon is titled on an angle, it distracts from the photo and makes it appear wonky. Level it at the time of taking the photo whenever possible, or adjust it afterwards using the crop-rotation tool in any photo editing application.
Take Horizontal and Vertical Photos
One of the traps that many people fall in to is taking photos only vertically or only horizontally. It’s often a factor of the device that you’re using. Really amazing travel photos don’t come in just one orientation though, so change it up! When you rotate the camera, the effect might surprise you. I typically test out every photo that I take in both orientations. This can help you take advantage of other travel photography tips like rule of thirds, leading lines, or framing. Don’t limit yourself!