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5 Quick Tips to Improve Your Travel Photography

Do you ever look at great photos and find yourself analysing why everything just seems to work so well?

Great photography has become incredibly accessible, with amazing phone cameras on hand to capture beautiful photos of everyday moments. And as I’m sure you’ve heard many times, it really isn’t just the camera that creates a good photo. Cheap point-and-shoot film cameras, even old iPhones, can capture incredible images.

There are a whole host of different components that can lead to great photos, not just the camera that you use. From rare and unusual subject matter (like a rare bird, or a lucky moment!), to lighting and composition.

The technical side of photography can seem overwhelming at times. But looking past things like ‘manual’ mode and megapixels, here are some points that can improve your photos even just in plain ol’ auto mode!

Whether you’re using a phone, a cheap point-and-shoot film camera, or a top-notch digital camera. Hopefully, you’ll find something here to improve and enhance your shots!

1. Go in for a Close Up

Instead of looking at the big picture (literally!), look a little closer. The texture of a stone wall, a cluster of blossom, a seashell that you hold up to the light. Having a close-up photo of an object with a faraway background can create an image with an amazing depth of field.

My left hand holds up a sea urchin shell against an out of focus pastel, sunrise horizon. The shell is striped in alternating shades of purple. I'm facing out to sea at an angle, with beige sand on the bottom right and the sea and sky filling the top two-thirds.
Sea urchin shell at the North West Cape in Western Australia.

It can create a beautiful blurry background while the object in the foreground remains pin-sharp. This effect is often referred to as bokeh. Even your phone can create beautiful, buttery bokeh. Just get something up close to the lens, from roughly 30cm away, to as close as the object will stay in focus!

A wildflower with thin stems and delicate purple flowers at the tips. Only one stem is in focus, the rest is out of focus and a soft mix of dark green, beige and soft pastel purple.
Wildflowers in Camargue, France

2. Symmetry

It’s a simple concept, but a misaligned archway or a slightly wonky landscape can really throw the balance of a photo off. Make the most of the rotate/straightening tool whilst editing on your smartphone or editing app. Or even better, before you take a photo, turn on your camera’s grid display in the viewfinder, to help you keep photos symmetrical and level.

Symmetry draws in the human eye, and when it’s done well it can really capture someone’s attention and they ‘see’ what you were trying to capture, instead of being distracted by a diagonal horizon.

A misaligned photo distracts the viewer from what you’re really trying to show, be that the horizon with a glowing sunrise, or the view through a stone archway.

Directly facing an old, slightly weathered but ornate French house. A wooden doorway is at the centre with windows and shutters on either side, and a row of 3 windows on the floor above. Two urn shaped planters sit on either side of the doorway.
Maison de la Rose in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, Southern France

3. Rule of thirds

Another subtle yet intriguing feature that can be used in great photos. This is a photography ‘rule’ or practice that is often done unconsciously. When you’re lining up a scene for a photo, you may do this subconsciously as your mind prefers the way the scene looks when you line up the scene a certain way…

Imagine a grid placed over your photo, divided into 9 sections. 3 equal thirds vertically and 3 equal thirds horizontally. Whether you position the sky to take up the top two-thirds of the image (to highlight a beautiful sunrise), or you position a subject off to the right-hand side of an image where it sits in-between the middle and right thirds.

It sounds a bit stuffy and technical… but it really doesn’t have to be followed strictly, and can easily be broken to create beautiful imagery, so don’t ever feel constrained by it.

Just think of it like this: Your subject doesn’t always need to be right in the centre of your image. Positioning a tree, person or street, offset to the left or right third just helps to create a little intrigue, it draws the eye.

A view down an empty, old paved street in St. Tropez. The street curls from the right off to the left, but the camera has been angled so that the street falls out of view to the right hand side of the photo. The walls have all been plastered and painted in shades of golden rust and beige. A window has a planter filled with cacti, a climbing plant snakes up the wall on the left, and an old-fashioned lantern hangs from the same wall.
St. Tropez Street in France.

4. Different Angles & Perspectives

Have you ever been out and about and spotted photographers getting into all sorts of unusual positions with their cameras? Lying on the floor to get a wide-angled shot of skyscrapers, pointing their camera to the floor at what just seems to be a puddle… Intriguing photos often show something a little bit different, that just breathes a completely new perspective into something.

Look for reflections in bodies of water, lakes, rock pools, and yes, even puddles! As long as there isn’t direct sunlight reflecting on it, and the water is fairly still, you can get some really unique texture in a photo.

Change perspective: Get down amongst a forest floor, or get yourself to an elevated position above a scene, just try something a bit different! Things like drones have been brilliant at giving us never-before-seen perspectives of scenes and landscapes too. Just, y’know, take care not to break laws, or endanger yourself and others!

The rippled reflections of the colourful Nyhavn houses in the harbour water.
Nyhavn Harbour in Denmark.

5. Editing with Presets and Filters

Filters and presets are incredible photography editing tools. They can take a dull or flat-looking image and transform it into a deep and layered scene. They truly can transform a photo in seconds.

Most phones or laptops come with very basic photo editing tools, and there are plenty of free mobile apps like Snapseed and VSCO, as well as editing tools you can find on Instagram.

I highly recommend using the free Lightroom app for mobiles. And if you’re looking to get serious, subscribe to Adobe Lightroom or similar editing software to edit on your computer or laptop.

The variety of tools that you can utilise is incredible, from deepening colours to increasing shadows and contrast. It can give your photos a really professional finesse, as funnily enough, most professionals rely on tools like Lightroom!

A tight cluster of pink cherry blossom flowers on a branch. The sky and other branches on the tree are out of focus, creating a very soft background.

And an important bonus tip…

Look after your gear! You can’t take great photos or improve your photography if you lose files or damage your gear.

Invest in some protective cases and organisers to protect your camera body, lenses, cables, SD cards, backup drives etc.

Related Read | How to Keep Your Gear Safe When Travelling

  • Hello! I’m Hannah Sweet.

    I write content for nature oriented brands and create blog posts for nature seekers, conscious creatives and solopreneurs.

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