If photography is the study of light, then what exactly is a photograph? A photograph itself is much more specific. A photograph is a moment in time – a moment that has passed and is unique and perfect on its very own. It’s a moment that will never and can never be duplicated. You can’t hold it in your hand, you can’t rewind time and make it happen again– all you can try to do is capture it. That moment is where the beauty and magic of photography lives. It’s up to you, the photographer, to feel and find that moment and translate it into film or pixels.
Sometimes it is easy to take beautiful photos. We are drawn to areas of abundant natural beauty and usually those places photograph easily. But what if you are looking for a different take on the region you are vising? Maybe you want to push your boundaries and take travel photos that are a bit more unique but you aren’t sure where to start. Perhaps you want to scratch the surface a bit more and photograph not what is directly in front of you but instead how you feel about it?
I realize that idea might sound foreign to many of you reading this and it can be daunting to try and think about photographing feelings & emotions, especially in terms of travel photography.
Travel photography is no different than any other type of photography. A good travel photo isn’t necessarily about the person or the place in the camera’s frame but instead it is about how the subject existed in that specific moment in time. It doesn’t matter if you are in your own backyard or in Timbuktu it simply comes down to a moment in time and how you choose to reveal it.
Today I’m going to share some of my best tips for getting unique travel photos that will make you glow with pride and set you apart from the crowd. Putting these tips into use will help you walk away with excellent photos that will not only give you great memories but will also wow the folks back home. I promise it’s not really as hard as you think as long as you just try shooting things a little differently.
These tips can be used with a film or a digital camera, an SLR or a point and shoot. Better equipment doesn’t make for a better photographer so get out there and work with what you have and don’t worry about spending a ton of money.
Hopefully one of these tips will warm a little fire within you that will grow into your own technique and/or travel portfolio.
Travel Photography Tip #1: Shoot from the hip. Yes, I mean this literally.
Photo Above: Oaxaca Street Photos – Oaxaca, Mx
I LOVE shooting from the hip. I cannot state that enough. It is one of my favorite ways to shoot and with digital cameras there is no excuse not to try it yourself. Shooting from the hip is great for a lot of reasons.
- You can shoot anything, anywhere and not feel like a total tourist.
- You can shoot when you are not allowed to take photos (as long as your camera is quiet and you aren’t using a flash). We all love that idea right?!
- Many people do not like to be randomly photographed and if you’re like most people you probably feel weird about asking permission (plus a language barrier may make an explanation really tough). When you are shooting from the hip people have no idea they are being photographed so they stay in their natural state instead of tightening up.
- Maybe you’re in a sketchy area and you want to take photos but you don’t want to show off your favorite piece of gear. If you have an over the shoulder bag, you can line it up over your camera strap and keep the bag over the camera on your hip. You can discreetly move your shoulder bag a few inches to the side and snap off a few frames and no one will know the difference.
- You never know what kind of cool image you are going to get! This is exactly what I am talking about in terms of photographing emotion. A lot of times when you shoot from the hip you will be amazed at what you get. You may just surprise yourself with a great photo that not only shows emotion but also reminds you of how you feel. From the sights, the sounds, the smells and the people–your emotions are fully charged when you travel to a new place. Those feelings deserve to be and should be photographed. Give them a fighting chance by shooting from the hip and see what you get.
Technically Speaking: My advice here is get a big memory card, shoot a lot and shoot continually. Shoot while in a group, shoot while eating, shoot while walking – all from the hip and see what you get! Warning: There will be a lot of crappy shots that you need to delete, it’s the nature of the beast and that is okay, because the ones that make the cut will leave you beaming like the sun.
Travel Photography Tip #2: Try a new perspective.
Photo Above: The Road To Angel’s Landing – Zion National Park, Utah USA
This is similar to tip #1 but it’s different because this involves putting yourself into interesting positions. Sometimes eye level is boring and switching things up can help dramatically– get high, get low or get sideways. Try actually lying on the ground and taking some photos. The world looks really different from down there doesn’t it? The good news is that your photos will be completely different too. Can’t believe how crazy that bus terminal is? Jump up on a chair and shoot down over the scene. No chair? Get your arms up high over your head and shoot away. Really intrigued by a crazy looking bug crawling around? Get down on the floor and shoot from the bug’s level. Going high and low is a really easy and fun way to photograph any scene. Yes, you may get some strange looks but who cares–you’re the one with the cool photo right?
Technically Speaking: While in Utah at Zion National Park I was amazed at the juxtaposition between the red roads, yellow lines and blue sky. We were just getting ready to hike Angel’s Landing, which is the mountain in the back of this photo, and I wanted to take a photo at the start of the journey. I took a few pictures standing at normal height until I decided that the colors of the street and the sky were exactly what I needed to make this photo pop. The lines in the street also help direct the viewer’s eye to the mountain.
