12 Important Tips for Travel Photography

Welcome, folks!

I love traveling and photography more than anything else!

Travel, it makes you realize what you’ve been missing out on, what you’re lucky to have, and what you ultimately want out of life. It pushes you to look beyond comfort zones, and helps you see things differently. It takes you by the hand and walks you through history, forces your eyes open, slaps you in the face with harsh realities, and immerses you with new and useful knowledge and experiences.

Photography, it’s frustrating and fulfilling at the same time. It has the power to evoke emotion, memories and dreams. It’s granted me the ability to dream my favorite dreams. It has the power to transport you to a different time or place. It documents science, history, lives, feelings and facts. When I see a wonderfully composed photograph taken somewhere I haven’t been, I’m instantly intrigued and am automatically looking at flight prices. Photography was the door I opened at a time when I could’ve opened a million other doors. And I wouldn’t change a thing.

When I first found my love for photography, I was taking pictures using a digital camcorder I got one year as a Christmas present (this was junior high). After a while of using that as a camera, I realized my passion wasn’t going to die. So I saved up a few hundred dollars and bought a cheap Olympus DSLR at a pawn shop. It worked perfect for a few years, but as I grew more and more serious about photography, I realized I wanted something a little newer, and a little more solid. So my dad took me to Best Buy and we started a payment plan on a Canon 50D. It worked amazingly all through high school and well into my adult years. Then a couple years ago I decided to upgrade to a full format camera. So I picked up the Canon 6D. I still use the 6D, and I love it. As I was starting out on my journey, I had an art teacher tell me that the kind camera I used didn’t matter as much as the skill set it took to properly use one. It forced me to use what I had at the time, and forced me to truly develop a skill. That advice has been invaluable to me over the years.

So first things first, an expensive camera will not automatically make you an amazing photographer. I’m not saying it won’t help, but being a good photographer takes years of practice. As someone who has been photographing for over ten years, I’m still learning. There won’t ever be a time that I’ll have all the answers and that’s okay. Below I include a list of twelve tips for better travel photography (or better photography in general).

1. Exposure

Obvious as it may be, I still come across people online who consider themselves “professional photographers” and yet they can’t properly expose a photo correctly. This might be the most crucial basic of learning photography. Typically you don’t want to under or over expose a photograph. You want a perfect middle ground.

2. Horizon Lines

This is also a crucial photography basic! You want the horizon line to be perfectly straight across the frame. This is my biggest pet peeve as a photographer. If you take a photograph and it’s even slightly crooked, I can’t take it seriously. But nobody is perfect, and even I make mistakes like this. Luckily, it’s extremely easy to fix in any editing program (even Instagram itself).

3. Don’t Over Edit Photos

Over editing is a big no no. It’s a big rookie mistake. It’s extremely obvious when you edit too much. When I first started taking and editing photos, I overused the contrast tool like crazy! Huge mistake on my part. But everybody learns sometime.. True photography talent lies in the act of taking itself. I admire people who are able to edit minimally and still come out the other side with incredible results.

4. Be Original

In this day and age it’s easy to find a style you like and begin to imitate it. While that may work for some, it’s obvious. People want things they’ve never seen before. For example, everyone photographs the Taj Mahal from the front (and obviously get that shot it’s incredible), but I don’t think many people are familiar with it from any other angle. I personally want to see it in a way I’ve never seen it before. Capture different and interesting content.

For example, I went to St. Peters Basilica. I saw incredible and iconic things and photographed my brains out. But you know what else I saw at St. Peters Basilica? The rooftop. Do I mean the view from the top? No. I mean the architecture and brick patterning of the actual rooftop itself. Although I must admit, the view was spectacular.

 

5. Wake Up Early & Stay Out Late

This may not seem like the most fun combo, but trust me. Waking up early for photography not only eliminates summer heat and crowds, it also eliminates those harsh afternoon shadows. Staying out late also helps with crowd control and helps you to capture a different side of your location.

