3 Steps to Better Travel Photography

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3 Steps to Better Travel Photography
3 Steps to Better Travel Photography

Are you looking to produce better travel photos? The Bumper Crew has it covered! When teaching at the Defence School of Photography, I (Joel) used to ask the students, “what makes a good photo?” The same response always came first, “it’s subjective”, which is a response I couldn’t argue but not one that stimulates good debate. So, once that was out of the way, the students would create a list of what they think makes a good photo. The list would contain all sorts of things, and none of it was wrong (it couldn’t be wrong, it’s subjective! Ha!), but it was all over the place.

To help the students make better use of their time preparing for shoots, I tried to streamline their lists into a useable manner, which is what you will find below – 3 easy to understand steps that can be applied to improve your travel photography (or any picture you want to take, for that matter!). Read on to discover the 3 step process to produce better travel photography! And if you’re on the hunt for travel photography kit, look at the post about our travel photography gear.

3 Steps to Better Travel Photography

1 | What You Shoot

What you shoot is the first step to taking better travel photos. I consider this the ‘content step’ – the subject of your travel photograph. Let’s put this into perspective. As a travel photographer, reading an article about how to take better landscape photos will tell you to “use a good camera, use a good lens, shoot in manual, etc.”. They are helpful (and I’ll talk about them in step two) but aren’t the most crucial step. Above shooting on a fancy camera, on an excellent lens, or using an expensive tripod is to pick a good subject in the first place.

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So, your first step to better travel photography is to pick better subjects – look at the content of your pictures and what you have chosen to put in the frame in the first place. Let’s look at this topic with a broad brush. In simple terms, mountains in the French Alps will likely look more impressive than the farmer’s field over the road from your house.

Equally, picking a better-looking building will help you take a better picture of a building, or a more handsome or interesting-looking person will help you take a better photo of a person simply because they are more attractive. That’s why it doesn’t take Sherlock to understand why good-looking people are on the front covers of magazines. So, picking subjects that are more pleasing to the eye, have more character, and are more intriguing or eye-catching will help improve your travel photography.

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And dare I say it – some people are better at things than others. Some people are better dancers than others or have more style. And the same can be said for travel photography, but I firmly believe you can learn to become what you want to be. So, if you can’t identify what makes something better looking or more interesting, do some research, create a Pinterest board or save Instagram posts of subjects of what others are shooting and what’s performing.

And try to consider what your audience might like. Of course, you will think your girlfriend or newborn baby is the best thing on the planet. That doesn’t mean other people will. And we have a little exercise at the end of this post to help develop this.

In summary: Find the best-looking or most exciting subjects you can.

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2 | How You Shoot It

This is where the abovementioned stuff comes in – using things to your advantage to take better travel photographs. In essence, learn how to shoot better subjects better. This is the bit where the building blocks of basic photography come together to form your shots. I call this step ‘camera’ handling’. You can call it what you want, but it’s your ability to control how you photograph your subject using good technical and creative skills to capture your subject in the best way, whether that be a combination of strong compositional techniques or good lighting and camera skills to create strong travel photographs.

So, once you’ve picked your interesting subject, think about how you will photograph it. Do you want to shoot the building from a low angle or perhaps use a puddle to introduce a reflection? Or from behind some foliage to add some foreground interest? Or do you want to shoot a portrait of someone on a wide aperture to make the background blurry to focus your viewer on the person? Or do you need to pose them in a more flattering way? Or is it simply a top-down shot of your Michelin star food, lit with a bit of window light?

And if you’re photographing something that isn’t the most fantastic subject, this step will help you shoot something the best way possible. Don’t forget to check out our other post with more travel photography tips to help improve your travel photography. And if you want more advice on composition, head to our post about travel photography composition.

This step sets photographers apart and defines a good photographer who delivers every time, no matter the subject. That’s because they understand the foundations of photography and use them to their advantage. It’s about judgment, not luck.

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To help you, FLECS is a checklist for use each time you’re on a shoot. It’s an acronym which stands for Focus, Lighting, Exposure, Composition, and Story. Is your shot in focus, what is your point of focus and is the right part of the photograph in focus? How does the lighting look? Is your subject lit correctly, and is the lighting dramatic, atmospheric and coming from the right direction? Is the shot correctly exposed? Does the composition compliment the subject, and are things where they should be in the frame?

Finally, what’s the story? Are you showing your audience the beauty of a city you’re exploring, the new coffee shop in town or the character of the person whose portrait you’re taking?

In summary: Understand how your camera works and the fundamentals of photography to improve how you shoot your subject.

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3 | How you Edit It

Our final step is the edit. This is the bit that brings it all together. It’s last, but it’s certainly not the least. It’s the stage where your travel photography can really come to life. A good editor can do wonders for a photograph. Equally, a bad editor can ruin a good picture.

It would be best if you aimed to get as much right in the camera as possible, but every picture needs a bit of a tweak, at the very least, even if that’s simply a bit of cropping or sharpening. A shot can be excellent straight out of the camera, but it’ll be even better with an edit. You can also stylise things using a preset to help create your own look. This is where post-processing comes in!

Have you ever seen those teal and orange edits on Instagram? They are a trend, and almost all low-light or night photographers on the Gram edit similarly. This is because it works. It suits that style of imagery and looks striking. If you look closely, you might find that not all of the photography is outstanding, but that doesn’t matter because the edits are robust and compensate for the lack of good camera handling.

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Scroll left and right to see the before and after

I use Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) almost exclusively to edit my travel photography. ACR has an excellent interface, is simple to use and works seamlessly with Adobe Bridge, the asset manager I use to preview, select, rename and add metadata to my travel content.

It also works seamlessly with Adobe Photoshop and enables you to use such tools as HDR Pro. This is where the subject luminance range stretches beyond your camera sensor’s dynamic range. In essence – sometimes your camera can’t capture the brightest part of the scene and the darkest part in the same photograph. So, you combine a few shots at different exposures, like in the picture below.

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In summary: Learn to edit to produce the best travel photography content you can.

Let’s Do an Exercise

We’re going to do a little exercise before we wrap up, and you go off to take your travel photography to the next level. Looking at others’ work for inspiration and guidance is a great way to help improve your photography, so that’s what we’re going to do.

Pick a picture you like that isn’t yours. Found one? Now let’s reverse engineer it and see what makes it a great photograph. We will do that by looking at three things:

  1. What they’ve shot
  2. How they’ve shot it
  3. How they’ve edited it

1 | Firstly, what did they choose to photograph? Was it a handsome person? Was it a cute animal? Or was it that incredible mountain range? What subject have they chosen to draw you into their picture?

2 | Secondly, how did they shoot it? Did they shoot it at a particular time of the day, such as the golden hour? Did they use a low angle? Did they use a long lens or a wide aperture? What compositional techniques did they use?

3 | Finally, how did they edit it? Does it have a filter that adds specific colours, or is it flat or super contrasty? Does it have a colour cast you like? What about the colours in the shadows and highlights, like the teal and orange look?

Define the answers to these questions to help you identify what has worked for your chosen photograph. Once you know, apply that information to your content to improve your travel photography.

3 Steps to Better Travel Photography

  1. What You Shoot
  2. How You Shoot It
  3. How you Edit It
3 Steps to Better Travel Photography

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