When traveling, it can sometimes be difficult to capture the essence of a place. Witness my 300+ photos of the Grand Canyon, none of which accurately portray just how vast and colorful a place it is. That experience led me to take my photos to the next level by using simple travel photography hacks. Here are the best travel photography hacks I’ve found. The first seven of them can be used regarless of what tyoe of camera you have — they will work just as well with a phone camera as they will with a high-end DSLR.
Travel Photography Hack #1
The Rule of Thirds
This one is the easiest to use, provided you can remember to do it. Imagine that your photo will be divided into three rows and three columns. The subject of your photo — the thing that you want to capture — should be along one of those lines rather than dead center. Like the example below:
This image of a solitary tree in a field would have been uninteresting if it was the only thing in the photo. By placing it along the right vertical line, we get an infinitely more intriguing image of the tree in its environment. We see that the landscape is mountainous, that the air is foggy, and that there are no other trees in the immediate vicinity. This photo invites us to step in and look around for more details. Without the rule of thirds, we would just say, “Oh, look. A tree.”
Travel Photography Hack #2
Use a Different Approach
I would guess that 90% of photos are taken from eye level. It’s natural to shoot from that angle because that is the angle from which we see our subjects. By shooting from above or below, or even from the side, we can get much more dramatic photos. Some examples:
As you can see above, using a different angle can make the subject of your photo look very different than it would if photographed at eye level!
Travel Photography Hack #3
Play with the perspective of your photo. Zoom in or zoom out. To zoom in, if you are photographing something that is close to you, you can utilize a macro feature for an up close and personal look. (The macro lens is particularly good for photos of flowers, insects, etc.) Or just zoom in. Either way, you can make things look closer than they actually are, and capture details that in many cases are not seen by the eye alone. In this photo, I zoomed in for a closer look at the water droplets:
And in this one, I zoomed in for a closer look at a lion at the National Zoo:
It looks like I was only a few feet away from him, doesn’t it?
Travel Photography Hack #4
Check the Background
The background of your photo may seem inconsequential, but it can ruin an otherwise perfect shot. Before pressing the button, make sure your background is free from any distracting elements such as photo bombers (intentional or accidental) and clutter. Here are some examples of photos that were taken while the photographer was too focused on the subject to notice what was in the background.
Travel Photography Hack #5
Look for Symmetry and Patterns
Some of the most striking travel photos are those that feature symmetry and repeated patterns. A reflection on still water is a wonderful way to acquire symmetry in your photo, and it adds more depth to the subject.
Patterns are all around us. The weathered wood siding of an old barn, a series of arches/doorways, masonry in walls and pavements. etc.
Travel Photography Hack #6
Pay Attention to Your Lighting
For the best travel photos, don’t be so quick to turn on your flash. Use natural light whenever possible, and if you’re using a DSLR camera, try increasing your ISO instead. On an iPhone, you can touch one of the darker areas of your picture to adjust the brightness before taking the photo. I could have taken a flash picture of this stained glass window, but the results would have been much less dramatic than using the natural light outside to capture its beauty:
While a flash will illuminate the subjects of a photograph, it’s important to remember that it is still providing artificial light. Colors may be slightly off, and there may be shadows in the photo that you aren’t seeing with your eyes. Natural light can add mood and texture that might not be conveyed in a flash photo.
Also, flashes can highlight the negative aspects of an object just as much as the positive ones. Imagine my surprise when I took this picture of a pretty chest in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC:
Somebody needs to get a Swiffer under there!
Additionally, there are two ways to alter your photographs by the way you position and use your lighting. The first is to use a low light behind your subject to create a silhouette.
The second is to take advantage of the golden tone that the sun casts on objects as it sets in the evening. This effect was really beautiful at the Grand Canyon, where they even run special sunset tours. The colors of the canyon became brighter and more vibrant as the sun dipped lower in the sky.
Travel Photography Hack #7
Frame the Subject
When you frame a subject, you use natural lines within the photo to draw attention to it. The best examples of items that frame a subject are doorways and windows. Those lines also serve to add depth to your photo, making it seem more three dimensional and real. Here are two of my favorites:
Travel Photography Hack #8
DIY Equipment for DSLR Cameras
There are gadgets for almost every photography effect and purpose. But before you rush out and buy that gizmo, consider whether you will use it enough to justify the expense. There is no need to drop your hard-earned cash on an item that will have very limited use. here are some DIY alternatives. Try them first and if you like the effect, then consider buying the real thing.
- Macro Lens — an old binocular lens held up to the camera will magnify the subject in much the same way as a macro setting would.
- Bokeh Filter — to get the sort of fuzzy light effect in the background known as bokeh, you can cut a small shape in a piece of cardboard and then attache it to your camera lens as shown below.
- Soft Focus Filter — stretch some pantyhose over the camera lens and hold it in place with a rubber band
- Fisheye Lens — the lens from an apartment door’s peephole will provide the same effect as a fisheye lens (You can buy a peephole kit at a home improvement store for much less than a DSLR fisheye lens would cost)
- Tripod — many times we can use stationary objects to stabilize our camera without a tripod. For instance, if you are standing near a pole, lean your camera against it. You can further stabilize it by wrapping your camera strap around the pole and gripping it tightly.
- Glare Reduction — use a cardboard coffee sleeve around the camera lens to reduce glare
- Blurry Edges — some say smearing Vaseline on the lens will create this effect. I prefer to wrap a plastic bag around lens (just the outer perimeter, not completely covering the whole lens)
I hope you have enjoyed these tips and that you will be able to use them when you travel. Do you have any to add?
This article originally appeared on the author’s travel blog, travelasmuch.com