Before we begin talking about tips to improve your travel photography, it’s important you understand what travel photography is. In the simplest terms, travel photography is about creating a sense of place. This means a combination of faces, landscapes, street scenes, food, details and atmospheric shots. When you look through images of a destination you want to visit, you want to feel like you are there- eating the food, meeting the people, exploring the landscapes. This is what makes you go ‘Yes, I need to visit NOW’. Photography is so important when deciding on our next destination, but it’s also an important way to document your trip and create wonderful memories to share with family, friends, perhaps on your blog or in a guest post for a site like Travelettes.
Everyone wants to come back with great memories, and here are some tips which can help you get the photos your incredible adventure deserves.
- Focus on light
The more you delve into photography, the more you will realise that good light is your very best friend. The best light usually happens very early in the morning, as the sun rises and sheds a golden glow over everything. This is hands down the best time to take photos, and setting your alarm for 6am also means that you tend to beat the crowds, meaning that famous sights can be empty of other tourists- making great travel photographs. Sunset is also a great time to shoot, especially in cities where people can often make a shot more interesting. When shooting in the middle of the day, the light can be very harsh, so look instead for shadows and indoor locations.
A very early morning boat ride on the River Ganges in Varanasi, India.
2. Find unusual view points
We’ve all seen that classic shot of the Taj Mahal with the long water feature before hand, the bright blue sky and the gorgeous marble structure, and yes it IS a great shot. But how else can you shoot the same iconic building with a different perspective? Go around the back of the building, leave the crowds and find a new view, climb a little higher, or look for shadows, reflections, different lighting and different details that most people might not capture. It’s all these things which will make your photography stand out, and make people see a place in a new and unique light.
A shot of the Hong Kong skyline made a little more unusual by the crowds of people on Tsim Sha Tsui promenade.
3. Find unique festivals, events and markets
One of the best things you can do to enhance your travel photos is by photographing the local culture at its most vibrant. I love finding unique festivals and markets, where locals are dressed in traditional clothing and the atmosphere is a true reflection of the country. Next time you’re heading to a new place, find out which markets are on around the area and plan your trip around them. Or look at huge national festivals, like Chinese New Year in much of Asia, Diwali in India, or Christmas in Europe. All these festivals will add an extra element to your photography, plus they make unforgettable experiences!
The Birqash Camel Market just outside of Cairo, Egypt is one of the most interesting markets I’ve been able to photograph around the world.
4. Don’t be afraid to approach people
People are often the essence of a country, they are what you will remember the most, and photographs of people will often bring the biggest smile to your face when you go back home. Most travellers don’t get photographs of local people because they are scared the person will get angry or upset. From my experience of travelling and photographing in almost 50 countries, most people will be happy and even flattered that you want to take their photograph. You must always ask permission, particularly with portraits (with street parades etc, it is expected that you can photograph without permission), but I have few people say no. In some countries, like India or Morocco, people might ask for money in exchange for a photo, which you should always give, but it is worth it for the memory you will have forever.
Portraits in Vietnam, Myanmar and India.
5. Always carry a camera
Sometimes the best things happen when you least expect it! A big cliche but when it comes to travel photography, it’s often very true. We might carry our cameras during the daytime or when visiting a famous site, but make sure you also take your camera when heading out to dinner or to the shops. Sometimes weird and wonderful situations can happen in the streets when you least expect it, and you’ll be kicking yourself if you see a wonderful face to photograph or beautiful light shining down the streets to capture if you don’t have your camera with you.
A spontaneous moment in the medina of Chefchaouen, Morocco on my way to breakfast.
6. Don’t get caught up in thinking you need a better camera or with technical details
Yes, having a better camera will improve your images somewhat. But give a £5,000 camera to someone who has no idea what they are doing, and you’ll get the same image as if you gave them a £100 camera. It might be a little sharper, but it’s still going to be the same picture in the end. Nowadays, people take amazing pictures on iPhones, point-and-shoot cameras and goPro’s. I meet so many people travelling who say they would love to get into travel photography but have a very cheap camera and don’t understand how to use different settings. To start with, this really doesn’t matter, what matters is what you see and how you document it. With time, learning about things like aperture or shutter speed can help your images improve, and when you understand these things you might be tempted to upgrade your camera to be able to shoot in RAW, or have greater control over your images. But don’t get bogged down in these things to begin with!
Four pictures I took with a Canon 450D- a very basic SLR I bought second-hand for around £200. One of these pictures had a double page spread in Lonely Planet Magazine a few years back.
7. Focus on colour and shadows when looking for city scenes
Unless you’re passionate about architectural photography, cities can often be a difficult place to photograph. They’re busy, chaotic, with grey buildings and lots of traffic. My best tips for city photography is to look for colour, shapes and shadows. Cities are actually a wonderful place to capture, and you can get a lot of different types of photographs in a small area. Again, look for markets where you’ll often get lots of street stalls and people scenes. Shopping areas can be great at night with bright flashing lights and if you have a tripod, try slow shutter speeds down streets with lots of traffic.
Taking advantage of the colourful lights in the Kowloon district of Hong Kong.
8. Think about the story of your trip, and what you want to show from it
Travel photography can be very inspiring and powerful. Telling a story through your images only makes the story more interesting, and as well as showcasing the beauty of a country, you can show different aspects of a place. In the series below, I wanted to show the lives of local people living around the Pushkar Camel Fair in India. Your story doesn’t have to be about a festival or group of people, it can simply be about a marketplace, or a city you’ve visited. The trick is to link all your images in someway, whether that’s through colour, light or composition. Next time you travel, think about the stories you can tell and have a go at telling them through photography.
Images from a story I shot on Camel Herders in Pushkar, India.
9. Don’t forget the details
We all want those epic landscapes, the intimate portraits and the vibrant street scenes. But one thing which can add something special to your stories is the detail photos. While alone, these pictures might not stand out for you, when you add them to a collection of images, they fill in the gaps and offer a special aspect which completes that ‘sense of place’ feeling. Think about local handicrafts, food and drink, quirky street art, the hands or jewellery of a local woman- all of these things are unique to the culture. Back home, these little glimpses of a place will provide wonderful memories and take you right back to the moment you took the shot.
Details in Morocco, Jordan and India.
10. Wander aimlessly, patiently, and with kindness
There’s no recipe of how to get great travel photographs, and each photographer has their own style, approach and skills, which is what makes the industry so exciting! My three main points to help you develop your own style and skills is just to wander aimlessly through the place you are travelling to. Get off the beaten track, wander markets and festivals, get out early in the morning and look for great light. Be patient with it, it takes a long time before you start getting great images and sometimes you might need to stay a while in a place to get the best and most interesting story possible. Thirdly, when you are photographing people, which travel photography is often about, do it with kindness and respect for the culture. Make sure the situation you are photographing is ethical and everyone involved is happy with you taking pictures.
Photographs in Mongolia, Egypt, Morocco and India, all caught at random moments when I didn’t expect such an image to appear.
Hopefully these tips will help you to improve your own travel photography and realise that it really isn’t all about the expensive gear! If you have any of your own photography tips leave a comment below, we’d love to hear them. Happy snapping!
All photographs taken by Annapurna Mellor.