How to capture those special travel photos: five tips

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If you travel, it’s a good bet you have a folder full of travel photos tucked away somewhere — and if you’re like me, that folder has a few thousand pictures in it. But of all those photos, there’s only a precious few that can really be called special shots, the kind you see on calendars and postcards. The problem is, most people pretty much just shoot what’s in front of them. But there are a few tricks you can use to add a little something extra and bring home more of those special travel photos you’ll be proud to show. Here are five tips to help you bring back a few more keepers:

Frame your shots

A pretty scene makes a nice picture. But most scenes have a lot more impact if you can frame them, using something that fills the top or sides of the scene. It can be overhanging trees, or a doorway or archway, as in this photo of the entrance to the old walled city of Cartagena, Colombia. Just like putting a painting in a frame, this trick draws the viewer’s eye into the picture and makes the whole effect more satisfying.

The entrance to the old walled city of Cartagena, Colombia

Something in the foreground, something in the background

Whenever possible, I try to pack my travel photos with information, kind of like news photos: the more that’s going on, the more interesting they are. One way to do this is to put something in the foreground to complement the subject in the background, like the pedestal in this photograph of a pyramid in the Mayan ruins of Copan, Honduras. Even putting your cafe table in the foreground of a Paris street scene can make it more interesting — adds an artsy look, too.

A carved pedestal and pyramid at the Mayan ruins at Copan, Honduras

Use some geometry

One way to turn ordinary travel photos into memorable shots is to use the geometric shapes in it. Painters see their paintings as a composition of lines and shapes: try doing the same. One effective trick is to look for rows of things, like this lineup of Buddhas in a temple in Bangkok, or the pillars in Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern (here). If you can manage to have something of interest at the end of the row, all the better.  Hint: zooming in can make shots like this even more effective since it appears to draw the objects in the row closer together.

A row of Buddha statues at a temple in Thailand

Position your people

Including people adds life to a photograph; I often wait till someone walks into a scene to make it more dynamic. But where you put those people makes a big difference. Generally, walking into the shot is better than walking out, looking toward you is better than looking away, and off-centre is better than dead centre. But there are exceptions, like this shot of an archway in Cuenca, Ecuador: while the old gentleman is walking away from us, he’s positioned just far enough from the camera that he adds life to the scene without blocking our view. It can take a while to get this right: try taking a series of shots so you can choose the one with your subject in just the right spot.

An old man walks through an archway in Cuenca, Ecuador

Show some interaction

Putting people in a setting is good, but showing them interacting with it, or with each other, is better. Suddenly the story tells a picture: a fisherman pulls in a fish, a carpet seller shows his wares to a woman in the market, spectators watch the changing of the guard at the Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen, as in this photo. You may have to wait for these shots to develop, but when the moment comes, you’ll know it.

Changing of the guards at the Amalienborg Palace, Copenhagen

I know, it’s hard to think of these things when you’re checking out the sights of a new city or tagging along with a tour. But once you start using these tips, you soon start to see your photo opportunities with new eyes. And if that produces even one or two special travel photos in a trip, that’s one or two more than you had before.

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About Author

Paul Marshman is a retired journalist who spent 30 years as a writer and editor on Canadian newspapers, while travelling to the ends of the earth. Now he continues to travel while passing on his travel experiences to you.

8 Comments

  1. dennis francz on

    Hey Paul good tips , thanks a lot. I usually just take pictures very whimsically hoping for good results but of course that doesn’t happen very often. So hopefully I can put your tips to use and come up with better pictures and maybe I won’t have to spend so much time going through what is good and what is not.

    • Thanks, Lois, and thanks for sharing — I need all the eyeballs I can get. Hope these tips help people get a few more “keepers”. One of these days I’ll try a home swap — good way to keep costs down when you travel.

  2. These are really helpful tips! Framing is something I find that is often overlooked when pictures are being taken, and the right framing makes all the difference!

    I also want to comment that the fourth photograph of the Buddha’s is really impressive. Great capture!

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