“You don’t take a photograph, you make it,” said photographer Ansel Adams, and he was so right! We could all stand on Blouberg Beach and gaze across at Table Mountain, see the same sunset over the Pyramids of Giza from the same angle, or witness the same leopard cub lolling in the grass, but what we’d each make of those scenes with our cameras would be something very different. Some of us might come away with photographs we’ll mount on our dining room wall, while others will look disappointedly at the overexposed or underwhelming picture in front of them, rueing the fact that it captures nothing of the actual beauty of the moment.
So that said, we’re here to give you a few priceless tips on how to make the very most of the scenes you encounter when travelling so that you come home with nothing less than a veritable bevy of print-worthy pics!
Come up with a better or new angle
Angle is so important yet is so often overlooked. Photographing buildings head on, for instance, is usually a bad idea; stand a little to the side to give it depth and added interest.
Try when setting up a shot to also look for a new angle, especially when photographing well-known monuments and sights. Perhaps look through theleaves of a tree, allowing for a hazy foreground, or find a low angle that alters the usual dimensions one sees, or place an everyday object like a lamppost or hiking stick and boots in at the side of the picture with the iconic subject or scene behind it.
Note that the higher up you hold the camera the more flattering it is to people (you avoid double chins and so on). Sometimes you’ll benefit from standing up on some stairs or on a chair, especially when taking a big group shot.
Get in close – sometimes real close
Since the arrival of the zoom, we’ve become lazy. But if you can walk yourself closer to your desired subject, then do, because zooming degrades the quality of a picture. So as a general rule of thumb: only use the zoom function when really necessary.
Sometimes cropping your subject can add an element of interest, like shaving off part of the arms and/or face and forehead of a person, making the viewer look truly closely at the facial features of the individual photographed, or only including half of the face. The same goes for natural objects, like flowers or trees – you don’t always have to include the entire entity in the photograph.
Make light work for you, not against you
Bright noon day sun is not generally your friend. It gives people harsh shadows, and washes out buildings and the like. The best time for outdoors photography is early morning or late afternoon, when the shadows are long and the light is warm.
In terms of indoor lighting, manipulate it according to your needs if you are able, from drawing curtains to fiddling with the lights. The more sources of light you have the more diffused the shadows – this may or may not suit your purpose, but either way be aware of where your light is coming from andthe effect it is having.
Furthermore, “In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary,” says Aaron Rose. How true. For instance, with light pouring in from a window you can capture the steam rising off a mug of coffee or a filled bathtub.
Lastly, look for silhouettes and back-lighting. Back-lighting however only works when the light doesn’t shine directly into the lens or overwhelm the scene – when that happens the subject grows dark or washed out respectively. Angle yourself, for example, so that a person’s hair is lit from behind or the side, highlighting each strand and even the hairs on the side of their face.
Take your time
One really good photo is far better than a dozen so-so ones. Sometimes people take multiple shots with an ‘odds are’ type of mentality, thinking there’s likely to be at least one good one in there. Wrong. Good shots require thought and sometimes a degree of planning.
Consider the dimensions of your shot – would landscape work best? profile? a 1:1 ratio? Do you need to use the flash? Add a filter? Are you standing in the best spot, or would crouching down, moving a little to the side, and so on improve the image?
If you’re shooting a marvel or novelty, such as Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid or the Leaning Tower of Pisa, think about adding a person or some other object near to it to help provide a sense of scale.
Contrasts add punch to any photo. Think colour contrasts (e.g. one red cherry in a sea of green apples), texture contrasts (palm frond against a wall), pattern contrasts (spotted fabric against wood grain), lighting contrasts (one shaft of light in a dark room), and more.
If you’re in an exotic locale, for instance, where the traditional dress is in stark contrast to your own, perhaps ask a local if you could be photographed with them.
Study photographs you admire
You can improve your own photography by considering the elements of travel photos you like (and also of those you don’t like).
Sites such as PBase.com, 500px.com, Pinterest, Flickr and the like are a hugely easy and useful way of perusing a corpus of images to see what you like and wish to emulate. Furthermore concepts such as negative space and bokeh can be learned in a flash when you’re seeing examples of them versus reading an explanation. Warning: too much browsing of such sites may inspire you to such an extent that you end up quitting your day job to become a full-time travel photographer!
Finally, remember: “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst” (Henri Cartier-Bresson), so the more photos you take (ahem – make), the better you will get at it!