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7 Tips for Taking Travel Photos Like a Pro

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St George's Church, Venice. One of the iconic views from the famous Italian city. If you'd like to know how to take travel photos like this, then read on.

Travel photography seems so simple. What could be easier than traveling to an exotic location in a beautiful country with a camera and a handful of memory cards and taking some amazing photos? But, when you arrive at your location, you find that it's a lot harder to take a decent travel photo than it looks. In this tutorial I'll be sharing seven key tips for taking professional-looking travel photos you will appreciate for years to come.


1. Take Better Travel Photos

If you follow these few simple principles your travel photography will improve dramatically. A good approach is to set aside some time specifically for photography, especially if you are with friends or a partner who doesn't share your interest. Wander off by yourself for a while and immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of your holiday destination.

Research will help you make the most of your photographic opportunities, and the internet is a great place to start. Look for well-known photographers who have been to your location. Their work will be an inspiration to you and a guide to the best places to take photos. Take advantage of their hard work to plan your photography.

It's also important to research local laws and culture. For instance, it's illegal to photograph airfields in some countries. Some UK plane spotters were arrested in Greece for just this a few years ago and spent some time in jail before being released. Make sure this doesn't happen to you.

On a cultural level, there are countries where people don't like to be photographed (like Bolivia) and others where they love it (like India). Knowing what to expect will help you deal with the local people.

Please also be aware of your personal safety, especially when carrying around camera equipment, as some places are not as secure as others. Again, research will let you know what to expect.


2. Use bright colors

Use color to create bold, dramatic compositions. The key is to simplify. Close in and concentrate on just one or two colors. A photo dominated by a strong primary color like red or blue can be very powerful. Don't just stick to the primary colors as compositions of subtler hues like pinks and greens can also be very strong.

Colour can evoke powerful emotions. Red is a warm, dominating colour. It's the colour of heat and strong sunlight. It can also signal danger or anger as red is the colour of blood. Red is a powerful colour, and also the colour that the human eye is most sensitive to.

Blue, on the other hand, is a cool, calming colour. Imagine the blue shades of a tropical sky above tropical waters. Or the blue of icebergs and glaciers, or the night sky.

Green can be fresh and invigorating; think of spring or lush rainforests. It's the color of nature, growth and fertility.

Oh yes, and buy a polarizing filter (see tip number five).

travel photography tips

3. Use late afternoon light

The word photography comes from the Greek for 'painting with light' and this should tell you that quality of light is one of the most important aspects of photography. The pros wait for the best light and so should you if you want to get some good photos.

The light in the middle of a sunny day is harsh and ugly. Avoid it at all costs.

For most subjects, the light is best when the sun is low in the sky. This means for the first hour or so after it rises and the last hour or so before it sets. The further from the equator you are, the longer this 'golden period' of light will last. If you're in the tropics, get ready to act fast, because the sun sets quickly and the good light won't last for long.

This is where planning will help. Be observant as you're exploring your destination, and think about how these places will look when the sun is close to the horizon. Then you can make sure that you're on location in the most photogenic spots when the light is at it's best.

This is a great strategy for taking good photos if you're short on time. Spend the middle of the day with your family or friends, and head off for an hour or two before sunset for some quality photography time.

Rain and storms, especially at sunset, can create interesting, unrepeatable lighting conditions. If you see that something exciting is going to happen with the light, get out there with your camera and take advantage.

Sometimes the light and weather won't do what you would like it to, especially if your time is limited. Learn to take photos in cloudy, overcast conditions. These can be great for nature photography (especially flowers), portraiture and black and white photography.

And don't worry if you can't get yourself out of bed for the sunrise. I can't either.

travel photography tips

4. Look for a different take on local landmarks

We've all seen hordes of tourists standing in the same place taking photos of a well known landmark, normally in the middle of the day (which we already know is the worst time possible!) You can do this too - if you want a boring photo that's no different from anyone else's. If you want something better, you're going to have to be a little smarter, and start developing your creative eye.

How many ways is it possible to take a photo of the Eiffel Tower? At first glance, it seems that not many. Try searching Flickr for photos of the Eiffel Tower to see how many variations photographers have come up with of this famous landmark.

Taking a photo that is somehow new and different of a famous and much photographed location is one of the most difficult photographic challenges that there is. Start by making sure that you're there when the light is good. If you have wide angle or telephoto lenses, try using their unique perspectives to create something a little different. Try including some human interest. Not tourists, but local people doing whatever the local people do. Try something completely unexpected - like taking photos in the rain - and see what happens. Experiment. Have fun.

travel photography tips

5. Search for detail

Be observant. Look for the little details that capture the spirit of the place that you're in. Maybe it's the way the light plays across cobbled streets. Or handicrafts that the locals sell in the markets. Maybe it's food presentation in a restaurant, or an architectural feature. It doesn't have to be very exciting. It can be personal or obscure. It's your own little memory of a detail that evokes the spirit of a place.

travel photography tips

6. Get off the beaten track

The popular places are easy. Anyone can go there, and just about everybody will. Do something different. Explore nearby places. Don't just stick to the well-trodden tourist path. See what's out there. Search out unusual and little known places. Try and find somewhere where the locals aren't used to seeing tourists. Not only will your photography improve, but you'll learn something new about the world and become a better person for it.

travel photography tips

7. Use a polarizing filter

Have you ever wondered how the pros capture deep blue skies? Or how they manage to get water so clear that you can see all the way to the bottom? Or why the colors in their photos are so strong? The answer lies in a magical piece of glass called a polarizing filter. This is the one filter that will improve your photography more than any other.

Polarizing filters work by eliminating reflections. Light reflects from dust and other particles suspended in the air, and these reflections desaturate the color of the sky on a sunny day. Put a polarizing filter on the front of your lens and the reflections will be cut out, leaving a deep blue sky.

It's the same with water. Light bounces off the surface and obscures what's underneath. Use a polarizer to eliminate the reflections and you can see straight underneath. If you've ever seen a photo of a boat floating on water that's so clear it appears the boat is floating in thin air, that's how it was done.

Polarizing filters also increase color saturation by eliminating reflections from painted and other non-metallic surfaces, including flowers and leaves.

There are a couple of rules to observe when using a polarizing filter. The polarising filter works best at an angle of 90 degrees from the sun. You also need to turn it while it's on the front of the lens (it has a rotating mount) to see where the effect is strongest.

The only downside to polarizing filters is that you lose approximately two stops of light. If light levels are low this may lead to camera shake. Use a tripod or other support to avoid this.

travel photography tips

8. Take photos at night

Learn how to take photos at night. Night photos can be really evocative. The best photos are taken while there's still some light in the sky. There's something magical about the early evening. City lights sparkle. The movement of water becomes a misty blur. Passing cars leave trails of light.

You'll need a tripod to support the camera and a cable release to fire the shutter without touching the camera. If you haven't done this before it's worth practicing this at home so that you can perfect the technique before you're on location.

travel photography tips
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