When you’re traveling, avoid getting “suckered by the exotic”. Here are some practical tips to take better travel photos:


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1. Silhouette

Silhouette. Kyoto, 2017
Silhouette. Kyoto, 2017

One of the best ways to make better travel photos — don’t make it too obvious what you’re photographing. The best photos are mysterious, because it encourages the viewer to make up his or her own story.

Dots. Abstract street photograph. Kyoto, 2017
Dots. Abstract street photograph. Kyoto, 2017

To shoot silhouettes, photograph people through abstracted glass.

2. Photograph the local people

Kyoto, 2017
Woman standing in front of Zara. Kyoto, 2017

Don’t just photograph the store vendors, or street performers. Instead, photograph the locals — people who live there.

For example, I like to shoot street photography in busy commercial areas. This way, you just look like another tourist, and you can easily blend in with the background.

3. Photograph details and abstract images

Kyoto abstract, 2017
Kyoto abstract, 2017

Look down in the gutter, photograph what you find on the ground.

Photograph peeling paint, spots where there used to be posters. Look for textured backgrounds, rust, and look for faces in common objects.

Dots. Kyoto, 2017
Dots. Kyoto, 2017
Peeling tape. Kyoto, 2017
Peeling tape. Kyoto, 2017

4. Photograph people at cross walks

Walking woman. Kyoto street photograph, 2017
Walking woman. Kyoto street photograph, 2017

One of the best places to photograph people is at cross walks. Why? Nobody is paying attention to you.

5. Photograph in restaurants

Yakiniku grill. Kyoto, 2017
Yakiniku grill. Kyoto, 2017

Often, the best photo opportunities of people can be inside restaurants.

Tip: pretend like you’re shooting the interior decor of the restaurant, not the people inside.

6. When photographing food, use macro mode and flash.

Ramen, Kyoto

7. Look up

Architecture. Kyoto, 2017
Architecture. Kyoto, 2017

Don’t just keep your camera at eye level. Get a good back bend, and shoot looking up.

Traffic light. Kyoto, 2017
Traffic light. Kyoto, 2017

8. Photograph trash cans

Green trash can. Kyoto, 2017
Green trash can. Kyoto, 2017

9. Photograph in grocery stores

Red wall and green basket inside grocery store. Kyoto, 2017
Red wall and green basket inside grocery store. Kyoto, 2017

Even ask the cash registers for their portrait.

Woman at grocery store (Frescos). Kyoto, 2017.
Woman at grocery store (Frescos). Kyoto, 2017. Red lips and red hat, and green background.
Grocery store. Kyoto, 2017
Grocery store. Kyoto, 2017

I often find when traveling, the best way to understand a foreign culture is through their grocery stores, the packaging for the food, and what they sell, and how they sell it:

Head of lettuce, in grocery store. Kyoto, 2017
Head of lettuce, in grocery store. Kyoto, 2017

10. Photograph at the mall

Cindy on escalator. Kyoto, 2017
Cindy on escalator. Kyoto, 2017

When you’re traveling, don’t just go to the same tourist destinations. Instead be like a local, and check out the local malls.

11. Photograph inside your hotel room or Airbnb

Cindy color. Kyoto, 2017
Cindy color with a flash in Kyoto airbnb, 2017

12. Photograph beautiful decay

Rust, decay, and roughness:

Red texture. Kyoto, 2017.
Red texture. Kyoto, 2017.

13. When photographing food, have a simple and clean background

14. Shoot blurry photos at night

Blurry picture of Cindy. Kyoto, 2017.
Blurry picture of Cindy. Kyoto, 2017.

Blurry photos at night, out of focus, will add more mystery, mood, and drama to your travel photos.

15. Shoot in program mode (p)

Eric Kim Cindy Red Kyoto Curtain
Portrait of Cindy behind red curtain. Program mode, ISO 1600. RICOH GR II

When I shoot while traveling, I just shoot in program mode (p) — and set my ISO to 800-1600 and just “set it and forget it”. Don’t waste your time shooting fully manual. Focus more on enjoying your experiences, than always fumbling around with your camera settings.

