One of the most common questions that I get asked from amateur travel photographers is “how can I improve my photos?”. Whilst there is never one solution that will fit everyone’s needs, there are some things that are common amongst all amateur travel photographers. Some are actual photography improvements or tips like getting closer to the subject. But there are also quite a few things that you could try which are not necessarily photography tips. So, if you have never tried these then give it a go, you may be surprised by the outcome.
1. Travel alone
There’s a reason that travel photography is a lonely profession. Most of the time travel photography is pretty boring. You have to wait around for the best light or keep going back to a location so that you can capture the photo that you want to take. Nothing should get in the way of capturing that stunning photo. The problem with trying to do this when you have other people like friends or family around who are not photographers is that they will usually not have the patience to wait around for you. So whilst you might be happy to wait in the rain for the clouds to clear, your spouse or friend understandably won’t. This will either mean you have to leave with them which will mean missing out on the photo or having to settle for something taken at a time that might not be best. If you want the best possible photos with no distractions, try to travel alone.
If you are going to travelling with someone, maybe try to settle on getting some time alone so that you can focus on photography without distraction. This will mean you can focus on capturing great photos and the other person can do what they want without having to wait around for you.
2. Walk, walk, walk
Often one of the best bits of advice that I can give people is that they should just walk around especially in cities or destinations where there are bustling areas. Being in a taxi, subway or coach means you will miss the daily life that goes on. These are unique moments that will often give you better photos than that famous monument which has been photographed from every angle millions of times. You’ll be amazed how often you will stumble into a scenario that is incredibly photogenic.
But the other benefit of walking around is that you will find potential spots for photography like that dramatic sunrise or sunset shot that every photographer craves. I often find myself walking for hours in cities, exploring places that aren’t in the guidebooks. Most of the time these don’t lead to anything but every now and then you capture something unique.
3. Hire a guide
There seems to be some sort of taboo amongst the hardened travellers about hiring a guide when travelling anywhere. People usually prefer to be seen to be travelling independently rather than following the flock of other tourists. I must confess that for a long time I felt the same. That is until I started to think of the whole notion of the guide that I have differently. Rather than thinking he or she is your “guide” consider them as your photography “consultant”. Whilst they may not be photographers, you can still bounce ideas off them ask them for their advice on locations or good spots for photos. You can even put them into your photos as a point of interest. I always tell my guides at the start of any trip that I want their advice or opinions. More often than not they can suggest something that I didn’t even know I could do.
The more obvious benefit of a guide is that you have someone who can speak the local language. For people who are shy at taking photos of other people, this can make it a little less daunting.
4. Say “yes” more often
I always find that wherever I am in the world, the more open-minded I am to trying things or going places, the better my photos are at the end of the trip. Clearly, there has to be some level of caution so that you are not ripped off or even a victim of a worst crime. But if it’s something within reason than try to say “yes” to things more often. This could just be as simple as trying a different food or even listening to a suggestion from your guide to go somewhere that might not be your usual pick.
For example on a recent trip to Bhutan as we arrived into our local village after a long drive my guide asked me if I would prefer to stay in a farmhouse or hotel. For me, it was an obvious choice as I was far more likely to capture photos at a farmhouse than a hotel room. When I arrived at the farmhouse there was a celebration happening because a family member who was a monk had been promoted. So I ended being able not only to experience this unique and religious celebration with the family but also to photograph it as well! Something I would not have experienced had I said “no” to the farmhouse.
5. Sleep and rest as much as possible
This might seem like an odd tip. After all, every photographer always talks about getting up in the early hours of the morning and shooting after sunset into the blue hour or even later. But this is exactly the reason that it’s important to get as much sleep and rest as you can when you can. Most of the time you’ll be tired, sleep deprived and not eating very well. All of which can very easily combine to make you ill. The last thing that you will want is to be trying to recover on a trip. The best way to avoid this is by factoring in rest time at say midday when the light is harsh and you won’t be able to capture much. Remember that you will end missing more photo opportunities if you are ill for a few days than you would if you were sleeping for a couple of hours during the day. Being fresh and not tired will also mean you are far more alert to potential photo opportunities.
Some people will already be doing these things, but if you are not and always wanted to improve your travel photography than try it. You never know what it could bring you.
Note by the author: remember to stay safe
Whilst this might seem like an obvious thing to say, ultimately your safety should always be your main priority. Whilst all of the tips above are good to do, it should never be at the expense of your own well being. So, always make sure you trust your guide fully, know the places you are going to or that you will be safe walking around by yourself. Never take any risks that might endanger you. No photo is worth the price you may end up paying.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission.