Greetings fellow travelers! Today I thought I’d share a few tips and tricks that I’ve learned that have helped me to become a better photographer while on the road. Now, mind you, photography has never really been a passion of mine. I have simply always wanted to pick up a camera, snap a picture and capture a memory. A professional I am not. After a few trips abroad, I would come home with these awesome memories and mediocre photos. I did some homework, I talked to some photog friends, and went back out there and tried again. My photos gradually improved. It wasn’t magic or anything, it was just practice and a little bit of homework. I’ve boiled what I learned down to these five basic tips.
1. Don’t Just Snap a Photo, Imagine What the Photo Will Be
This probably sounds more complicated than it is, but it’s a big deal. Instead of blindly snapping pictures, trying to capture every moment, what you must do is think about each photograph individually. It’s really about slowing down, about stopping to sniff the roses. Can you reframe the picture to avoid that dead tree limb? What about shifting your angle just a little so that ugly garbage can isn’t in the shot? Can you wait a moment for that huge group of people to pass by so you can capture the scene and make it seem less crowded? Can you move your thumb out of the picture? Just kidding, but you can see my point!
2. The Rule of Thirds
This goes hand in hand with number one, but it is just as important. If you watch TV, go to the movies, admire famous artworks or the latest photography, one thing is always the same: very seldom is the subject centered in the frame. The horizon is hardly ever in the middle of the picture. Putting stuff in the middle leads to boring, uninteresting photographs.
To help create more interesting photos, photographers use what they call the “Rule of Thirds”. The frame is divided into thirds horizontally and vertically. Some cameras even allow you to add this setup as an overlay on their screen. Then, when taking the photo, place the horizon on either the upper or lower horizontal third line. Place the subject of your photo on the intersection between a horizontal and vertical line. It’s that easy and once you start playing with it and experimenting you will see your photos improve dramatically.
3. Stand as Still as Possible
One the main reasons that pictures come out blurry is that the camera person doesn’t stop completely to take the photo. If the camera is shaky, so will be the picture. Stop and take a breath, and then frame your picture and take it. If there is low light, a tripod helps a lot. I have a folding tripod for my cell phone camera that weighs next to nothing and fits right in my pocket. They also make cell phone cases with built-in stands and this can help a lot if there’s a flat surface to prop it on.
4. The Best Camera is the One You Have with You
Professional photographers drag around thousands of dollars’ worth of heavy and delicate gear everywhere they go. I can’t do that and I don’t want to do that. I like to be mobile and not weighed down by bags and gear. Also, I would feel out of place travelling in the remote places I do with all that gear. I like to blend in and become one of the locals to the greatest extent possible. And finally, from a safety standpoint, I feel like carry around obviously expensive gear makes me a target for theft. I don’t like to flash stuff around like that.
When I first started travelling often, I bought a nice Canon digital SLR instead of just taking pictures with my phone. I found myself leaving that nice Canon SLR in my hotel room or in my rental car and taking pictures with my phone. Why? Because I didn’t want to mess with the huge camera if I wasn’t out really exploring. When I got back home and started going through photos I realized that I had taken just as many photos on my phone as I had on this big expensive SLR. Unless you were printing them for a billboard, I bet you couldn’t tell the difference between the photos from each camera unless I told you.
The moral of this little story is this: even if you own the most expensive gear it doesn’t do you any good if you don’t have it with you when the picture happens. So spend your money on a nicer camera phone or a super compact point-and-shoot camera that fits in your pocket.
5. Organize and Sort Your Photos
Another rookie mistake I made when I was new to travelling was taking all these photos and never really doing anything with them. I would put them on my hard disk drive and basically forget about them. Pretty dumb, huh?
One thing I’ve gotten much better about as I travel more is deleting photos. I just don’t keep everything anymore. I often take multiple shots of the same thing. Once upon a time, I kept them all. I don’t even know why! Now I just keep my favorites.
I now use Adobe Lightroom for this purpose. It’s complicated software, but it allows me to sort and edit my photos all in one place. It also allows me to add keywords and captions, and then later search for photos by those keywords. If I put the keywords in when I upload them, this makes my life easier. I also like that I can share directly from Lightroom to Facebook and the web; the program automatically resizes them for me. I’m sure there are other software packages that can do all this and much more, but Lightroom has really worked out well for me.
So there you have it. Again, I’m not a professional photographer by any means. There are so many online tutorials and websites that can help you become a better travel photographer. This is just my take on the things that have worked for me. Happy shooting!