16. Photograph your bed

Ryokan. Uji, Kyoto 2017
Ryokan. Uji, Kyoto 2017

Or have your partner photograph you while sleeping:

Cindy picture of ERIC sleeping in Ryokan. Uji, Kyoto 2017
Cindy takes a picture of ERIC sleeping in Ryokan. Uji, Kyoto 2017

17. Shoot selfies of yourself through reflections

ERIC KIM SELFIE in broken mirror. Kyoto, 2017.
Kyoto selfie, 2017

Don’t take selfies with the front facing camera. Rather, be creative — and shoot selfies of yourself through glass and textures.

Or shoot a selfie of your shadows.

Selfie in Uji, Kyoto 2017
Selfie in Uji, Kyoto 2017
Eric Kim selfie with flash.
Eric Kim selfie with flash.

18. Low angle perspectives

Cindy laughing at red shrine. Kyoto, 2017.
Kyoto, 2017. Laughing Cindy. #cindyproject

Shoot your partner or kids when you’re traveling with family, from unique perspectives. Like from very low angles, using a wide-angle lens like a 28mm lens.

19. Tilt your camera — make diagonal compositions

Kyoto, 2017. Google Nexus 6P and HDR+. Processed with VSCO with a6 preset
Kyoto, 2017. Google Nexus 6P and HDR+. Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Tilting your camera will make a “Dutch angle” composition — these will make your composition more dynamic.

Kyoto sunset, 2017
Kyoto sunset, 2017
Night time picture of Kyoto Bridge. HDR+ on Google Nexus 6P. Processed with VSCO with f2 preset
Night time picture of Kyoto Bridge. HDR+ on Google Nexus 6P. Processed with VSCO with f2 preset
Diagonal yellow lines. Kyoto, 2017. Google Nexus 6P and HDR+. Processed with VSCO with a6 preset
Kyoto, 2017. Google Nexus 6P and HDR+. Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

20. Travel with your own coffee maker

I use a “clever dripper” and coffee grinder when traveling (with my own beans) to have a good coffee hit in the morning before traveling and shooting. Real talk, this is the best pro tip.

Happy with coffee and my film Leica in Portland, 2015
Happy with coffee and my film Leica in Portland, 2015

21. Choose your shooting neighborhoods near good coffee shops

Coffee Vision in Melbourne!

Not sure where to shoot when you’re abroad? Just find good coffee shops, and shoot on the way to the coffee shop. Shoot around coffee shop, and stop by the coffee shop again for more coffee.

Tools of Hanoi: Ricoh GR II, GoPro Hero 3, and (lots of) coffee in Hanoi, 2016
Tools of Hanoi: Ricoh GR II, GoPro Hero 3, and (lots of) coffee in Hanoi, 2016
SAIGON SATCHEL, RICOH GR II, cappuccino. Saigon, 2017
SAIGON SATCHEL, RICOH GR II, cappuccino. Saigon, 2017

Also always have your camera on your table, because you’re never sure when a good photo opportunity will happen.

Hanoi, 2017. Shot of a silhouette of a woman at a coffee shop.
Hanoi, 2017. Shot of a silhouette of a woman at a coffee shop.

22. Shoot in galleries and at exhibitions

Amsterdam, 2014. Shot at the William Klein exhibition at the foam museum.
Amsterdam, 2014. Shot at the William Klein exhibition at the foam museum.

I like to visit photography galleries and exhibitions while traveling, and often shoot inside. Try to juxtapose your subjects against the exhibitions.

"Opposed" - Shot with my Ricoh GRIII at the World Press Exhibition in Zurich, Switzerland
“Opposed” – Shot with my Ricoh GRIII at the World Press Exhibition in Zurich, Switzerland

Also if the weather isn’t good or raining / snowing, exhibitions are a good place to find inspiration for your photography.

23. Shoot in the train, subway, or while in transit

Amsterdam, 2014 #suits

You will find interesting people in the subway, bus, or tube.

Woman in pink and Red Bull. London, 2011. Eric Kim
Woman in pink and Red Bull. London, 2011 in the tube.

To avoid making a scene, pretend to be a lost tourist photographing the subway maps on top.

Leica MP + Leica Summicron 35mm f2 ASPH + Kodak Portra 400 + flash in Paris subway.
Leica MP + Leica Summicron 35mm f2 ASPH + Kodak Portra 400 + flash in Paris subway.

24. Find an interesting background, and wait for your subjects to enter the frame

dark-skies-over-tokyo-silhouette-suit-2012-leica m9-21mm-eric kim street photograpy - black and white - Monochrome-4

In street photography, this is called the “fishing technique”. This is good when you nice architecture or scenes, and want your pictures to be more interesting.