6. Make Your Point Using Simplicity

Decide what it is you want express in your photograph. When photographing a certain subject, you want all the focus to be on that subject. So make sure to expose properly, use the correct depth of field, and to only have in frame what you need. Tip #5 is also great to keep in mind as far as crowded areas go.

For example, I wanted to capture the essence of Castel Sant’Angelo itself, not the usual distracting crowds in front of it.

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Castel Sant’Angelo 2017, Photo: Shallise Kate
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Castel Sant’Angelo 2017, Photo: Shallise Kate

7. Explore Cities By Foot 

It can get exhausting, I know. But when driving or taking transit, you miss out on a lot of things. Walking is best for taking in and capturing your surroundings. Rome for example, because I walked my ass off in Rome, I captured tons of romantic alleyways and unexpected towering churches. By hoofing it in new cities, I feel like I capture everything I want and more. Below are some of those alleyways.

8. Get Lost

Similar to tip #7, see and capture the unexpected! Get lost, honestly! You’ll wind up in places that you didn’t even know existed. You’ll capture things you never would have captured otherwise. You’ll capture something that most people outside of the region never get to see. Totally original content. If you walk too far, utilize UBER or Lift. We got lost in Rome, and it was magic.

9. Don’t Force It

It’s really hard sometimes. You do everything right and the shot STILL isn’t what you wanted it to be. Don’t force it. You’ll only frustrate yourself more. Take a few shots and see what you can do with editing later. Don’t sweat it, just move on and don’t get discouraged. Too many of my days have been ruined because, I didn’t get “the shot”. And  you know what? It wasn’t worth being upset over.. because there were other and often better shots.

10. Be Prepared

This is a big one. If your looking for great shots rain or shine, day or night, you may want to invest in some proper equipment. Water proof camera bags/backpacks, a spare rainfly for the camera, filters, wide angle lens, zoom lens, tripod, extra memory cards, etc.. Nothing cuts deeper than the realization that your gear isn’t waterproof during a spontaneous downpour. Or when you see two adorable baby owls in a tree and you realize you forgot the zoom lens. Or when it’s dark out and you wish you could take a long exposure…. but you got lazy earlier in the day and decided you didn’t want to carry your tripod around. Or when you’re in Rome and you run out of memory on your memory cards, and you have to stop everything and walk across town to a camera store. All of this has happened to me. And as much as it sucks, I’ve learned from each gut wrenching experience.

11. Don’t Be Ashamed of the Little Green “A”

For a long time I frowned upon shooting in Automatic. I even judged people for it. Sorry, guys! When I began travel photography I realized that utilizing it doesn’t make you a bad photographer. It’s a tool I’ve used in times of rush, panic and yeah, I’m not proud… but laziness. But when your on the go and you simply don’t have the time to shoot manually, auto is extremely helpful. Don’t get me wrong, it’s extremely important to know how to shoot in manual. But it’s also important not to miss an opportunity because you were busy fidgeting with your camera.

12. Stay in One Place For as Long as Possible

I know a lot of people who opt for the quick guided city tours. For example, “Rome in 2 days and then off to the next country.” And while that may work for the regular tourist, it doesn’t work well for someone who really wants to portray the location correctly. It’s a total and complete trap! Rome (or any place you go) deserves way more than two or three days of your attention. I stayed in Rome for a week and while I covered a lot of ground, I also feel like it wasn’t enough time. I could spend a lifetime there and still not experience it all. When I hear someone say that they’ll be in Rome for only two or three days, my mind explodes. Don’t limit your time like that or you’ll likely produce unoriginal and dare I say, garbage due to the rush.

 

Oh- and one last bit of advice for beginners, just take your camera out and start shooting. Learn how everything works by experimenting with different modes.

Hopefully this post was useful! Let me know if you’d like me to elaborate on anything further, I would be more than happy to do so.

-S.K.

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