One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to take photos. Being into photography at home as well, I find it enjoyable as a vacation activity in itself, and I often add locations to my bucket list simply for their photographic promise. For those travelers like me that may be just starting out, I’ve put together a few beginner tips I’ve learned over my 9 years of holiday-making and photographing. Use this as a starting guide to finding your own photojournalistic style while away from home. So take that PTO that you’ve earned and enjoy it with your camera!
1 | Bring a camera that is portable for you – Duh!
Obviously different kinds of photographers will require different kinds of cameras. You need to weigh convenience/portability vs quality/features to decide what camera is best for you. Fishing my DSLR out of my bag and re-packing it over and over kind of stinks, but I’m not willing to give up my higher quality images and ability to use manual exposure settings. But I do draw the line at bringing multiple lenses. For me, that’s too much to carry and it takes too long to switch them. I bring one light-weight lens per trip and make due with a limited focal range. Sometimes I wish I had something different with me, but almost every time that happens, I wouldn’t be bothered to stop and switch out a lens at that point anyway, so I feel fine about the decision.
If my setup seems like too much to you, and you find that quality isn’t as high on the priority list, then obviously a more portable phone camera or point-and-shoot is perfectly fine. The point is to make sure that whatever camera you bring will actually get used and produce pictures that you cherish.
2 | Photograph a variety of near and far subjects
Humans are able to look at a whole scene and pick out pieces of it to focus on. Our brains can ignore extraneous detail easily. Cameras cannot do this; the feeling of a photo is often very different from being there in person. When looking at a photo, it is much harder to notice interesting details when viewing a large scene. For this reason, it’s a very good idea to make sure you’re always getting a variety of near and far images in order to direct attention to the details you want. Get that wide shot that shows the whole scene, but then also photograph the little things that you notice as well, for example intricate doorknobs in a castle, the frosty grass on a mountainside, the barista’s hands making your foreign coffee drink, or that little European car. Grabbing photos of the details ends up making your trip’s album look a lot more professional.
3 | Include people for scale and context
This is one tip that took me years to learn. I would focus so hard on getting the famous landmark shot with no people in it, which might be nice if you plan to enlarge it on your wall. But I didn’t realize that I was just getting the same shot that everyone else was trying to get and which is very easy to find in a quick Google search. So now, in addition to trying for that professional-looking composition, I also use the surrounding people and tourists to give the secondary photos a different perspective. Often it lends the photo a sense of scale that would have been missed otherwise, and it can also be a very interesting commentary on tourism and the way humans travel.
4 | Use photography as a memory aid
This is more a tip for your own personal benefit rather than to gain true photographic skill. Besides sharing with friends and family, another main reason that I take vacation photos is to aid my memory of the trip. I am not great at remembering details and separating out my memories to attribute them properly. But I find that after I get home and spend all that time sorting, editing, and posting my photos, I have a much clearer memory of the trip details. For example, I can tell you the restaurant my husband and I visited in 2012 in Little Italy, NYC (Puglia) because I took a photo of the restaurant sign. I also remember how to get there, as I took photos all the way to our destination. Conversely, I cannot recall the restaurant we went to in 2013 in actual Italy because I’d left my camera battery in our room and was unable to take any photos the entire day. I remember that the food was delicious and the view amazing, but I don’t remember what was served or what kind of plants grew there or what we were wearing that day or anything like that. It’s sadly all a foggy blur to me now. Since then I always make sure I have an extra battery and some clear SD cards so that I can create a photo story of each day on vacation and relive it whenever I look through my album.
5 | Be okay with imperfect quality
Finally, another personal lesson that has tested me more lately. This is a tip for the more advanced photo enthusiast once you get there. As my skills in photography have blossomed over the years, I’ve gained a reputation among friends and family for taking nice travel photos. This has left me with an increasing pressure to make every photo perfect and professional. I have started to feel like I would let people down if I had any subpar photos, and that I’d see raised eyebrows if I posted anything that looked too “average.” I’m still working on getting over this feeling. After all, I take my photos for me because I enjoy the process and the finished product, not because I’m trying to impress anyone. But sometimes I need to remind myself of that. When I’m sorting my photos and I find some that have missed focus or have too many tourists in them or have funny shadows, I need to find peace with it instead of rushing to delete. Sure they won’t end up framed on the wall, but that doesn’t mean they deserve to go in the trash either. Even professional travel photographers aren’t perfect all the time, so I certainly can’t expect to be. No one has time to judge me for my photo quality anyway. These less than perfect photos are still special memories and important to my story, so I try to find some love for them despite their imperfections.
Next time you take a trip, see if you can be more conscious in your photo-taking and come home with some great shots! It should help keep you happy until the next getaway!