4 mins

10 tips for better travel photographs

Top ten travel photography tips from adventurer and avid traveller Alastair Humphreys

Dawn runner (Alastair Humphreys)

1. They are no different

Stop thinking that travel photos are any different to normal photos. Start carrying a camera with you wherever you go. This will help train your mind to 'see' the interesting shots that are all around us at all times, not just when we’re travelling.

2. Do your research

Before I go anywhere I search for images from the place on Flickr. Sort them by “Interestingness” to see what Flickr deems to be the best photos.

3. Take the standard snapshot as soon as you arrive

Get it out of your system! Everyone secretly wants to have that shot. Then start looking, really looking, prowling, concentrating, searching for that truly good photo.

4. Take a siesta

Broadly speaking the middle part of the day produces the least-interesting photos. Shoot furiously at dawn and dusk, wander the streets late at night, capture landscapes lit by lunar light (lovely for ‘lliteration too).

5. People usually make for the best photos

Be brave in the western world at asking to take people’s photos, be respectful in far-flung lands, or go to India and be prepared for the majority of a billion people to grin and pose with amazing, wonderful exuberance and vanity and demand you take their photo! I am a total wimp when it comes to asking people in Britain if I can take their photo. I take very few ‘people shots’ in remote countries because most of my travelling focuses on emphasising what I have in common with the people I meet, and waving an expensive camera around often portrays a message of “I’m a rich, western tourist. You’re a funny foreign person”. And yet my time in India has always been a photographic delight.

6. Prioritise

Don’t forget to appreciate where you are. Sniff the air, listen to the music, talk to people. There’s much more to travel than taking a zillion photos. However, if you are serious about taking an incredible shot then it takes an all-consuming effort.

7. You have to move!

I get annoyed when I see people taking photos of beautiful things from the very first position that they happen to be in. Seek and you will find. Step closer to your subject. Step further away. Crouch down. Stand on a chair. Compact cameras with zoom lenses are the true criminals here. It is so easy to take a hundred photos that no thought is required. The zoom feature adds to the laziness. If you want to get good and really start thinking about your photos then use a prime lens (one that can’t zoom). It forces you to move, think and be creative. Plus there’s the bonus that prime lenses usually take crisper images than zoom lenses.

8. Pound the streets

Get off the beaten track. Not only are people more likely to be amenable to your photography if you get away from the main tourist hotspots, you are also likely to find more “real”, less cheesy images than if you stay in the central plaza with all the other tourists.

9. Narratives

If you are taking photos for a magazine story think hard about how you are going to tell the story: you need photos to set the scene, photos of details, photos of the story’s key characters. And you need a killer shot in portrait orientation ready to grace the magazine’s front cover! (I’m not that good yet!)

10.  The big question...

It is easier to ask forgiveness than permission.

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