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How to Avoid This Travel Photography Mistake: Taking Snapshots


When I teach travel photography workshops, I am always quick to encourage people not to rely on interesting subjects. An interesting subject does not always make a good photo. A good photographer does. So, in this article, you’ll learn to avoid just taking snapshots.


© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Travel snapshots

Taking snapshots when you travel is so easy. You find yourself in different, stimulating environments. They’re packed with exotic, compelling subjects provoking you to squeeze a quick photo as you rush by. Thinking the impressive subject is enough to create an appealing photograph is a mistake.

Pay attention to lighting, timing, and exposure. Taking snapshots without this care rarely hold anyone’s interest. You might find the most fascinating subject and not do it justice due to a lack of attention or time given to it.

Also, be careful of misconceptions about camera equipment. There are two main ones I notice.

‘I have a professional camera, so I take professional photographs’.

Just as a good subject does not make the photograph, nor does a good camera. A good photographer makes good photographs. Don’t rely on your camera to be creative. It cannot be. It is smart, that’s for sure. The artificial intelligence in modern cameras is phenomenal, but they are not creative. You are.


© Kevin Landwer-Johan

‘I only have my phone or compact camera so I can’t take good enough photos’.

You don’t need to stick to taking snapshots with a compact camera or phone. Don’t limit your creative expression because of the equipment you use. Sure, there are limitations with that kind of camera. You can still creatively capture interesting subjects when you put your mind to it.

Take your time

Slow down a little and think about how to make whatever it is that’s interesting into a great photo. Don’t rely on the subject alone. Every place you go, from Thailand to Turkey, you’ll find compelling subjects.

Something iconic needs to be treated with more imagination because everyone photographs it. To capture a photo of a monk in Chiang Mai or the Istiklal tram in Istanbul, you need to think outside the box. Everyone who’s been there has snapshots of these subjects.

Take your time when you find something engaging to photograph. Think about the lighting. Consider the best angle to photograph it from. Check out the background and make sure it’s relevant. Look at it for a while and ask yourself why you want to take a photo of it.

Image: © Kevin Landwer-Johan

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Don’t take only one photo

The first composition you make will not always be the best. Often it will be the most clichéd. The one everyone else takes.

Experiment with different angles and lens focal lengths. Make horizontal and vertical compositions. Try a dutch angle or two.

Always think about filling your frame. What’s within the edges of your viewfinder or monitor? Is everything you can see relevant and supporting your main subject? If not, do something about it. Change your angle, aperture or lens. Or wait. Sometimes you have to pause for people or traffic to move out of the background space. This will help your subject will stand out.

Image: © Kevin Landwer-Johan

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Be in control of your camera

Relying on an auto exposure mode and averaged metering gives you predictable results. Your camera is programmed to make even exposures. It’s not going to choose to expose for the highlights and let what’s in the shadows fall into blackness. Nor is it going to selectively slow down your shutter speed and purposefully allow motion blur to happen. You have to do these things.

Image: © Kevin Landwer-Johan

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Knowing your camera and how to control it will help you intuitively see when you can incorporate creative techniques. This will diversify the photographs you take. If you’re happy to use your camera like a point-and-shoot, then snapshots will fill your travel photo albums.

Taking your camera off the auto settings can force you to slow down (until you become more familiar with it). You can then think about all aspects of picture-taking at a more relaxed pace. Great photos are rarely quick.

Even most of the best street and travel photos are not taken on the spur of the moment. They are planned. They are preconceived. They are anticipated before the action happens, or the light becomes perfect.

When you do see something amazing happening and must react quickly, flick your camera back to auto. Take a few photos, and then, if you still have time, pop it back onto manual mode. Now you can get creative with your aperture and shutter speed.

Image: © Kevin Landwer-Johan

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Take a travel photography workshop rather than a tour

Many people use their camera predominantly when they travel. People have more time to take photos of interesting subjects when they travel. The problem is remembering all those settings. How can you get the most out of your equipment when you seldom use it?

Taking a travel photography workshop at the start of your vacation or journey will kickstart your creative process. You can learn to be more confident with your camera when you have a better understanding of how it works.

Picking up your camera and being stressed because you’re uncertain if it’s going to do what you want is not fun. A good tutor will walk you through the essentials of using your camera and build your confidence to do so.

A workshop will also give you hands-on experience on location. You’ll learn how to see the most interesting subjects and what to do with them. On a photo tour, all you usually get is a guide showing you interesting things to point your camera at. A workshop will equip you to take great photos wherever you go because you’ll learn how to use your camera in a multitude of different situations.


© Pansa Landwer-Johan

Avoid photographic clichés

It’s not difficult to avoid photographic clichés when you stop and think about it – even with iconic subjects. Slow down and enjoy the moment. Create a beautiful memory of it by thoughtfully composing your photos instead of taking snapshots.

Diversify your research. Don’t rely on Instagram to show you where the best photo opportunities are to be found. These are the places everyone will go and take the same boring pictures.

Think outside the box. Infuse your photos with creativity by looking for alternatives. Even if your subject is iconic, make it fresh and new in the way you choose to photograph it.

Do you have any other tips on how to avoid taking snapshots when doing travel photography? Do you have any stories to share? Please do so in the comments section.

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Kevin Landwer-Johan
Kevin Landwer-Johan

Kevin Landwer-Johan is a photographer, photography teacher, and author with over 30 years of experience that he loves to share with others.

Check out his website and his Buy Me a Coffee page.

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