Have you ever had the experience of looking at your photos at the end of your trip and been really…I mean really…disappointed with what you see. How is it that the gorgeous beach shots, those fun portraits with famous landmarks and the fabulous action photos are so terrible even though you could swear that you’d captured all those magical moments on your travels.
Photography is painting with light
All too often we can forget that photography is really painting with light. Our eyes adjust to different light conditions automatically. In bright light our pupils contract while in low light they expand. Too often in the process we don’t actually notice how the prevailing light affects photographs.
So we have to train our eyes to see the way light falls across our subjects whether they are landscapes or cityscapes, portraits, close-ups or action shots. Professional photographers spend hours manipulating light with a whole range of manual controls, but for now, let’s just concentrate on the basics.
Equipment is not the issue
It really doesn’t matter what sort of camera equipment you use, what is most important is how you use it. I’ve seen people with the most elaborate camera gear and all manner of lenses take the most atrocious photographs. I know because I tend to ask people with fancy gear to take pictures of me with my camera when I am traveling and most of their pictures I simply have to delete.
Now that iPhone photography and Instagram have taken off there are lots of interesting techniques to help you make the most of that handy little device, but I will cover this topic in another post.
These simple techniques will help you start taking terrific photos on your travels.
1. Cradle the camera in your left hand.
Let’s assume you have a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera (DSLR). Most amateurs simply hold the camera with both hands on either side of the camera. WRONG. This is a sure way to get a blurry shot because of camera shake.
The only way to hold a camera that has any weight is to cradle the lens in your left hand so that you have a more stable platform to ensure that you don’t move the camera whilst taking the shot. It takes a while to change bad habits but try and be conscious of your camera holding technique every time you shoot.
2. Always point the camera down to compensate for what I call ‘the big sky’ tendency.
Whatever your subject, remember to point the camera downwards to avoid half the image being made up of sky…that is unless you are shooting a sunrise or sunset.
When taking portraits remember to point the camera downwards and try and include your subjects hands in the image. This is a good way to avoid having too much sky in the image and hands add another dimension to a portrait. It is generally good to try and include hands in a close-up portrait and feet in a full-length portrait. Remember they are much more interesting than all that sky!
3. Bring your subjects much closer to the camera than you think is necessary.
If you want to shoot people in front of a special place such as Mt Fuji or Uluru you don’t need the people in your image to be as far away as the background. If your subjects are to one side, you can focus on them and keep the shutter pushed down to re-frame the shot and the camera will still be focused on the people with the background slightly out of focus but still an evocative and more interesting ‘I’ve been there done that shot’.
4. Always shoot subjects with your back to the sun and your subjects facing or sideways to the sun.
I wish I was paid a dollar for every time I’ve seen people ruin their precious photos by having their subjects facing the wrong way, thereby creating dark shadows across their faces or camera flare blotches because their bodies block the available light.
5. Try to shoot your images either early in the morning or in the golden hour before sunset for the softest light.
Avoid the bright light of midday if possible when the light is harshest and contrast between light and shade is the most extreme…unless you want to use this effect to create a certain high contrast mood to your shot. High contrast can work well with architecture shots or images without a lot of detail but not portraits. If you must shoot a portrait in a high contrast situation, try using fill flash to flush out your subject’s face.
6. Portraits are generally better in open shade.
However, it is important to notice if dappled light is creating bizarre patterns across your subject and move to a locale that has more even lighting. Always remember that photography is painting with light.
As a little background, I have been fascinated by photography since I was a child and have studied photography professionally both in New York and Melbourne. I have a Canon 7D DSLR and I also take images on iPhone which I post to Instagram and Pinterest. I am not a camera techie but I do shoot both RAW and jpeg images. I also like to work with as little equipment as possible, preferring to use available natural light and as few gimmicks as possible. There are loads more tips I plan to give you but if you focus (no pun intended) for now on these simple tips, you will see a dramatic improvement in your travel photography.
Please let me know what other areas of photography you would like me to cover and I will be happy to devote specific posts to answer your questions.
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