‘Take only photographs, leave only footprints’, is a great – albeit slightly cheesy – travel mantra. A well-taken photograph can be the best souvenir of your trip, transporting you back into that once-in-a-lifetime moment. So how do you ensure your images live up to the memory of your trip? There are a few essential tips that anyone can easily master that can help you take better images – and more importantly you do not need a fancy camera to get a great snap. Our very own James recently travelled to Brazil and took some snazzy snaps along the way and has put together five top tips that will ensure you return home with some great shots, whatever gear you’re using!
1 – Lighting
Light is the most important factor that can affect a photograph’s quality, and the best lighting is the natural kind, and you should always avoid using your flash. The more light going into the lens, the more your camera will have to work with – simples! Of course, the best kind of light is from the sun (it’s there all day…funny that!).
Sunlight can vary throughout the day (changing colour “temperature” from cool to warm), if you can, try to avoid the midday sun, as it’s a little harsh and heads straight down – which isn’t as flattering. One of the times of day favoured by many photographers is the so-called ‘golden hour’. This is the hour directly after sunrise and one hour before sunset. The golden hour gives your subject a warm glow (as the Sun’s colour temperature is at its warmest) and is especially flattering for portraits and landscapes. Another good time is mid-morning and afternoon, this creates pictures that have a lot more depth thanks to having longer shadows.
2 – Composition
You can have all the best gear in the world, but without an eye for composition, you’re still not guaranteed to take an interesting shot. Here are some of the fundamentals of composition to get you started (however there are tons of theories out there to help guide your eye).
Rule of thirds
A popular technique used in photography is the classic “rule of thirds”. Imagine what you can see through your lens is divided into three horizontal lines and three vertical lines – creating in a grid of nine squares which cover your images. In fact, most Digital cameras with screens and even some mobiles have the option to show the thirds on the screen, even easier! The four points where these lines intersect are the strongest focal points of your image, and the second strongest points are the lines themselves. This is where you want to place the main subject of your photo. This works for things in the foreground, as well as things like horizon lines in landscapes.
If you spot a symmetrical composition, you may want to break the rule of thirds and go for an entirely centred composition. Things like buildings, roads and reflections often look satisfying with a centred composition and can be quite mesmerising (think perfect reflections on the water).
Another composition fundamental is called “leading lines”. As the name suggests, this is when lines (natural or otherwise) draw the eye to the subject (or to the distance). Usually ‘leading lines’ start at the bottom side of a shot and guide your eyes upwards and across. This is great for large buildings that are leading away from you, a train curving along a track.
These rules are just meant to act as a guide, something to think about when composing your image. However, as with many things in life, some rules are meant to be broken. Once you get a feel for what composition suits what shot, you can begin to experiment more. These rules though are a great starting point to help you transform your shots from mundane to magnificent.
3 – Depth
Depth of field can add flair (and err… depth!) to a shot, especially on portraits or close-up shots of small, intricate and detailed objects, like flowers or insects (or mushrooms in this case!). If you have an SLR camera you will be able to easily change the aperture to achieve varying depths of field. However, you can take artistic shots with just a mobile phone. You can vary your depth by getting closer to your subject and taking the shot from a lower angle. What you will find is that this will show more of your background, and it will be out of focus, so your subject will pop out of it – POP!
4 – Take lots of pictures
To come home with a memory card stuffed with fantastic images, you will need to actually take some pictures (duh). This means remembering to take your camera with you, and having it to hand. This is where smaller cameras, and even better, mobile phones come into their own. It is easy to pop a small camera into a bag or pocket, and if you are somewhere you do not feel comfortable having a visible camera with you, a phone is easily popped back into your pocket quick-sharp. Think about what equipment you want to take with you, there is no point having an all-singing, all-dancing camera that you don’t want to take anywhere. I recommend bringing a wrist strap to attach to a larger DSLR, it lets you hold the camera easily and not awkwardly around your neck – and stops people snatching it (or even dropping it… He says, from experience).
You might think you’ve got the shot – you’ll look at the screen and go “That looks good” and stop. In my experience, take a lot more than you think you need. Mobile phone (and DSLR screens for that matter) are small and can make a shot look in focus when it might not be. Take a few more, you never know when you might have a slightly better composition, a good reaction from that person on the street, or a sharper image. Take several shots from different angles, don’t be afraid to get lower, higher, closer to a nearby building to create an interesting composition. The advantage of digital cameras – and their mammoth digital memory – is that you can take thousands of pictures (and most do HD+ video now too, fancy!).
5 – Be aware of your surroundings
When I have my camera with me, my brain shifts into a different mode. I’m looking for interesting light, shapes, plants, textures. Think about unusual details, objects or people that contrast with their surroundings, dappling light patterns and interesting looking characters. The more photos you take, the more you’ll find yourself noticing the little details that make for a great photograph. When travelling, always think before photographing certain buildings or people – especially people whose culture may not encourage being photographed. If in doubt, always ask (or gesture, you know the one) for permission first.
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Let us know what your top photography tips while you’re travelling are!