Wednesday, November 06, 2013

How to take great travel photos?

It doesn’t matter whether you are using your phone camera, your tablet, your point and shoot, your entry level DSLR or a full frame camera, you all have the opportunity to click great travel photos. Today, the quality of equipment is improving by the day, which means that if you take care of some basics, you have the power to click photographs that scream ‘WOW’. These tips are  what I have learned from my travel photography experiences, from discussions with other photographers, from mistakes I committed and learnings from other travelers I have met during my travels.

And these are beyond the basics of photography, viz. Exposure, Composition, Light, Frame, Shutter, Aperture, etc.

Here are those 12 simple travel photography tips that will help you take those beautiful photos on your next trip.
India's famous elephant safari

1) Always keep the sun behind you
In the morning hours (once the golden sunrise time is over), face west. In the afternoon hours (before the golden sunset time arrives), face east. The idea behind this is to keep the sun behind you and thus ensuring that your object/subjects bathe in good light and you end up making a good photograph.

An evening scene in the western himalayas of India
The opposite would have led to dark objects/subjects against a bright background. The only time the opposite would work is when you want to take silhouettes.
Setting sun from the Channakeshava Temple, Belur

2) Never miss the golden hours
As an individual, I like to sleep late in the mornings, but when I travel, the travel photographer in me forces me to get up much before sunrise. The reason being the first 2 hours of light after sunrise is what is typically referred to as the golden period for photography. The same holds good for 2 hours of light prior to sunset. During this time, the natural light makes for some stunning and soothing pictures.

First rays of the sun on the snow capped Eastern Himalayas of Arunachal Pradesh
Pictures taking during this golden period hardly needs any editing as the light is not bright and there is no distraction. Apart from making for great photos, these golden hours allow you to see different people scenes and stunning landscape views.
Orange hues of this Maasai Mara sunset, Kenya

3) Research, Research, Research
Most of the travel photographers have a lot of time at hand and stay at a location for many days and at different times and this allows them to click those eye catching pictures. Most of the normal travelers do not have that kind of time at hand, but wish to take good pictures. To maximize your potential of your photography output, you should try and research as much as possible prior to arriving at your photography location. Read travel guides, look up the internet, check out post cards, get to know the iconic images and basically create your shot lists.

The famous Angkor Wat Sunrise, Cambodia
Find out what you want to click and how you should prepare yourself for it. Ask questions like do I go in the morning when the market is in full flow or do I go in the evening when the lighting is better. All great pictures were taken when the concerned elements fell in place and thereby a little research from your end can help some of the elements fall in place for you to take your great travel photo.
Banaue Rice Terraces of Philippines - a sight to behold

4) Identify vantage points
Find out those vantage points that make for great photos. You can either do your own research or ask for tips from locals. As a thumb rule, this is one of the first things I do when I enter a city. I start looking for view points.

The smoking Bromo and Semeru in the background, East Java, Indonesia
These view points can be bridges, roof top bars and restaurants, high rise buildings, a view point on the top of a hill that is at the end of a hiking trail, mountain tops, iconic view points (like Hong Kong’s peak) and more. The views from these vantage points might make your best travel photos from that trip.
Koh Nang Yuan - one of the prettiest islands in the world

5) Find out where the action is?
If you like people, portraits, street photography and such related genres of photography, you will need to find the action hotspots of your destination.

Celebrating New Year by leaving floating lanterns into the sky, chiang mai, thailand
These action hotspots can be festivals, live shows, political rallies, public demonstrations, local markets, parties, etc. Pick an event that suits your liking and be present there to take a lot of great travel photos.
Fire Show on Ko Phi Phi Beach, Thailand

6) Make your subjects comfortable
One of the best things about travel is the new people that you meet. Their looks, their mannerisms, their culture, their food, their religion and their lifestyle is possibly the main reasons why we travel. And if you look at the greatest travel photos, they are either destinations or people. Now, the million dollar question is how do you make the best people photos.

Elderly Ifugao Tribal Woman at Banaue Rice Terraces, Philippines
Well, if you ask me, I would say, ‘Make these people comfortable with you’. Ask them for their permission prior to clicking their pictures, respect their privacy, speak at least a couple of words in their language, try to engage in a small conversation with them and if nothing works just keep smiling.

