Travel photographs are not just an excellent way of documenting your memories and the places you have visited. They are also often beautiful representations of landmarks and nature. Getting them right, however, can often be tricky. This is a guide to the basics, which will hopefully act as a starting point for you to build on your skills and create breathtaking photographs that you will treasure and others will want to share.
Photography equipment can be expensive, but you are unlikely to capture the quality images you desire on your phone. It is worth investing in a decent camera that suits your needs. The perfect travel camera is not necessarily the most expensive one, and is highly unlikely to be the same as the perfect camera for, say, portrait photography. Size and weight are important considerations here, as, if you are travelling, you don’t want to be weighed down with heavy photography equipment. The main types of travel photography cameras are:
Point and Shoot
These are compact digital cameras. They are the smallest, lightest cameras. They also tend to be the cheapest and easiest to use as they don’t require different lenses. These days many of them are capable of a more than satisfactory picture quality.
These are still small and light, but also have interchangeable lenses, so are capable of a better image quality. The viewfinders are electronic rather than mirror reflex, which is why they are called mirrorless. This reduces the weight, and also the need for guesswork, as you can see the exact image you are taking.
These are larger and heavier, but tend to be achieve the best picture quality, especially when capturing motion, which makes them ideal for photographing wildlife. They offer more choice of lenses and a faster focus than other cameras.
A good guide to buying a travel camera can be found here.
Another vital piece of equipment for creating clear, precise images is a tripod, as so often photographs are ruined by the photographer moving or their hand shaking! A tripod will also guarantee that the horizon is level on all your photographs. Once you’ve got some basic equipment you are happy with, the next step is how to achieve the right composition for beautiful travel photographs.
There are several basic rules involved in photographing nature. By following these, you should achieve the results you want.
The human brain is wired to look for and understand patterns. Even in nature, repetitions and symmetry will always make good photographs, for example, trees in a forest, or mountains reflected in a lake.
When we look at a photograph, our eyes need to be led into it, towards its main subject. Leading lines are the quickest way to achieve this. A winding road, or the reflection of sunlight on water, will pull our eyes into the photograph, leading them where you want them to go.
Central to photographic composition is the Rule of Thirds. The concept of this is to make sure your photograph can be broken down vertically or horizontally (or even both!) into three roughly equal sections. For example, if you were taking a photograph of the sea and the sky, the horizon should be roughly two thirds of the way down the picture. A point of interest, such as a boat, should ideally be positioned one third of the way across. If your camera has a grid option on the view screen, this can be extremely useful in dividing your picture into thirds for a great composition.
Photographs are two-dimensional images, so they can often look flat in comparison to what you saw in real life. This can be avoided if you always remember to include points of interest in the foreground, middle and background of your photograph, in order to give the viewer a realistic perspective on the image you actually saw. For example, a mountain scene can be lent perspective by flowers or plants in the foreground, and people, animals or even rocks in the middle ground, leading the eye to the main focal point of the mountains in the background.
If there is more than one subject in your photograph, such as a crowd of people or animals, an effective way of picking out the main focal point is to blur everything else in the photograph, so the eye is automatically drawn to the one element that is in sharp focus.
A frame makes the subject of a photograph clear to the viewer. Man-made frames you can use include positioning your subject within, for example, a doorway or archway. However, frames frequently occur in nature, too. Photographing your subject between rocks or through trees will create a natural frame for your picture.
Attention can also be drawn to your subject by the correct use of light. Brightness behind your subject will act as a spotlight, focussing the viewer’s eye. Silhouetted elements in the foreground can provide an effective frame, whereas out-of-focus lights at the front of a photograph will strengthen the colours of your main subject and push the eye towards it.
Colours have a natural balance; not all work well together. Colour wheels are often used by photographers in order to determine which colours will complement each other the best. These are usually the colours on the opposite side of the wheel. However, nature is rich with colours that co-exist alongside each other. Regardless of the colours it contains, if you think a scene is worth shooting, shoot it, as doubtless others will agree with you.
The most important thing to remember about travel photography is that it is a personal documentation of your experiences; let it reflect that. Experiment and have fun with it. Photograph the things that appeal to both your artistic sense and the memories you will want to preserve. That way you will tell a unique story that others will automatically want to share.
Some great tips for travel photography beginners can be found at the Digital Photography School and the National Geographic.