Woman with umbrella. Seoul, 2011 // ERIC KIM
Woman with umbrella. Seoul, 2011 // ERIC KIM

25. Shoot in bad weather (like rain)

DARK SKIES OVER TOKYO / Man with umbrella.
DARK SKIES OVER TOKYO / Man with umbrella.

If you’re in Japan or abroad when traveling, and it starts to rain, buy a clear umbrella and shoot through it with a flash, for cool effects.

Umbrella and flash in color. Kyoto, 2017
Umbrella and flash in color. Kyoto, 2017. Ricoh GR II and flash, shot through clear umbrella.
Woman with clear umbrella shot with flash. Tokyo, 2017
Woman with clear umbrella. Tokyo, 2017
Blue sky in the rain. Shot with a RICOH GR II in P mode, with flash, through translucent clear umbrella. Kyoto, 2017
Blue sky in the rain. Shot with a RICOH GR II in P mode, with flash, through translucent clear umbrella. Kyoto, 2017
Umbrella and Dutch angle. Tokyo, 2017
Umbrella and Dutch angle. Tokyo, 2017

26. Shoot your own home, when traveling

American flag. Prague, 2017
American flag. Prague, 2017

I’m American, and I always photograph the American flag when traveling.

Flags. Amsterdam, 2014
Flags. Amsterdam, 2014

27. Photograph store fronts at night

Berlin coat in window. 2017
Berlin coat in window. 2017

Use a flash to illuminate the scene.

28. Shoot from high perspectives, looking down

Overpass in Tokyo. High angle, looking down. Dynamic perspective composition.
Overpass in Tokyo. High angle, looking down. Dynamic perspective composition. Tokyo, 2017

Look for highway overpasses, and shoot looking down.

Abstracted into colors. Overpass in Tokyo. High angle, looking down. Dynamic perspective composition.
Abstracted into colors. Overpass in Tokyo. High angle, looking down. Dynamic perspective composition.

29. Take street portraits of strangers

Interact with strangers, a good way to provoke a reaction, to make a good street photograph.
Interact with strangers, a good way to provoke a reaction, to make a good street photograph. Fifth avenue, New York City, 2015

If you see an interesting stranger when you are traveling, ask them permission for their portrait. Sometimes they say no, but often they say yes.

LAUGHING LADY by Eric Kim Contact Sheets from MASTERS
LAUGHING LADY by Eric Kim Contact Sheet

30. Keep it simple

Porsche. Kyoto, 2017
Porsche. Kyoto, 2017

Seek to make simple, clean pictures. Don’t show everything — focus on details.

Lines and texture. Kyoto, 2017
Lines and texture. Kyoto, 2017

31. Photograph your family members

Kyoto, 2017. Google Nexus 6P and HDR+. Processed with VSCO with a6 preset
Kyoto, 2017. Google Nexus 6P and HDR+. Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Don’t just take photos of the locals, photograph your family members, or traveling partners.

Family selfie. Kyoto, 2017
Family selfie. Kyoto, 2017
Kyoto, 2017. Google Nexus 6P and HDR+. Processed with VSCO with a6 preset
Kyoto, 2017. Google Nexus 6P and HDR+. Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

32. Shoot a foreign city like it were your own city

Layers in London.
London, 2015. Layers.

Ask yourself,

If I lived in this city for my whole life, what would I photograph, and what wouldn’t I photograph?

Pretend like you’re a local, so you don’t just photograph the same things that all other traveling photographers shoot.

For example, when you’re traveling, ask your host, or hotel front desk:

“What tourist traps should I AVOID?”

Or ask,

“Where are places in this city that locals avoid?”

33. Enjoy your experiences

Cindy enjoying a nice cup of coffee at our Airbnb in Amsterdam, 2017
Cindy enjoying a nice cup of coffee at our Airbnb in Amsterdam, 2017

The biggest mistake I made in the past when shooting travel pictures:

I treated the photos more important than my experiences.

The most enjoyable experiences when traveling is talking to locals, enjoying local food, having time to reflect on life and meditate, to walk around, and learn more about foreign cultures.

Remember, the experiences you have are more important than taking good pictures.

Amsterdam, 2017 #cindyproject
Amsterdam, 2017 #cindyproject
Tokyo, 2017 #cindyproject
Tokyo, 2017 #cindyproject

Enjoy the journey,
ERIC

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