How to take better travel photos (dreamstime)
Article 06 September

Photography tips: composition

It's difficult to create an image that catches the attention of the viewer and arouses their curiosity. Here's how to do it, advises Tom Ang

Capturing an image that reminds you of what you saw and experienced on your travels is  easy. It’s much harder, though, to create an image that catches the attention of the  viewer and arouses their curiosity about the location, its inhabitants, and their culture. In part, this is because we see so many travel images in magazines and newspapers that  our eye becomes jaded. You will know you have mastered travel photography when people want to learn more about a place or, even better, sigh and say, “I want to go…  Now!”.

Improve your travel photography

Try to convey a sense of discovery and involvement in what you see and feel on your travels. Think about the photographs you have already seen of the locations and try to imagine how you could frame a composition or use perspective differently in order to reveal a little more.

Points to remember:

  • Gain as much local knowledge as possible so that you can be a guest rather than a visitor
  • Learn a few words of the local language to communicate and create relationships
  • Use the short or wide-angle end of your zoom as much as possible
  • Catch people’s eye and win permission to take a photograph
  • Work on thematic or project-based lines
  • Follow your own path and take photographs where no-one else does

Must-see masters

Raghu Rai (1942–)

Rai’s coverage of the Indian subcontinent is unrivalled for its depth, breadth, and virtuosity of vision. At their best, his images are object lessons in intelligent composition. His approach shows the advantages of in-depth local knowledge.

Paul Harris (1956–)

Harris is one of the most travelled of contemporary photographers in the genre, unwaveringly socially conscious, and a generous teacher. His work is widely reproduced and he is in demand to accompany and record expeditions to all parts of the world.

Paul Harris features on Wanderlust Travel Photo of the Year judging panel and as one of our experts on our Wanderlust Journeys photography trips

Felice Beato (1825–1908)

One of the greatest travel photographers of all time, Beato journeyed throughout the Crimea, the Mediterranean, India, Japan, and Burma, photographing all the way and without pause. His 14-year record of Japan is the most important and complete of the country in that era.

Top tips

Portraits | relationships

It may be tricky but it is ultimately most rewarding to form relationships with people – if only a smile and a nod – before photographing them. Your job is to capture their dignity and personality, not their discomfort.

Invitation | participation

Children everywhere love to be photographed, so you need to find ways to make the image more interesting and informative than the norm. If the children want to show you something, take their lead.

Depth | encompassing the whole

The depth in images is not just about depth of field but the bringing together of as many elements as possible. Here, the stillness of the man, the movement of the boat, and the skyline convey a sense of relaxed calm.

Signs | and patterns

Often attractive, signs are also usually self-explanatory. Keep your eyes open and look for something special and different – for example, the insistent repetition seen here.

Themes | and statements

Groups of images covering the same subject in different ways or in different locations, such as these on the roads of India, build up to a far more powerful statement than a single, isolated image.

Extra elements | light and shadow

The juxtaposition of animals with decorative buildings makes for an attractive subject; combine that with interesting light and shadows and you will start to lift the image from the ordinary to the inspirational.

Famous views | new angles

Great cities such as Venice have been so fully photographed it seems doubtful that fresh views are possible, yet the more you look for new angles the more you will find.

Digital Photography MasterclassThese tips have been taken from Tom Ang's new book, Digital Photography Masterclass (2nd Edition, Published by DK, £20), available to buy on Amazon now.