No travel photo is effortless. Travel photographers spend hours on research, on traveling to destinations, on planning any special permits and permissions they need for the venue. Here are some tips to get you on the right track.
1. PRE-TRIP LOCATION SCOUTING
You might be an old-school kind of photographer, hoping to scout out the photography destination days before taking the actual picture. However, especially given some of the travel restrictions today, that is no longer time- or cost-efficient.
Instead, take advantage of the many free online digital tools at your disposal. Multiple websites can show you topography and virtually walk you through the area you want to shoot. Still, others will tell you what time to be there if you want to catch the sunrise, sunset, full moon, or any other heavenly body.
2. ASK FOR PERMISSION FROM LOCALS
While viewers might only ever see the split-second captured in your photograph, the story behind that split second is what you get to take away. So when your photograph includes locals, here are a few tips to make the experience more fulfilling.
Converse with the locals. Many smaller or more traditional areas have a slower lifestyle than those in the city. Make sure to sit down with the locals and listen to their stories before bringing up taking their photo.
Ask for their explicit permission to take a photo. This especially applies when historical or monumental areas are involved. It is all the more important if you want to include children in the photo. If they say no, respectfully accept the rejection.
3. NEVER STOP LEARNING
Remember that moment of delight when you saw something you captured and realized it moved you. Now think back to the first time you studied a photo and decided to edit it for brightness or to make a certain color come out. Remember that feeling of hitting the visual sweet spot.
The only way to experience that continuously is to never stop learning more about your craft. Practice on the most mundane, everyday items. Take a picture of the same item over and over again, each time adjusting a different setting. Take classes, online or otherwise.
4. RULE OF THIRDS IN PHOTOGRAPHY
Here’s a good foundational principle if you’re just starting out. Remember the rule of thirds. Divide what you see into three vertical lines, and three horizontal lines. The image will be split into nine sections.
Don’t just put the focus of your photo into the center section. Instead, study the focus of your photo, and consider which intersection of lines would best show off what you want to highlight. A mountain peak can go in the upper intersections, an off-camera gaze can go to a side intersection.
5. PACK A LIGHTWEIGHT TRAVEL TRIPOD
Sometimes, you need the steady stability that only a tripod can give. It will help you patiently wait until every condition is just right for that one shot.
Lightness. Obviously, if you’re taking a photo from the top of a mountain, you don’t want to drag a heavy tripod up with you. Not only will it weigh you down, but it’s also a health hazard.
Stability. Make sure your tripod locks properly. The last thing you need is a shaky-legged tripod. It will put your camera, not to mention your shot, in danger of damage.
6. EXPERIMENT WITH COMPOSITION
Never stop learning. Play with the rule of thirds until you can challenge the rules. Try different levels of exposure until the foliage stops disappearing into the sun. Edit for hours, but not on a timer. Edit for fun, to please only your eyes. The practice will only sharpen your skills.
7. MAKE TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY A PRIORITY
Is travel photography the career you want to have? Then invest in it the way you would invest in a new business. When you travel, use even your phone camera and experiment, experiment, edit and edit. If you invest in cameras first, do your research. Read multiple reviews by travel photographers and other professional camera users.
When you do have the camera, focus on what you want to photograph in the future. If your thing is sunsets, photograph sunsets from your home, from your office or school building, from the places you and your friends go to on the weekends. Direct both time and resources in that direction.
8. DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE HUMAN ELEMENT
Humans are not just wonderful to get stories from. They also give your viewers, regular human beings, a point of reference. A person by a cliff only highlights the towering peak. A person holding an animal only highlights the size of the animal. If you take people into account as elements of photography, they can help you frame your photo’s main focus.
The rest is up to you. Invest your time and resources. Get friends to help you out. Experiment with lighting both natural and artificial. Play for hours with your camera settings. Don’t get impatient with yourself. The more time you spend on building your skills, the more your skills will inevitably grow closer to your vision.