How to take your travel photography from basic to fantastic!

Marc William Joseph Hetu Instagram
Guest Article by Marc William Joseph Hetu

Take Better Travel Photos with these 5 tips

There are many different situations one has to deal with in their travels. Often times, things are beyond your control. A plane is delayed, your luggage is in the wrong country, or a reservation gets lost, you never know what can happen. One thing you can have control over is how you document your travels.

Preserving memories, big or small, is part of the process when traveling. Even minor knowledge of basic photography principals can take a photo from basic, to fantastic.

Travel Photography Tip #1: Lining up your shot

One of the most common mistakes I see people make is not knowing how to properly line up a shot. Often times people will take a photo and not remember that there is a background behind their main subject. This often leads to the image having a crooked background making the overall image appear amateurish.

An example would be taking a photo of a person in front of a monument, building or horizon line, and only focusing on the main subject of your photo instead of taking the background into consideration.

Example: In this photo the subject is a building, and although it’s lined up straight, the background is crooked so that it pulls your attention away from the primary subject. 

Building in Akyarlar Turkey

This Building is the subject but it isn’t lined up well with the horizon

Example: In this photo the subject is a person and his flip flops, and because the horizon and islands are being taken into consideration, your eye is drawn to your two subjects and not distracted by the background. The subject and background work together to compliment each other.

Man and his flip-flops in Meteor Beach Akyarlar Turkey

Man and his flip-flops Akyarlar Turkey – taking the horizon and islands into consideration to line up this shot

So, key thing to remember is focus on the whole image and not just the subject. With that said, there can be times when having crooked angles can have an artistic effect on the scene, but it does need to look intentional, doing this is called a Dutch angle.

Travel Photography Tip #2: Lighting

Another tip for travel photography is lighting. Getting a great selfie, in today’s day and age, is a key part of documenting an experience. Natural light is the absolute best way to light a shot, however natural light comes with a number of caveats. Direct sun light is often harsh, causes people to squint, and can often cause overexposed photos.

Example: This photo was taken outside it bright daylight, but the subject was sitting under a canvas tarp which diffused the light and got rid of hard shadows.

Redhead in Akyarlar Turkey

Redhead in Akyarlar Turkey – photo taken in diffused light to eliminate hard shadows

Getting to a shaded place, under a tree for example, can cut direct exposure, and enhance natural color tones in people’s faces. Professional photographers use a similar technique by using reflectors, diffusors and flashes to mold light to fit their needs. The key is to find a place with soft, diffused light.

Travel Photography Tip #3: Focus

One key aspect of getting great photos is having a steady hand. There is a difference between something that is out of focus, and something that is blurry. An image where parts that are out of focus are, generally, intentional. The photographer is trying to isolate the subject from the background.

Example: There was a lot of activity going on in this photograph of a local market in Turkey, so I isolated the primary subject of the stall-holder who had her face turned toward the camera by getting her in focus. The people beside her are a little bit out of focus, and the people in the background are really out of focus. This creates a feeling of focus and depth of field in this image.

Gulluk Market stall holders

Gulluk Market stall holders – main subject in focus and everyone else in the background is out of focus to varying degrees

Getting that type of an image with a cell phone is generally difficult unless doing macro photography. The reason for this is caused by the physical limitations of the camera found in cell phones. With that said, cell phone cameras are great for capturing groups of people because their area of focus is generally much larger when compared to conventional cameras. All the focus area in the world however will not save a photo from being blurry if the photographer is moving. Keep a steady hand.

Travel Photography Tips #4: Cell Phone Photos

Another tip, for cell phone photographers specifically, is the addition of third party clip/snap on lenses. Some companies have lens sets that can take a photo to the next level; an example is a fisheye lens.

Shop for Fish Eye Lenses for your cell phone on Amazon

Shop for Fish Eye Lenses for your cell phone on Amazon

It is possible to purchase these lenses fairly cheaply online and they can be very helpful for giving better context to an event. There can be a drawback to having such a wide viewing angle and it comes in the form of distortion. This distortion can be very awkward if you don’t know how to compensate for it. This is where my fist tip comes back into play when looking at your lines across the whole image.

A great tip for being original when taking photos is to take a good look at your surroundings specifically have a look at what everyone else is doing. If there is a group of people taking a picture all form the same spot, walk around a little first and find a new way to take the same photo.

Armando is a digital nomad who has a good eye of angles. Look how interesting this photo is, rather than shooting this image straight-on, he’s created an interesting angle by incorporating the rope into the image and looking up at the hulls. 

Moored Fishing Boat Italy

Photo by Armando from – fishing boats from this low angle makes this photo pop!

There will likely be a good chance of finding an angle that no one else is trying to expose. It doesn’t always work, but you can often gain a very interesting perspective of the subject.

Travel Photography Tip #5: Editing

The last tip is one that takes place after the image is taken. It was a common trend a few years ago (and it still pops up occasionally), where people would over saturated their images.

Example: Although the pink of the flowers, turquoise of the ocean, and green foliage pop out from this photo, it looks really unrealistic because the colors have been over-saturated, and the image has become really flat.

Over edited travel photo

Over edited travel photo

Over editing is taking an image to the point of disbelief with reference to color, exposure, and clarity. If you are going for a specific style, this doesn’t really apply, but there are many people that think adjusting contrast and getting really bright colors (making grass neon green, or water the color of turquoise jewellery) will make a boring photo exciting.

EXAMPLE: This photo is much more realistic, but we still get the pop of the pink flowers and can see that the ocean is turquoise. Plus now that there’s the differentiation between the foreground and background, we get a greater sense of depth.

edited travel photo

Travel photo with the right amount of editing that retains the integrity of a realistic photograph

The same can be said when making a photo black and white, it doesn’t always work.

The point of editing is to bring out natural tones and be subtle.

There are many different ways of shooting photos, and a lot comes from personal preference. There is no empirically wrong way of taking photos, but there are certain expectations of professional photographers.

Knowing how to frame a shot, taking advantage of light, and timing are key.

Learning some of these techniques, or at the very lease having an appreciation for them will take someone very far. Practice makes perfect so the best way to get better is to get out and shoot.

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Author Bio for Marc William Joseph Hetu

Marc William Joseph HetuFreelance Canadian photographer who uses a Nikon D5200 and a Samsung Galaxy S5 Neo to take his photos. Capturing moments as they happen in a light that most people don’t get to see is the thing he enjoys most about photography.

He had an ongoing flirtation with photography for years, which he eventually decided to turn into a full blown love affair.


September 19, 2017

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