Photos are the best way to capture your travel memories and it can be disappointing to return home to shots that don’t fully show the emotions you felt while on the road.
But trying to take beautiful travel photos amongst rushed itineraries, bad weather and huge crowds can drive you to frustration. Here are a few tips on beautifully capturing your experiences while on the road.
- As evidenced by the popularity of instagram and the quality of cell phone cameras, you don’t NEED a DSLR to create beautiful photographs. Work with what you can afford and what you’re willing to accept as a loss in the case of theft.
- Though full size tripods are difficult to travel with, consider a small gorillapod or monopod for stability, especially during those memorable sunrise and sunset shots. Small bean bags are also useful for positioning a camera on a flat surface.
- Don’t get carried away with all the accessories that cameras come with, take only what you need. Not only is carrying 10 pounds of gear heavy, it can also make you a target for thieves.
- With digital cameras it is easy to take a thousand shots allowing you to pick a decent one out later. Do you really want to leave a once in a lifetime photo to chance? Thinking through a photo before you even take the picture is a good way to slow down, be in the present moment and appreciate the location.
- Thinking first about the type of picture you want will earn you a head start over the other tourists snapping aimlessly. Understanding the historical and emotional significance of the site to the country or to yourself will help you define the mood of your picture. In Berlin, for example, a shot of the remnants of the wall could be enhanced by a blur of people freely passing through what used to be a risky border and life-changing emotional divide.
- Waiting patiently for the sun to peek through or the crowds to part will take what would have been a dull, same-as-all-the-others picture and turn it into a beautiful memory. After spending hours climbing a thousand plus slippery steps up Huayna Picchu to see Machu Picchu from above, you don’t want to rush capturing this Incan treasure! Waiting for the sun to shine through the morning fog in order to capture the Incan condor city flying through the Andes is well worth the wait!
- Look for colors in the surrounding environment, including the people and vehicles, to brighten the dreariness of a cloudy day. Cloudy weather often flattens London’s beautiful architecture into a palette of gray, but waiting for one of their famous cherry red double deckers to pass through your shot will provide contrast and a place for the viewer’s eye to land.
- Including people in your shots provides the viewer with a sense of scale and movement. What if you were standing at the grand entrance of the Taj Mahal, all lined up to take the perfect sunrise picture, only to have countless tourists repeatedly walking into your shot, posing and cheesing for their own camera person. Instead of fighting the crowds, use the tourists to your advantage. When surrounded by milling crowds, consider including that buzz of activity by using a long exposure to blur their movements.
- There is nothing that draws the human eye more than another human. Beyond including tourists to your shots, try adding the local crowd. Nothing reflects a country more than its people, the typical clothing, facial features and behaviors of locals reflect their history, traditions and culture. Make sure to ask before taking a particular individual’s photo and delete any photos of them upon their request.
- After you have taken those amazing shots, don’t forget to backup your memories in case of theft, loss or damage to your camera. Ideally you should backup your photos in multiple locations. With a good internet connection, an online backup site like Dropbox or Mozy can offer limited storage space for free. Without access to good internet, you can burn a DVD of photos at most internet cafes or carry a securely stored external hard drive.
Beyond asking before taking someone’s picture, there are a few other photography notes specific to travel.
- When taking community or village tours, be considerate of simply raising the lens and snapping. Imagine how it would feel if someone were walking through your neighborhood taking pictures of you. Again, ask first and make an effort to get to know the people if possible.
- If you have taken any family photos or portraits, try to print the pictures either locally or when you’re back home and send them to the family. Many people don’t have the means to get photos of themselves or their families taken.
- Goverment buildings, especially at border crossings strictly do not allow photography. The warning signs may be small or non-existent, but you do not want to cause trouble here!
- In many over-touristed places, unsustainable behavior has led to tourists being asked or harrassed for money after taking a photo, often times without warning. There are pages written on the ethics of travel photography and how paying for a photo can contribute to the long term poverty problem; make sure you understand where you stand on the issue. To prevent harassment, understand if there are any up front costs. Remember that you can always delete the photo to stop harassment.
When traveling, the camera can almost feel like an extension of our bodies and a necessity to capture all the wonder. Regardless of how your pictures turn out, don’t forget to get out from behind the lens (and even in front of it!) occasionally to appreciate the moment.
Do you have any other travel photography tips to add? Are there any must-have photography accessories you recommend?