Not everyone aspires to be a professional photographer, especially if that means a heavy investment in sometimes heavy equipment. And few have a lot of time to learn photography. Yet most of us want to get the best images we can whenever we travel, and the ante’s definitely been upped in recent years, with incredible Instagram and social media feeds from all over the world. So how do you get images that live up to the astonishing things you’ve seen on your travels?
Know your camera
They say the best camera is the one you have with you, so make sure you practice with it before you head off. From a mobile phone to the highest spec DSLR, it’s not what you have, but what you do with it that counts. Get online, download your camera manual or research what your individual equipment can do. If a cheetah appears from out of the brush, you don’t want to be fiddling with the shutter speed. And don’t be afraid to use the auto settings too; most cameras are set up to take awesome shots, so if you need to react quickly to something, your camera can usually be trusted to get the shot.
Photographing in cold conditions requires different preparation to the red dirt of an Australian road trip, so make sure you’ve thought through what you’ll need. Extra batteries, enough memory cards, waterproof bags, a tripod or monopod – get online, read a few travel photography blogs and get some tips from the experts. If you know you’re going to need a zoom lens, think about hiring one rather than making an investment in something you’ll only use once or twice.
Think about background and composition
Whether waiting for an animal to appear, taking a landscape shot or setting up for a portrait of your significant other, the same things apply – a great background can make or break the shot. Think about where you place your subject and try to avoid too much clutter which will draw the eye away from your intended focal point. Too many trees obscuring the landscape, or a few bags on the ground? – move things around or take a few steps to the left or right. The light might also work better facing the other direction, so try things out and check the results.
If you don’t have a range of lenses to choose from, you do have legs or a vehicle, so try to get some different angles rather than a repeat of the same shot. Get low and shoot up, or try to find a higher angle and look down. Most pro photographers will try to shoot a range of shots for any magazine feature, and it’s good fun to do something fresh and original. Similarly, you can shoot some of the close-up details of leaves or a forest, as well as the big, wide landscapes.
Shoot when you have good light
Most people know about the golden hour, but it’s not just early morning and before sunset when the light can be at its best. Long before the sun rises, and long after it sets can be magical, and the times vary depending on the season and location. An afternoon stormy sky can break open with sunshine, and dappled jungle light can work at any time of day. Be observant on your first few days, and talk to your guide about weather conditions. There are plenty of apps which will give you sunrise and sunset times in your particular location, but sometimes you’ll just need to work with what you have, and keep looking up!
TOP TIP: Shooting a portrait in front of the sunset? – use a bit of flash to brighten up the subject.
Reschedule your day
Most dedicated photographers will be out shooting when everyone else is having breakfast or dinner. So while you might not want to go so far as to skip dinner, maybe think about arranging to have one of your evening meals after dark, or take a picnic with you. Food photography will really bring back memories of your trip too, so if you are eating in front of an awesome background, get some shots that capture the moment, wherever you are. And one sunrise is always worth the effort. You can always have a snooze later – you’re on holiday, after all!
About the Author
Nori Jemil is an award-winning freelance photographer, videographer and travel writer, who is based in London and Perth, Australia. She lived for six years in Santiago, Chile, and traveled extensively throughout South America. She particularly enjoys photographing natural, extreme and aerial landscapes, as well as wildlife and people. A member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, she was recognized as their Travel Photographer of the Year in 2018. She has been published in various travel publications, including National Geographic Traveller UK, BBC Travel, Conde Nast Traveller and Wanderlust Magazine. She teaches photography both in London and on overseas tours.