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Take better travel photographs

Photography is in essence a creative art so no matter how much money you spend on your equipment it does not guarantee that you shoot better travel photographs. Developing and training your eye to see more creatively and acquiring the knowledge to understand how that vision translates into a photograph are more important than having the latest gadgets. These are some of the fundamentals to get you started:

Research

Photo research

You won't find research mentioned in many technical photography handbooks, but it is a crucial part of the image taking process, especially when you are off to unknown lands.

Search for your destination on the online stock photo agencies, such as Alamy, Getty Images or Corbis, to see what has been shot in the location before. Scour picture heavy guidebooks, the weekend newspaper travel sections and any brochures you may have to begin to build a picture of what to expect when you arrive.

Don't lazily shoot exactly the same images you find but use them as the building blocks for your own personal vision of where you are travelling.

Composition

Photo composition

What you choose to include and how you arrange those things in the frame is the cornerstone of creating strong travel photographs.

There aren't really any strict rules about how to compose an image but one easy way to make your images have more impact is to divide the frame into horizontal and vertical thirds. By placing the main subjects of the image or the horizon on one of the thirds rather than in the middle of the image will immediately make the image more visually appealing.

Play with this concept a little too to suit your subject. If you are, for instance, in Australia and want to capture the feeling of being in the wide open outback, then placing the horizon very close to the bottom of the image frame helps to emphasise the huge sky above and gives a feeling of space. If you have people or wildlife walking into an image, then allow more area in the frame in front of them than behind them, giving them space to travel into the image.

Photographs are two dimensional, yet the real secret to powerful images is to help the viewer's mind create a third dimension by placing features such as rivers, roads, railway lines and shorelines in the frame so that they wind off into the background.

Including people in the frame gives the image a sense of scale and if you have a person in the foreground and one in the background, this also helps to create depth in the image. Our mind assumes that if there are two similar things in the photo and one is smaller than the other then the smaller one must be further away.

Angle of View

Photo angle of view

One of the easiest ways to grab people's attention with your travel photographs is to change the angle you shoot from. We spend all day walking around seeing the world from this one perspective. By climbing something high or simply crouching down, you immediately introduce an unusual and intriguing viewpoint on any subject.

When wandering around cities, always keep your eyes open for tall buildings with public access, which will allow you to shoot some aerial views. In the wilds, search out small hills, rocky outcrops or even a climbable tree to change the angle. Most people don't bother, so your images will instantly stand out from the crowd.

Sense of Place

Photo sense of place

How many times have you seen travel images that could simply be taken just about anywhere in the world? The ubiquitous sunset over the sea, a white sandy beach with azure ocean and a quaint, whitewashed village all spring to mind.

By using your prior research and what you find once on the ground, you can begin to include very location specific hints in many of your images.

For instance, if you're photographing a lovely old woman selling fruit in a Barcelona marketplace, then are there any signs, perhaps with the city name on it or simply in the Spanish language, around her that will help to place the market? If you're shooting images of whitewashed houses in Greece, can you time things so that there's a Greek orthodox priest or the now infamous Greek cats in the frame?

The Moment

Photo the perfect moment

Patience and detailed observation are very much necessary skills in shooting great images; Henri Cartier Bresson applied the phrase 'the decisive moment' to describe when these two elements come together perfectly.

Small details can make a big difference to the impact of an image, whether it's capturing your friend in full stride on the Inca Trail, the unbridled whoop of joy of a dancer in the Rio Carnival or the dawn light making first contact with the high peaks of the Andes.

There's no fixed way of knowing when these moments are going to happen but by searching endlessly for them in your travel photography, you will become luckier in finding them.

 

The Traveller's HandbookOriginal article by Steve Watkins published in

The Traveller's Handbook