Alit and his 85 kilogram sulphur load - Kawah Ijen, Indonesia
Generally, this makes the people comfortable with you and they allow you to take those smiling photographs of theirs which you want. And once you show them their beautiful smiling picture on your display, they will be more than happy to pose more for you.

Long Necked Karen Women of Inle Lake, Burma
If you want natural photographs and have the big lenses, you can try and skip some of the above techniques, but I would still recommend them. Sometimes people expect a small fee to pose for you. This is typically a small amount and allows you to photograph them in multiple angles and snap them in different moments.

Young Myanmar girls with Thanaka on their faces
Kids make for great photographs. The best way to take a good kid photograph is to become a kid yourself. Smile, smile, smile, throw some antics, click some pictures and show it to the kids and do something that attracts the kid’s attention.
Smiling Balinese Kids at Sukowati market, Bali, Indonesia

7) Always carry your camera with you
How can you click those beautiful travel photos if you do not have a camera with you. Whether it is a DSLR, a point and shoot, a tablet, a phone or any device that has a camera in it, ensure that you have at least one of them with you at all times. That way, you will not repent for having lost that special moment.
It is not every day that you see a Monk operating an ATM

8) Never say ‘that’s enough’
As a travel photographer, I never stop clicking pictures. But, that doesn’t mean I am making the same frames. I make different frames. Click the same frames at different times of the day. Find different angles and vantage points. Change my objects and subjects. Play with the lighting. Get as many different shots as possible. Sometimes as a person, we are unable to pre-visualize our frame. But, our camera is and we find that out when we see our clicks on the camera’s display. If you stop taking pictures, you will never find that frame. If you are persistent, you will find the image that screams ‘WOW’.
Colonial Building in Yangon, Burma

9) Keep Horizons Level
One of the classiest mistakes that I have seen in the travel photos clicked by amateurs is that they forget to align the horizon and this makes a great frame look ugly. And such mistakes are more common with water photographs or somewhere where that gives you an idea of the true horizon. Either you do the horizon setting (using camera controls and common sense) before taking the pictures or do it in post editing. The choice is entirely yours!
Scenic Pangong Tso Lake of Ladakh, India

10) Plan for the weather
Those turquoise colours in the tropical waters of south east Asia were in all probability taken during the dry months when the sun shines at its brightest. Don’t expect to click such pictures when you are planning to go during the rainy season. Instead, plan for taking clouds, huge waves, etc. Similarly, the green colours come out best after a season of rains and if you go during the dry season, you will see a not so green landscape.
Cloudy afternoon at Choeng Mon Beach, Koh Samui, Thailand

11) Clutter doesn’t look good
When we are visiting those UNESCO World heritage sites and popular tourist attractions, there are many people like us who are clicking pictures and invariably they or someone else come into the frame. These unwanted subjects or objects are what I call clutter. It distracts the people looking at the photograph. In order to avoid this clutter, take frames against the sky or against walls or if you using a camera where you can control the depth of field, use a narrow depth of field and higher background blur.
An elderly Buddhist gentleman from Ladakh, India

12) Respect Wildlife rules
This might not always make great travel photos, but will definitely make you a good travel citizen. As a wildlife lover, a lot of my travels take me to rainforests, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries and here I see normal tourists not respecting the rules of the forest.

Beisa Oryx horns in perfect symmetry at Samburu National Reserve, Kenya
They smoke in a no smoking zone, throw trash around, make a lot of noise and feed wild animals, all of which are a strict No-No.

Wild Buffalo stares at us while attempting to cross the jeep track at Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India
Instead, if you follow the wildlife rules, stay patient and are quiet, you will see a lot of wildlife and if you have the right camera gear, you can also make great wildlife photos.

13) Let your heart rate subside
Finally, remember to let you heart rate subside after a physical activity (climb, trek, brisk walk, run, swim, etc.) before you take the picture. This will help eradicate the camera shake caused by a fast beating heart.

Welcome to BE ON THE ROAD Travel Blog! I am Sankara, its founder, a 30 something male from Bangalore who is living his dream of exploring the world and simultaneously trying to inspire others to live their dream.
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