Travel photos are useful for documenting personal experiences and memories. They are also a window to different worlds for others who may not be able to travel to such places. The following are some easy tips to create beautiful photos of your travels both for your own records and for the enjoyment of others.
Lake Laanemaa at Orkjärve Nature Reserve Estonia. Wikimedia Picture of the Day, October 2014 (user Heino Ruiso)
1. Composition. The rule of thirds is the most well-known and fundamental of photography principles. Basically, a photo is divided into thirds both horizontally and vertically so as to impose an imaginary grid. Placing the subject along the lines and intersections of the imaginary grid draws the viewer's attention and adds interest to the photo. For instance, when photographing a landscape it is more aesthetically pleasing to place the horizon line along the bottom or top third of the photo (as in the example above) rather than directly in the centre. See the short video below for a visual explanation of the principle.
2. Light and Weather. Light and weather conditions greatly impact the quality of a photograph. A simple way to create beautiful photos of almost any subject is to capture it during a sunrise, sunset, or with particular cloud formations. Light is brightest and harshest in the middle of the day, which will affect the quality of photographs. Always consider how light is interacting with the subject and how the photo may be improved by time of day (or camera setting). Photographing subjects juxtaposed with intriguing cloud formations is also a simple way to add interest and drama to a photo. Consider the great contrast between the following two photos of the same lake taken at different times of the year under varying light, weather, and cloudscape conditions.
3. Use Editing Tools. How you incorporate photo editing software depends on your beliefs about photographic 'purity.' In other words, to what extent do you believe intervention in a photo compromises its integrity (if at all)? Sometimes light and weather conditions just do not behave during your travels, so a bit of help from editing software is necessary to correct or enhance the image, particularly if you do not have a high-functioning camera or technical knowledge. At the rudimentary level, using basic (and free) tools, such as crop function, red-eye reduction, exposure correction, can greatly enhance an otherwise average photo. At the more complex level, software programmes like Adobe Photoshop offer a wide range of tools to totally alter an image in unique and personalised ways. A little bit of experience or tutoring is necessary to make the most of Photoshop, but it is a good investment for the serious amateur photographer.
4. Choice of Subject. It is always a good idea to be ready for spontaneous photographic opportunities, such as a chance encounter with exotic wildlife or an experience with local culture. These things often provide a story and sense of a place more than well-trod landmarks do. Since cameras and travel photography are so ubiquitous these days, it is also a good idea to treat familiar subjects with an innovative point of view whenever possible. The photo of you next to the Eiffel Tower may be a remarkable personal memory, but it is likely that thousands of other people have already posted the same type of image. It is the unusual images or the images that portray a well-known sight in a unique way that connect with viewers and produce emotion and interest. For example, the first image below is a familiar interpretation of the Eiffel Tower from the Public Domain, while the second image interprets the Tower from a different point of view. They are both fine images, but arguably the second adds more interest, as the viewer is not accustomed to seeing the famous landmark from that perspective.
5. Consult the Experts. Apart from taking a photography course, studying the work of professionals is a good way to learn what makes a high-quality photo. There are numerous exhibitions, contests, and websites that display the best of professional (and amateur) travel photography (such as National Geographic and National Geographic Traveller). Like all art forms, beautiful photography is often subjective and left to the beholder, but it is important to consider what criteria leads to an award-winning photo. How does the author use light? What is it about the subject that draws us in? Consider the photos that you enjoy the most and imitate those techniques in your own practice.