Every traveller wants to come home with a gallery of great travel photos — the ones you want to show your friends and put up on the wall. A while back I wrote a post with some advice on how to get those memorable shots. That proved popular with Travelling Boomer readers, so I’ve decided to share five more tips to help you capture those photos you’ll be proud to call your own.
Especially when we’re travelling, it’s easy to just shoot what’s in front of us if it looks interesting. But if you look at professional travel shots, you’ll see most of them have a structure and a theme that gives them a special quality that catches your eye and draws you into the picture.
Here are five tips to help you capture that something extra that turns ordinary photo ops into great travel photos.
Wait till nightfall
As the old photographers say, shoot early or shoot late. And while some places look good any time of day, it’s remarkable how much better most look once night begins to fall. Suddenly the shadows appear mysterious, the tones look velvety, and pools of light give the scene a glow that makes it seem alive.
This effect can work wonders in unattractive places, but it’s even better in a beautiful place like Bruges, Belgium, seen here, and best when there’s Christmas decorations or some other splash of colour to make the scene even more appealing.
Draw the viewer’s eye
I’m a sucker for photos that seem to pull you into the scene, drawing your eye down a path to an elusive point in the distance. This creates the illusion of depth, as if the photo is a diorama you can walk right into and look around. There are other ways of conveying this kind of depth, but in this case the trick is simple geometry.
In this shot of the Great Wall of China, taken at Mutianyu, the wall itself forms a perfect path to lead the eye around the bend, up the next incline and then off to the horizon along a distant mountain ridge. Composing it was easy: all I had to do was find the spot where the lines of the wall itself worked in just the right way. Including the walkway in the foreground added to the effect — as if you could just start walking and climb that mountain road yourself.
The people who built European chateaux knew a little about visual effects, so they often added a reflecting pool or a pond in front of their grand buildings. It’s a simple trick, but very effective: the doubling effect of the reflection in front of the building seems to make the view even more dramatic.
You can do the same thing with your own photos whenever you find a scene that includes some calm water. The only trick is to line it up properly so everything matches correctly and you get nice repeating patterns in the water and the building, or whatever you’re photographing. I couldn’t resist this evening shot of a building in Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, and it’s still one of my favourites.
Slow the shutter
Sometimes you find yourself in a place that’s picture perfect for making a great travel shot. Problem is, there are tourists wandering around everywhere and you can’t get the classic shot you envision without some guy in a tacky t-shirt right in your lens. So you end up hanging around, hoping for that one moment when things clear enough to get a decent photo.
But there’s another way: try this. Slow your shutter speed right down — say, to one-quarter or one-eighth of a second — brace your camera on something to hold it steady, frame your shot, and shoot. The people walking through your photo will melt into blurs, leaving your stationary subject sharp. This works best in low light, as in this shot taken in the Hermitage museum. But it can be done in broad daylight if you choose your lowest ISO setting.
Shoot inside out
To me, some of the most compelling shots are ones taken from inside a room looking out. They have an intriguing kind of “reveal” effect as you see both the inside of the room you’re in and the scene outside — the best of both worlds, as in this shot taken in the restaurant of the Gran Hotel in San Jose, Costa Rica, or the one at top, from the Forbidden City in Beijing. These scenes seem to pop up regularly when I travel, but they can be tricky to capture
The problem is that the lighting in the room is usually darker than the light outside, so you need to try to balance them out. One way is to use your flash to light up the room — decreasing the flash output, if your camera allows — in order to get a natural tone. Another is to take several shots with different exposures, then choose the best one and use your editing software to lighten or darken the areas that need it. Or, if you’re lucky, your camera will have an HDR (High Dynamic Range) feature that does this for you.
So, there’s five more tips to help you capture some great travel shots. Keep them in mind as you make your way around the world, or around your own home town, and you’ll be surprised how often you can use them. Sometimes just taking a different approach can produce something really special.