Monday, July 22, 2013

Travel Photography for the Non-Photographer.

Look, I'm in no danger of making a living as a photographer, but I have been traveling constantly for the past three years and I've been trying to take lots of pictures on the way to document everything.  I have also done lots of research and taken tens of thousands of pictures.  Nope, that's not an exaggeration, tens of thousands.  Thank you digital cameras.  Can you imagine the cost of developing all that film?

Through all of this I have learned a thing or two that really help when you are taking pictures while you travel.  With a few simple tips, you can improve your pictures enough that perhaps you won't have to sort through thousands of pictures to find a few good ones to show off. 

1.  Put people in your photos.  

Seems silly to mention it, but so many people seem to be intent on capturing that next National Geographic Magazine cover and forget to include their family members or travel companions.  I am guilty of this at times.  Try to remember why you are taking the pictures in the first place.  Sure, a scene setting shot or two is great, but if you aren't including people, then it won't be as memorable.  The people provide context, they provide perspective and they provide scale.  And, if you are really feeling artsy fartsy (again...guilty), then try to include a person  in an interesting way.  Here are a few examples:

This is a nice shot, pretty scenery and a nice line leading your eye.  But I think this one is more interesting.

Not only do I think it is more interesting, but it is also the one that will get the comments when you show it.  "My, look how he has grown!"  'Doesn't that hat look darling?"  Just do it, add people to your pictures.

2.  Figure out your camera's color settings.  

I'm trying to keep this simple.  Your camera manufacturer might not do you the same favor.  This may require some research is what I am saying.  The payoff is worth it though.  You can take this picture:

Or you can change your color settings, punch up the orange and red just a touch and get this one:

Same camera, seconds apart with no retouching or after-effects done at all.  Another example:

Same thing.  Remember that orange and red add warmth, we like those colors.  If you want a cooler image, use blue or green.  Go read a little about your camera, find a forum online, something.  Learn how to change the color settings on your camera.

3.  The Rule of Thirds

Many experts will tell you that the best way to become a better photographer is to go take an art composition class.  The same things that make great paintings, make great pictures.  One of the better, and easier to remember and implement, rules of composition, is the Rule of Thirds.

Basically it works like this.  Divide your frame into thirds both horizontally and vertically.

In an effort to keep it simple, just remember to put horizon lines along the thirds and remember to place important things like people, landmarks and featured points of interest where the thirds intersect. Often, cameras have grid lines or points that will tell you where the thirds are.  If yours doesn't, just imagine and do the best you can.

I'll show you a few from my own photos, see if you notice this rule in famous pictures or some of the ones you like best.

Or this one that shows again that pictures are more interesting with people in them.  Notice how the extra space to the right adds to the picture.  This works really well when you have a person in a picture with a point of interest. 

4.  Timing is everything.

Over and over and over you will hear about the 'Golden Hour'.  This is the time just after sunrise and just before sunset when the lighting is amazing.  Make it a habit of taking your camera out with you at those times and just snap a few pictures.  You may be amazed at how awesome they can look.  There are pictures you won't get any other way.  Even mundane things can look pretty cool.  Like an RV park office. 

Or a mountain meadow.

Saving the best for last...

5.  You don't need a better camera. 

Sure, if you just want one, get one, but don't do it because you think it will automatically make you a better photographer.  Some of my favorite pictures have come from cell phone cameras.  Compose the picture, know how to operate what you have and take the picture.

So just go out there and shoot some pictures.  Try out some of these ideas and see how they work for you.  Then go somewhere pretty and shoot pictures. But remember, if you think it will make a good picture, go ahead and take it.  Rules are made to be broken. 


  1. Thanks for this! I'm a horrible photographer, and this was pretty handy. I'd never even heard the rule of the 3rds, that's how noob I am.
    But I travel more and am trying to take more pictures, so thanks!