8 tips for better travel photography

Very often, we marvel at beautifully taken travel pictures and wonder how did the photographer took those shots. Was it photoshopped ? Was the situation “arranged” ? “So lucky !”

..While many of us on guided group tour may find it challenging to achieve “art gallery” style vacation pictures, rest assured given some basic discipline to observe, getting great pictures during holidays need not be elusive.

Tip #1: Bring your camera everywhere.

Canon G12, 1/60, F2.8, ISO2500.

..and be ready. As the saying goes…”the best camera is the one with you”. Your camera, however high-end, will be redundant if left in your hotel safe box. You can leave your passport in the safe, but not your camera. You should know your personal comfort zone and buy the camera that fulfils the features you need.

Personally, my choice is the DSLR for the best versatility and picture quality. As I have been using DSLR for years, I am already tuned to the weight of carrying around 6-7 kgs of gears and would feel “inadequate” if I just carry a pocket camera around.

Tip #2: Know your camera well    

…at least the basic and most frequently used functions. Some camera manufacturers like Canon, gives free camera orientation training workshop when you purchased their products. Such fruitful sharing session with in-house instructors lets you acquaint with your camera functions faster and realise the potential of your camera.

Too busy to attend those workshops? You could check out camera review websites like DPreviews for a better understanding.For readers who are not sure the co-relation between ISO, shutter speed and aperture.. you might to check this useful simulator site.

Tip #3: Be Observant

Canon G12, 1/1250 , F2.8, ISO800.

Be observant of the surrounding… see the foreground, background, lighting which changes with the time of day. I always believe to convey beauty, you need to feel and see the beauty first. Composing the picture should also take note of the “rules of thirds”.

Avoid positioning your subject in the centre… like this picture I shot in Halong Bay. The placement of the boat to the right implies the direction and journey ahead…. positioning the boat to the centre or left would have undermined the feel and message of the shot.

Tip #4: Make your pictures “move”

Canon 70D, 1/25, F13, ISO100.

One of the ways to convey realism is to allow motion blur –  speeding motorists, the “frantic” marching of office workers as they walked into subway, moving trains, etc are ideal subjects. Selecting a shutter speed bias mode (TV) or Manual mode (M) is the ideal way to achieve this. Brace yourself against a wall to avoid camera shake, support your arms on railings, keep the camera closed to your body and shoot at 1/25 sec or slower to get a sense of motion.

The trick to this technique – called Panning, is to pivot on your hip as you lock on and follow the subject as you press the shutter release. Some camera models have build in neutral density (ND) filter to reduce shutter speeds in bright daylight.

Faster subjects like speeding F1 sports car require faster shutter speed between 1/100 -1/250 for better subject sharpness. Combine this with lowest ISO possible for the best result. For longer exposures, a tripod with panning head would be recommended.

Tip #5: Have Patience

Canon G12, 1/1250, F2.8, ISO160.
Canon G12, 1/1250, F2.8, ISO160.

Patience can result between getting a nondescript or great picture – you’ll need observe the changing environment e.g – for that boat to come into your line of sight or for the ideal person to stroll past a certain spot, etc. Pre-focus on the spot that you envisioned in your mind…. get ready … be ready….you have that one chance.

In this picture of a boat I shot on the Neva river, in St.Petersburg, Russia. I had observed the river activities. I liked the feeling of strength evoked by the bridge named Peter the Great. But it was a Saturday morning and very little activity on the river.

I spotted a boat in the distance, prepared myself, cam ready, waiting….then the boat came…. snap! I had just one chance…

Tip #6: Go low…

Canon G12, 1/500, F2.8, ISO320.
Canon G12, 1/500, F2.8, ISO320.

Get a different angle. A great angle would be for you to go low. You can see the usual scene gaining a sense of depth and freshness. But do not do it where ladies are wearing short skirts though, as you may get into unnecessary trouble.

In this picture of a temple in Angkor Wat, Cambodia, the reflection of the temple on the puddle formed from just ended drizzle gave me the opportunity to shoot reflection…I hold my camera just inches from the puddle, taking care to shoot the temple at slightly brighter exposure to compensate for the bright skies.

In the post edit, I desaturated the colour to make it black & white for a more dramatic feel. You can easily use your picture manager for this desaturation but my favourite free picture edit software Picasa, can be downloaded with loads of functions.

Tip #7: “Humanize” your pictures

Canon G12, 1/500, F3.2, ISO1600
Canon G12, 1/500, F3.2, ISO1600

If possible,  feature local people. Folks doing their daily business, walking their pets, playing with their children,…or just being themselves. Select a choice spot, observe and be ready.  Situations are dynamic and ever changing…something will surely emerge and unfold for you to capture in that fleeting moment.

This human element invariably spices up your images. In this picture of a restaurant staff in Seoul, I had to position near her pretending I am reading the menu, till she comfortable with my presence. When she too busy to bother with me, I simply snap the picture with settings all preset, for that natural look.

Tip #8: Get Closer

Canon G12, 1/320, F4, ISO320.
Canon G12, 1/320, F4, ISO320.

Robert Capa, a famous photographer once famously said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Taken literally, the closer you get to your subject, the more detail and interest you can capture. That’s when your optical zoom in your camera comes into play. Notice I mentioned “optical” zoom. Optical zoom refer to the zooming via the optics of the camera while “digital” zoom is essentially in-camera processed image.

In nutshell, optic zoom gives much better picture quality than digital zoom. In this picture of a Russian  lady police cadet in Moscow, Russia, taken their Victory Parade (National Day to us)… I had to zoom in to frame her up close for a better angle as she was some 10m away and I could not go move closer without someone usurping over my prime spot.

Last Words…

So, there you have it… 8 tips that I wished would help in some ways to help readers to achieve better travel pixel memories. And of course, here 1 last tip…enjoy your trip. It shows in your pictures…. Bon voyage !

Author : Jensen Chua, CanonEOSWorld, Council Member. iStock/Getty Images contributing artist. Pictures used are copyrighted and all rights reserved.


Jensen Chua

Hello, I'm Jensen! In my travel photographic undertaking, I routinely endured challenging conditions, high-altitude sickness, trekking along slippery iced-encrusted mountain path in total darkness or sub-zero temperature while lugging my photographic equipment just to capture that perfect moment.