Travel Photography Tip #3: Shoot a famous place but shoot something that it isn’t necessarily famous for.
OK, this photo isn’t typical Sedona but that’s why I’m featuring it here. Often times when taking photos in a well known location you can end up with the same pictures everyone else.Sedona is a magical town known for its healing powers and beautiful red rocks that surround the city. Everyone on earth can agree that the red rocks are amazing and that’s why everyone that visits Sedona takes pictures of them. I’m not saying you shouldn’t take photos of the tourist attractions and the beautiful landscapes in the area, but while you’re there I recommend trying to find something else that is unique–something that other people are simply missing. When I was last in Sedona , I did take pictures of the red rocks but it was this image that really stuck with me because I knew no one else would have this exact photo. This building was old, beautiful, different and pure Sedona. It quickly became one of my favorite from that trip.
Technically Speaking: I decided to enhance the old look of the building by fogging up the lens with my breath. Simple, huh? Fogging up the lens created a vintage, old fashioned feel, which I thought was reminiscent of the old west andSedona . Try this technique out if you want something different in a matter of seconds. It’s pretty cool because every time you fog up your lens you will get a slightly different image. The dark vignetting on the corners was created by my polarizing filter. I created this whole look in the camera, not inPhotoshop, and it’s something you can easily try yourself anywhere you are.
Travel Photography Tip #4: Try a new technique.
You can put anything in front of your camera to create a different feel for your photos. There are a variety of household items you can try out: Saran Wrap, Vaseline (only put this on the UV filter – DO NOT put it directly on lens), a glass cup, a Ziploc bag, nylons sunglasses, fog up your lens with your breath (see tip #3), etc. Your imagination is really the limit here. Anything that could work as a filter over your camera will do. You can also try some different in camera techniques. Try using the self timer when you take a photo but without you in it. It will take a photo at a different time than you would normally and you might like what you get. I use this technique a lot when I’m sitting at a cafe people watching. Try low light or night time photography. Don’t be intimidated by blur – if you don’t have a tripod a seat bench, fence post or even a rock will work as your base. Set the camera down, put on the self timer (so you won’t get any camera shake from pushing the button) and see what unfolds. Another easy option is to simply switch your camera to a black and white setting and shoot that way. Sometimes that is all you need to see your surroundings in a different light.
Technically Speaking: I took the photo of the chicken bus while I was riding on a different chicken bus. It is part of my Out The Window series, which is a collection of photos taken out the window of a bus, car, boat, plane, etc while traveling from one place to another. It was an overcast day and I underexposed the shot a bit which is what created the b/w type effect. The red bus pops because it was bright enough to create enough contrast in the frame. Shooting through the window is what gives this photo the grainy look. You can even see part of the window reflection on the right side of the bus. Sometimes reflections can ruin a photo but in this case it works and actually adds a sense of speed to the image. Even something as simple as shooting through a piece of window glass can give you a different look instantaneously. The next time you settle in for a 8 hour bus ride give it a try.
Travel Photography Tip #5: Capture the details.
Photo Above: Orange Crush – Panajachel, Guatemala
Don’t forget all the little details that made your trip memorable. Whether it’s the bread, the fabrics, the food, the mint on your pillow, the architecture, the souveniers or even the raindrops–make sure to shoot all the small details that make that location unique. These things are important and easily overlooked when taking photos. When you’re back at home you will be happy that you took those pictures because they will not only complete your album but they’ll also help bring back specific memories of your journey.
Technically Speaking: When I first saw this scene there was an older couple in full traditional dress sitting at this table eating. The scene caught my eye because the soda bottles seemed so modern compared to the Indian farmers who were drinking out of them. I took a couple shots but nothing really looked right. When they got up and left, the light dramatically improved and that’s when this picture came to life. Instead of being a people picture, it became a beautiful detail. Now every time I look at this photo I can see them sitting next to us having breakfast. Sometimes it pays to wait out a scene for a while to get something that really clicks.
About the Author
Bethany Blue is a professional photographer and travel junkie. She can be found at her personal site Beers and Beans, and her photography site. Beth founded the Nariko’s Nest studio, which was named for her beloved rabbit, Nariko. She photographs under the studio name and lives in San Diego, CA.
She has a B.F.A in Photography, has worked as a commercial photographer and has been photographing weddings for over 9 years. She also freelances for various publications and for The Coast News covering various assignments that range from shooting Ziggy Marley to gang injunctions, police checkpoints to heroin and opiate addiction in the North County.
Her favorite food is the blueberry and she never wants to be eaten by an alligator.