Seven Tips For Better Travel Images

By Tom Bol/Strabo Photo Tour Collection

This is one of the most mesmerizing sights I’ve ever seen. I’m sitting in a palm-thatched hut with my camera in my lap, trying to make sense of what I am witnessing right now. Aromatic wisps of incense drift through the humid jungle air, adding a mythical feel to this ceremony. I’ve been in Bali for a week spending leisurely days photographing beautiful terraced rice fields, vibrant markets, friendly locals and ever-present monkeys. I’m on a photo tour organized by Strabo Tours, and Bali has lived up to its tropical paradise reputation. 

But right now I am watching a ceremonial performance of traditional Balinese dancing. I’ve seen many dance performances in my travels to over 80 countries, but this performance is overwhelming.  The costumed dancers are so expressive I can’t take my eyes off them. Lion costumed performers weave in and out of the frantic dancers while a crescendo of bells, drums and gong chimes ring in the background. I quickly grab my camera and start taking images of this stunning performance. But how can I best capture the essence of this performance, and Bali, in photographs?

Travel photography is very rewarding but also has many challenges. No other genre of photography combines so many different types of subjects, styles and techniques. One moment you might be photographing colorful dancers, the next taking pictures of grilled seafood kabobs, and then ending the day capturing a dramatic fiery sunset. But with a few tips and techniques, anyone can raise the level of their travel photography, and return home with a comprehensive photo essay to share with friends and family. Try these travel photography tips listed below, and start planning your next adventure now.

1. Take your camera everywhere.  One aspect of travel photography I love is the spontaneity of the experience.  Even though you will have planned activities and locations for photography, you never know what unexpected moments will arise.  Some of my best travel portraits have resulted from chance encounters while strolling down the street.  Go light and simple with your equipment.  I use a small mirrorless camera with a 24-200mm lens.  This setup is very small, unobtrusive and doesn’t single me out as a photographer while I am exploring my destination.  People are more receptive when I don’t have multiple cameras dangling around my neck.

2. Get up early.  Street photography can be challenging during the middle of the day. People are busy, the streets are crowded, and the light can be harsh with lots of contrast. But try getting up early and photographing a town or city as it wakes up in the morning.  Rich warm sunlight floods the alleys and streets, compositions are cleaner, and often locals are more approachable than during busier times later in the day.  Photograph those popular plazas before things get busy.

3. Use the high ISO advantage.  One camera feature that has improved dramatically is high ISO performance.  Many modern cameras can use ISOs up to ISO 6400, which opens up new creative possibilities for photographers.  Shooting at ISO 640O allows you to photograph neon-lit streets at dusk, low light indoor markets, and evening tango shows.  On my last visit to Cuba, some of my best images were created at dusk as locals socialized in the street in very low light.  But using ISO 6400 allowed me to easily photograph in these conditions with great results.

4. Photograph lunch. Food says a lot about a culture, and some photographers plan their entire trip around culinary experiences.  But food photography is one area that many travel photographers overlook.  Photographing food can be very simple.  First, sit near a window if you are indoors. Window light is beautiful light for food photography. I like to use a simple white reflector to bounce light back onto the dish for a high key look.  Next, plan your meal when fewer diners are present.  Your server and the restaurant will be more receptive to you taking a few pictures if they aren’t super busy.  Try photographing around 100mm at ƒ/5.6 at a 45-degree angle.  Make sure to include drinks and tableware in the background of your food shot.  The entire shoot should take less than five minutes.  Photograph your food as soon as it comes out and is still fresh.

5. Find a high perspective. Almost anywhere you travel you will have opportunities to photograph from a high vantage point.  This perspective presents a more unique view and will engage the viewer to look closer at your photograph.  Try climbing up into a high church tower or looking out of your third-floor hotel room.  Better yet book dinner on a rooftop restaurant and photograph twilight blue hour over the city.  Busy city streets from above transform into dramatic shapes, textures and patterns.

6. Go to local markets. Markets are terrific places for travel photographers and present a cultural cross section of local foods, crafts and people.  Roam the stalls and walk the streets, interact with the locals, and immerse yourself into the scene.  Be courteous with your photography; some people may not want their photo taken.  If you have a guide, let them facilitate some interactions and photo opportunities.  Go light and fast, and be aware of your surroundings.  Busy markets are fluid situations; be ready for the fleeting street life moment.

7. Bad weather is good weather. Nothing can put a damper on a trip than bad weather. You wake up and it is raining, time to sleep in….or not!  Rainy days are fabulous for street photography.  Colorful umbrellas pop up creating bright patterns on gray streets.  Puddles of water reflect cityscapes and lights adding new dimensions to your photographs.  Don’t be discouraged by bad weather; use it to create unique photographs.  The more time you spend shooting, the better your chances of creating that stunning photograph!

Put these tips to work on your next photo adventure with Strabo Photo Tour Collection and their various photo tour leaders.  607-756-8676  [email protected]

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