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7 Proven Ways to Come Home with Better Travel Photos

It s all about the light

Your next vacation or around-the-world escapade is the perfect time to brush up on your photography skills.

After all, taking a great photograph is never more important than when you’re seeing people and places you may never see again. Travel opens your eyes to other cultures, and if you prepare before you leave, it can also open the eye of your camera lens to infinite possibilities.

But first things first – let’s make sure you have a basic understanding of photography before you step onto the plane. Here’s a list of seven proven ways to come home with better travel photos.

#1 Take a good look at your gear

You don’t need to spend a million dollars on crazy-expensive gear. However, you do need a camera from this century. Better yet, a camera that was made in the last five years. Technology is changing so rapidly that you’re really going to notice a difference with newer cameras.

Also, don’t be afraid to check out the new lightweight DSLR cameras that are all the rage. You may feel cooler hauling around a huge Nikon D5300, but a more compact model can take great pictures too (plus compact is always better when you’re traveling).

#2 Get intimate with your settings

Get intimate with your settings

You haven’t just been leaving your camera in Auto mode, have you? What fun is that? Now I’m not saying you have to learn how to manually focus before you take-off for say, Fiji, but at least get familiar with these three need-to-know settings (the Exposure Triangle) on your DSLR camera.

#3 Do your research

Dive into Google Images, Flickr, or 500px to look for photos (and photographers) you love. Choose at least three travel photographers and follow their blogs.

Not only will get some great ideas for photographs, you’ll be able to find tips and techniques for getting specific effects you’ve seen in the photos you admire.

#4 Get to know your subject

Get to know your subject

Photographing people is one of the most exciting parts of travel photography. Imagine getting great shots of Buddhist monks in Laos, a tribesman in the African bush, or mountain people in the Himalayas. But you’re not just going to walk up to someone you’ve never spoken to and stick a camera in their face (promise me you won’t do that).

So how are you supposed to approach your subject? The #1 tip is to make friends first. That can be tough in and of itself when there is a language barrier, but it’s not impossible. Read: Practical tips to build your street photography confidence (which also applies when travelling).

#5 Get lost

Get Lost

You’re not going to get great travel photographs taking pictures of the monuments and sites that every other tourist on earth has already photographed. When you travel, get lost! Venture out into villages and unknown areas that no one else goes to. Don’t be afraid to get off the beaten path.

The most exciting photos you’ll take won’t be of the Empire State Building, they’ll be of the ancient bartender in that random dive bar in Astoria, Queens (the one you never would have found if you hadn’t gotten completely lost).

#6 Get close

Repeat after me: “I will not be a lazy photographer.”

Get close

Lazy photographers use lenses instead of legs. I want you to use those legs of yours to walk, run, jump, swim, crouch, bend, and move any way you can to get close to your subject. Why? Because the simple act of getting close to your subject will drastically improve your travel photographs.

Once you’ve followed step #4, don’t be afraid to put your camera as close as possible to your subject, sometimes right in their face even.

Disclaimer: this tip does NOT apply to house fires, political violence, or wildlife safaris.

#7 It’s all about the light

It s all about the light

The other day a student of mine showed me a photograph that was taken in the middle of the day, under the hot Hoi An sun. There were several problems with the shot, but the main reason it looked flat and lifeless was simply because of the time of day it was taken.

I told her what I tell everyone; don’t bother getting out your camera between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. The light is too harsh. Get up before the sun and/or wait until the sun is about to set, and you’ll enjoy amazing light that will work wonders for your photographs.

That same student sent me a photo the following day, this time taken just before sunset. It was 10x better. Had she suddenly become a better photographer in less than 24 hours? Yes. But only because she learned to tell time.

Follow these seven tips and I have no doubt you’ll be taking amazing travel photographs on your next trip. Have any additional tips you’d like to share? Please do so in the comments below.

Safe travels!

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Etienne Bossot
Etienne Bossot

Etienne Bossot is a French photographer who’s been based in Hoi An, Vietnam for the past 7 years. In addition to shooting commercial, destination weddings and travel assignments for local publications and international corporations, Etienne runs a variety of photography tours and workshops throughout Southeast Asia.

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