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6 Ways to Capture More Unique Travel Photos

A Guest Post by Neil Ta.

There’s something to be said about having a nice collection of travel photos. They document not only your personal journey in other cities and countries, but also showcase the artistic side of your photographic abilities. Throughout my recent travels through Southeast Asia (and many smaller trips in years past), I’ve been able to capture some images that I’m quite proud of. The following tips have helped me take better and more unique photos when I am traveling or when I’m home:

1. Always Be Ready

You can’t take pictures if you leave your camera at the hotel! So the most fundamental thing is to bring your camera out with you. If a DSLR is too bulky, invest in a smaller point and shoot or micro 4/3 system. Your Canon 5d Mk II does you no good if it’s sitting in a bag at your hotel.

Not only do you need to bring your camera, you need to be ready to shoot. Many images happen spontaneously and disappear as fast as they appeared. If you’re too busy fidgeting around in manual modes and miss the shot – the moment is gone forever. Shoot in a mode that you’re comfortable with. If I am leisurely taking shots, I typically shoot on Aperture-Priority mode and adjust the exposure compensation as needed. You may be more comfortable in one of the creative modes, which is perfectly ok! If you’re shooting in RAW, it will enable you to do some post work to process the image if it isn’t perfect straight out of the camera. Remember, it is better to capture an image slightly under or overexposed than it is not to capture an image at all.

Image: When There’s Nothing Left to Burn, You’ve Got to Set Yourself on Fire

When There’s Nothing Left to Burn, You’ve Got to Set Yourself on Fire

2. Don’t Do What Others are Doing

Are you ever in a situation where you’re at a popular tourist attraction and everybody is jockeying for position to take the same picture from the same location and angles? Well, it doesn’t take a lot of creativity to find different shooting perspectives – you can go higher, find other angles off to the side or below, or incorporate other photo enthusiasts into your shot. I find those types of images to be much more creative than ones taken from the most popular traditional angles and perspectives.

Image: This is Puzzling

This is Puzzling

3. Do Some Research & Make Connections

It is a global world out there! Flickr and other photo sharing sites (like DPS!) have made it easy to find interesting locations to shoot. You can search the most popular photos from a certain city or landmark and try to replicate or put your own stamp on some of your favourites. These are also fantastic forums to reach out to other photographers. I’ve had the great fortune of meeting and shooting with a number of well respected photographers from Detroit to Kuala Lumpur! They often know the best places to shoot, and if they have a specialized niche, you will be exposed to things that you’d be hard-pressed to pursue on your own.

Most of the personal connections I’ve made through photography began with a simple Flickr message.

Image: Urbex Superheroes

Urbex Superheroes

4. Take Risks

Often, taking calculated risks pays off! It is a simple risk/reward calculation that we all have to consider. You really want to take that picture of an angry butcher at the market? Well, what’s the worst that could happen and is it worth the risk to you? I specialize in urban exploration (urbex) and am very meticulous when it comes to the risks I take associated with getting into an abandoned building or onto a rooftop/construction crane. This is especially true when I am traveling and dealing with different sets of rules. Generally, the greater the risk I take, the better the photos (and stories) are.

This is not something isolated to urban explorers either. Some of my most iconic images came after being on the front lines of the G20 Summit last year in Toronto when my fellow photography enthusiasts got more tear gas and rubber bullets than they bargained for. You need to ask yourself “how far will I go to get the shot?”

Image: Power to the Peaceful

Power to the Peaceful

5. Get Off the Beaten Path

There’s nothing wrong with tourist sites! However, it does become increasingly difficult to get unique images from them. Luckily, it doesn’t take much effort to get off the beaten path. It could be as simple as getting out of your resort and visiting the local town, walking a few kilometres to another part of the beach, or doing a bit of research into some lesser known sites that you may find interesting. Getting off the beaten path even just a little can expose you to more unique and memorable experiences; oh yeah – and some cool images too!

Image: On Top of Bokor Hill

On Top of Bokor Hill

6. Take a Timeout

On extended travels or vacations you may feel camera fatigue or a lack of creativity on certain days. For me, I sometimes feel as though picture taking is a chore I need to do! It should never be like that. Remember that you’re there primarily to experience another culture, its people and their city, photography should really be secondary. On days where I just don’t feel like shooting, I trade my Canon for my iPod and find creativity and inspiration in the lives that pass me by. One way I’ve been able to keep inspired is to do some volunteer photography work wherever I can. This could be something you run into coincidentally during your travels or prearranged with an NGO, charity, or other organization. The next time I reach for my camera following a good deed, I feel much more refreshed and energized.

Image: Big Ideas

Big Ideas

Neil Ta is a Toronto based Photographer, Traveler, Urban Explorer and Gentle Lover. You can view his daily blog or his website.

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