Most professional travel photographers will tell you that if you want to capture great travel photos, your best bet is to try and get as much right when you are actually taking the photo rather than trying to sort it out in post production. Having said that, all photos will benefit from some level of post production. Some photos require more, and some will require just basic tweaks. Here are 5 quick fixes that can improve your travel photos.
1. Warm or Cool
The first thing that you should always check and tweak is the colour temperature of the photo. Whilst the technical definition and science of “colour temperature” can be incredibly confusing and frankly boring, the importance of understanding the basics of what it actually means is vital for photography.
In simple terms different light sources produce different coloured light. Have you ever taken a photo at midday and wondered why your photo seems to have a blue tint? Well, that is the effect of your camera’s sensor being unable to accurately translate the colour it sees (known as colour casts). The human eye can adjust for different colour temperatures which means we see things in pretty much the same colour regardless of the source of light, but cameras can’t.
Whilst you are able to adjust the colour temperature in the camera at the time you are taking a photo, most travel photographers will do this in post production. The chart above shows a rough guide for colour temperature values of different conditions. For example, if you have taken your photo on a day with clear blue sky, you need to make the colour temperature of your photo “warmer” i.e. more yellow. The key is to try and make sure the photo looks natural.
2. Sort Out Brightness and Contrast
The one thing that all photos usually benefit from is slight adjustments in brightness and contrast. Photo editing software these days make it incredibly easy and quick to adjust these values. Start by brightening or darkening your photo so that it has a good range on your histogram. Once you are happy with the brightness adjust the contrast so that the image has a good amount of dark area detail. Often one of the tools that photographers use in photo editing software is the “tone curve” function. Play around with your sliders until you have an end result you are happy with.
3. Boost Saturation
If you find that your image is looking dull and muted in colour (unless that is the effect you were going for) start to boost the saturation and vibrancy slowly. What this does is enhance the colours you have in your photo to make the image look more colourful and vibrant. Travel photos especially can benefit from boosting these sliders as you often want the scene in front of you to jump off the page.
Just be careful not to overdo the vibrancy or saturation, as your image can look fake and too “posterized”. The key as with any post production is subtlety and a natural look. When you look at your photo it should feel like something that you could imagine seeing in real life. If it doesn’t, you’ve overdone it.
4. Straighten Up & Crop
I have lost count of the number of times newbie photographers have asked me to look at photos or their portfolio and the first thing I’ve noticed is their images, especially landscape or seascape photos with a wonky horizon line. Even the most basic photo editing software at the very least has this function so make sure you use it. If you are wanting a tilted effect for your photo, then you should make sure that the photo actually looks like it is deliberately tilted and not by mistake.
Once you have straightened up your photo, you should have a look at the crop. Sometimes just the way that you have cropped your photo can mean the difference between a photo that doesn’t quite work and one that looks great. Try to think about the main purpose of the photo. What’s the story or key element? Once you have figured this out, crop your photo so that it enhances the main subject or story.
Usually the final task that I run on my photos is to sharpen them. Again, the key is to ensure that you don’t overdo it. Sharpen the image too much and you begin to get “artefacts” which will mean your images will begin to suffer and you will see things like light and dark halos, noise or excessive texture. The best way to avoid artefacts is to zoom into your image and check it thoroughly once you have finished sharpening.
These quick fixes usually improve any photo, but it is important to remember that ultimately they can just enhance rather than create. A poorly composed or executed photo will still be a poor photo even after post production so pay close attention to the photos you take and make sure you master your “photo taking” technique.