12 Top Tips to Make Your Travel Pics Pop

L2F Oct 13 photography tall ship photos
The stern of this tall ship is interesting, but look at all the detail in the window you’d miss without moving closer.

Got a special holiday coming up? Chances are you plan to document your every move with a healthy collection of travel photos (who doesn’t these days?). As a professional photographer who’s been at this game for quite a few years, I’ve learned a thing or two along the way about what makes a shot truly memorable. For your edification, then, here are a dozen photography tips distilling my hard-earned wisdom, whether you’re shooting with a camera phone or an expensive DSLR. Even if a couple seem like no-brainers, others may surprise you, and it’s always good to review this list before you board your next Iberia flight.

1. Check out the airport postcard / brochure rack.   Before you even the airport you fly into, take a quick look at one of its postcard / brochure racks. These are usually stocked with the best views and local subjects to be found in any given destination. Therefore, a quick perusal will give you ideas of not only what to shoot but also which vantage points might look best (naturally, if you’re driving or arriving by train/bus, apply this at any downtown or centrally located souvenir shop).

2. Always shoot multiple photos.   Don’t just shoot a single photo of a given scene—try wide angles, close-ups and macros if at all possible (see the pair above left). Wide angles give a sense of place, but close-ups give detail and let viewers see what things are really made of. If your camera has a macro setting (usually indicated by a flower icon), use that to get up close and personal with flowers, seashells, interesting patterns in things such as fabric, and the like.

3. Take photos from all possible angles.   This is perhaps a variation on tip No. 2 above, but hey. Don’t take all your photos from a standing position. Try crouching down for more interesting angles. If you are shooting the dome of a cathedral, try laying your camera on its back on the floor, pointing up.

4. Steady your shots.  Especially when photographing inside a dark building or monument, always set your camera on something solid if possible. Dark interiors will be subject to blurring if the camera isn’t held absolutely steady.

L2F Oct 13 pic photography Arlington Cemetery rotunda
Here the branches form an arch, “framing” the columns and arches, at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, USA.

5. Frame your shots.  Look for interesting situations where you can shoot through natural frames such as arches, windows, doors or portals. The frame will often end up being dark, which helps focus the viewer’s attention on what you shot through that frame (see example at left).

6. Don’t necessarily stop because it’s raining.   A little moisture from the heavens? Unless it’s absolutely teeming, don’t necessarily put your camera away; some great shots come from reflections in puddles. Also, interesting patterns can develop when shooting through windows with rain drops running down. Just make sure to keep your camera protected with an umbrella or plastic bag.

7. Wear something red.    On dreary, overcast days, photos can turn out rather bland unless there is a patch of color somewhere in the shot. If you’re taking a picture of someone, be prepared with a colourful scarf or jacket you can lend him or her. The splash of colour will direct the viewer’s eyes right toward your subject.

8. Having people in pictures shows scale.  When looking at a picture of a tree, a rock or a beach, it’s very difficult to determine how big it is.  Put one or two people next to it, and immediately everyone can see just how large (or small) it really is.

9. Shoot people up close.     If the picture is about a friend or family member and not the scenery, make sure the person is close to you. Pictures taken at some distance will only show a human face as a tiny dot. If in doubt, take two shots: one really close and one at a distance, and choose which one you like best.

L2F Oct 13 pic photography barn-mountains
Notice how the fence in foreground, barn in mid-ground and mountains in background all complement each other.

10. Maximise your mountain shots.   As lovely as mountains are, they usually won’t capture a viewer’s interest unless shot with a telephoto lens. Do like the pros and look for situations where the distant mountains are behind some other objects of interest—for example, they could be nearby flowers, farm animals or a rustic fence. The foreground and the background work together to make each other more interesting as a whole (right).

11. Sit in the front seat.    When touring in a bus or car, there’s a distinct advantage to being up front. You’ll see what’s coming and have time to switch your camera on before you pass whatever drew your interest.

12. Back up your photos.    The only thing worse than losing your camera is getting all your digital photos accidentally deleted! If possible, try to copy them at the end of each day. Email them to yourself, upload them to Dropbox, or back them up onto a flash drive. Then, if misfortune strikes, this will be one less thing to gnash your teeth over.

Doug Bardwell is a freelance photojournalist who will travel anywhere for a great story. Doug writes for CBS, Examiner, Demotix, local magazines, and his own travel, tech and photography blog at http://DougBardwell.com.