When you’re traveling, avoid getting “suckered by the exotic”. Here are some practical tips to take better travel photos:
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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.
To shoot silhouettes, photograph people through abstracted glass.
2. Photograph the local people
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
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.
4. Photograph people at cross walks
One of the best places to photograph people is at cross walks. Why? Nobody is paying attention to you.
5. Photograph in restaurants
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.
7. Look up
Don’t just keep your camera at eye level. Get a good back bend, and shoot looking up.
8. Photograph trash cans
9. Photograph in grocery stores
Even ask the cash registers for their portrait.
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:
10. Photograph at the mall
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
12. Photograph beautiful decay
Rust, decay, and roughness:
13. When photographing food, have a simple and clean background
14. Shoot blurry photos at night
Blurry photos at night, out of focus, will add more mystery, mood, and drama to your travel photos.
15. Shoot in program mode (p)
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
Or have your partner photograph you while sleeping:
17. Shoot selfies of yourself through reflections
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.
18. Low angle perspectives
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
Tilting your camera will make a “Dutch angle” composition — these will make your composition more dynamic.
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.
21. Choose your shooting neighborhoods near good coffee shops
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.
Also always have your camera on your table, because you’re never sure when a good photo opportunity will happen.
22. Shoot in galleries and at exhibitions
I like to visit photography galleries and exhibitions while traveling, and often shoot inside. Try to juxtapose your subjects against the exhibitions.
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
You will find interesting people in the subway, bus, or tube.
To avoid making a scene, pretend to be a lost tourist photographing the subway maps on top.
24. Find an interesting background, and wait for your subjects to enter the frame
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.
25. Shoot in bad weather (like rain)
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.
26. Shoot your own home, when traveling
I’m American, and I always photograph the American flag when traveling.
27. Photograph store fronts at night
Use a flash to illuminate the scene.
28. Shoot from high perspectives, looking down
Look for highway overpasses, and shoot looking down.
29. Take street portraits of strangers
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.
30. Keep it simple
Seek to make simple, clean pictures. Don’t show everything — focus on details.
31. Photograph your family members
Don’t just take photos of the locals, photograph your family members, or traveling partners.
32. Shoot a foreign city like it were your own city
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?”
“Where are places in this city that locals avoid?”
33. Enjoy your experiences
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.
Enjoy the journey,
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