Thanks to social media, the days of sitting in someone’s living room, looking half-heartedly at slideshows or photo albums of their recent getaway are – thankfully – behind us. Today, we can share our experiences instantly, with a global audience. But an important question remains: how can we make our photos more interesting? As a travel photographer, it’s my job to make the places I visit appear as captivating and unique as they really are, and to create pictures that are enjoyable and consumable to a wide audience. Allow me to share a few easy tips to make the photos from your trip stand out from the others!
Pay attention to light
The most important tool in a photographer’s toolbox is light. Without light, we’ve got nothing. Some of the most captivating shots happen about 30 minutes before sunset or after sunrise. Of course, while you're on holiday you probably won't be up with the rising sun - so how about midday, when you're most likely to be out and about? That’s when to look for interesting shadows. Midday sun gets blocked in really interesting ways by buildings, statues, and even other tourists. Find the light. Love the light. Be the light.
Focus on details
Of course you should grab that obligatory selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower, but take a second to look around. See the blossoms on that one beautiful tree over there? Position yourself and your camera/phone in a way that showcases them, but that also still shows the famous landmark! Show your viewers something they couldn’t see simply by googling “France.” Don’t be afraid to get up close to these details, either. I can’t tell you how many times my husband has pretended not to know me while I was climbing up on something, or putting my camera far too close to something – superficially - uninteresting.
Find new angles
It pains me as a New Yorker to say this, but LOOK UP! Especially in older European cities, there's some incredible gables, reliefs, and frescos to be seen up there - as well as a chance to spot some lovely clouds and skies. If there’s nothing up, look for reflections. All the other tourists facing one way, you face the other. Do everything you can to see the normal in abnormal ways.
Capture the mood
There’s nothing like waiting years to see the Mona Lisa in person only to find out that it’s behind a glass case, roped off, and surrounded by people pushing to get a quick snapshot. That’s the mood. Hectic. Crowded. Pretty much the anti-Mona Lisa. Capture this! Show this! If anything, it’ll get a few laughs from your friends back home who have a completely different image in their mind.
My personal favorite. Locals and tourists alike can really illustrate the personality of a city. Use your lighting and angling skills to bring life to the people all around you. It can be a little nerve wracking to photograph total strangers, but just remember that they're people, just like you! If I'm ever confronted, I find it helps to share a small compliment. “I just love your dress!” or maybe “You two are so cute together!” I also offer to share the photo with them. Of course, if someone is upset and asks that you to delete the photo, you should just do it, no matter how perfect it may have been.
No, I’m not talking about watching hours of Youtube videos to learn Photoshop. I’m talking about actually editing down the number of images you share. Let’s be real for a moment. When was the last time you actually clicked through each photo of a friend’s Facebook album? 2004? Yeah, me too. Instead of sharing all 200 photos from that weekend in Barcelona, pick the top 20 (or fewer!) that really capture the trip. Telling a story with fewer images is what sets good travel photography apart. On any given day, I take anywhere from 20 to 400 photos. From those, I share maybe five to ten. Less is always more.
The trip comes first
Finally and most importantly, unless you’re being paid to take photos, don’t let the camera take over the trip. Your experiences should always come first. It would be such a shame to spend your hard-earned money and limited free time on a holiday and walk away with only superficial memories because you were too preoccupied with shooting. Have your camera ready - mine stays mostly in my hand, attached with a wrist strap - but don’t let it consume everything. Enjoy the sights and sounds!