Everyone likes to travel and to see the world. Everyone likes to snap photos of the places they visit. But you want to take stunning, meaningful photos that capture the time and place of your visit.
I'm going to walk you through the five steps that I go through in my head to make sure the picture I'm taking is a professional photograph and not just a holiday snap.
5 Ways to Improve Your Travel Photography:
1. Don't take the obvious photo.
2. Look where everyone else is looking. Look the other way.
3. Take every interesting photo you can then take a few more.
4. Focus in. Get closer.
5. Wander and explore.
I understand that all of these are easier said than done, so let's take a closer look.
1. Don't take the obvious photo
So you're standing in front of this incredible and widely recognised landmark and there are probably two pictures you currently see in your head.
1. A shot of the entire landmark taken from eye level.
2. A selfie with the landmark in the background.
Now it would be ridiculous of me to say that it is WRONG for you to take those photos. Every photo ever taken says something about the time, place and people involved in it. However I think it would be reasonable to say that if you are reading this then you are trying to make your photographs stand out. To find your own style. To make your mark. To claim those ever-valuable Instagram likes.
You may want to take these photos first to get them out of your system or to share with family or to pin on your wall purely to say that you've been there. Conversely you may wish to purely visualise these images before moving onto step two.
2. Look where everyone else is looking. Look the other way
This one is not only the easiest step to get your head around, it's also the most practical. This is the first thing I do as soon as I see people with their cameras or phones out in awe of something. The subject of all of their photos may be awe inspiring, but there are going to be at least that many copies of the same photo appearing on #marvel. The simple act of looking away can mean that you find the tiny yet massively important details that everyone else misses. As you can see in the video above the first thing I did when arriving at the Reichstag in Berlin, Germany was to turn away from it and that simple action allowed me to take the shot you see below.
3. Take every interesting photo you can then take a few more
This one doesn't just apply to travel photography and to hear about this in much more detail I urge you to take a moment out of your day to watch the video below by the amazing photographer Ted Forbes.
The basic idea is that if you take ten to fifteen photos of one single subject you should exhaust all of your standard angles and ideas for interesting shots. If you force yourself to take more than that you will find yourself taking the kinds of photographs you would never have thought of.
More often than not your first instinct will be right but every once in a while this excercise can produce amazing and unexpected results.
4. Focus in. Get closer
This is another one that doesn't just apply to travel photography. You've probably heard me say this before and I'll say it again. If the photo isn't good enough then you aren't close enough. On the surface that may seem like I'm dissing anyone who isn't a macro photographer but you'd be mistaken. If you are taking a landscape and you are too far away and at too wide an angle then you will have lost your subject in a mess of detail. If you're precisely close enough then you will have a perfectly composed image with a clear subject.
This is true for any form of photography.
Find your subject. Focus in on your subject. Lead lines to your subject and fill the frame with your subject (or don't but empty space is a whole other blog post entirely).
If your photo isn't good enough then you aren't close enough.
5. Wander and explore
You're on vacation so you should be enjoying yourself! Go out and see the world. Find every backstreet and family owned coffee shop you can. Find every landmark and live the life of a tourist. Find every supermarket and live the life of a local.
The only way to capture the essence of the time and place on your sensor is to live it through your own eyes first.