How to take better pictures on your travels

A very important part of traveling has always been to record those trips to make sure they are in a more tangible place than our memory and to help us remember them always. There are many ways to keep this record (writing a travel diary, drawing…), but the most popular is certainly taking pictures.

Now that taking good photos is easier than ever – we all carry a high quality camera with us at all times, the smartphone – we have no excuse not to take them. And yet, many of us have seen ourselves back at home, looking at the photos from our last trip and thinking that they could be much better. Especially if we compare them with that friend we met at the hostel and with whom we spent a few days: with his smartphone worse than yours he took much better pictures. Is it just a question of talent?

Yes, there are people who take better photos than others, because they have more knowledge of photography, natural eye for composition or simply more experience. And it’s also clear that not all smartphone cameras are the same. But you don’t have to take a photography course (although you could) or change your mobile phone: if you follow these tips, you’ll be able to get more out of your camera and discover the photographer inside you.

Know your camera

Despite the bad press that still drags in certain circles the cameras of smartphones, the truth is that their quality is usually already very high. Of course, much bigger than the classic compact of a lifetime and also better option than going with a reflex shrimp that you do not know how to use. But to really impress the photos of your trip, it is ideal to know well all the possibilities that your camera has.

Clean the lens. We spend the day with the mobile in our hands, so the usual thing is that the camera takes some dedazos. If you notice that it doesn’t focus well or that the photos come out with a weird filter, clean the camera. All you have to do is take a little breath and then wipe it off with your shirt. It’s rudimentary, yes, but the trick was taught to me by a professional photographer and I instantly noticed that the camera on my mobile was much better than I thought.
Learn to focus and measure light. It’s the same in almost every camera on a smartphone: tap the point you want it to focus on on the screen. Normally, the light will also be measured there. In backlit photos, so that everything doesn’t get too burnt or too black a good trick is to use a soft flash to illuminate the people who are posing at the time of the photo.
Experiment with the camera app. Before you start installing photo applications, explore the one that comes natively on your phone and know all the options. They usually include a manual mode in which you can adjust different parameters, scene options to photograph landscapes, people, places of low light, etc.. or even filters, such as beauty. Try with and without and different combinations.
Avoid the flash whenever you can; forget the zoom. The flash applies to any camera: natural light is always better. Sometimes it is essential -typical party night photos-, but if the objective is to look for quality photos (it is not always the objective), it is better to deactivate the flash. When it comes to zoom, smartphone cameras usually have only digital zoom, not optical. The digital zoom is actually a lie zoom (it’s the same as enlarging the photo when it’s already done) and you always lose quality.
Try apps! Once you’re clear about what the mobile camera can do without installing any extras, explore different photo apps as well. There are two main types: those that replace the camera app (i.e., you take the photo with it) and those that edit. The first ones are practical if you don’t like the camera application on your smartphone or it’s too short: many allow more control, others simply like the interface more. In some cases they allow you to take the picture with a filter already in place, but this is best done later: take a normal picture and then edit it or add filters. Some of the best are VSCO, ProShoot, OpenCamera or SnapSeed. To take photos with retro effect, you have Huji Cam or 1888, among others (but I insist, it’s better to add the filter later and save the original photo in case you don’t like the analogical look anymore).

What you photograph

Just as important as controlling the camera well is choosing what, how and when to take pictures. I mean, what you put in front of the target. Here are some tips for some more interesting travel photos:

Look for the rule of thirds. It is very simple and improves all the photos: imagine that the screen is divided into 9 parts by two vertical and two horizontal lines. Place the objects or centers of interest in the photo at the points where those lines intersect. If you are photographing landscapes, put the horizon in one of the horizontal lines (in the one below if you want to give prominence to the sky, in the one above if you want to give prominence to the landscape).


Prioritize the details over the general photos. Who has never taken a photo of a market, a square or a street full of people and has been a little cold with the result? Some general photos are fine, but what will really make our photo album of a trip attract attention are the detail photos. Approach the objects, take a photo of some fruits in the market instead of the general one of several stalls, photograph a door instead of the whole building… Open wide the eyes!

Move it. Move it. We tend to take pictures standing up and putting the camera (the mobile phone) at eye level, but the most interesting pictures don’t come out that way. Duck, change sides, look for different perspectives and compositions, create relationships between objects making them appear closer or farther…
But look for stability. There’s nothing worse than blurry or blurry photos when it’s not a desired effect. Avoid it by holding your phone with both hands, leaning your elbows or smartphone on something if you can or even going with a tripod: they are small, lightweight and attached to anything.
Choose the best light hours. I mean, sunrise and sunset. It’s what they call the golden hour. The light is so beautiful and special that it will give you for many of those photos in which you can proudly put that #nofilter. You can organize an outing with the people of the hostel to take pictures at sunrise. In addition, sunrise photos have another advantage: you will ensure that there are no people in the most touristy places.

Don’t forget you and your friends. In full selfie era this seems a totally unnecessary advice, but there are many people who prefer not to be in the photos. And sometimes we’re also so blinded by the beautiful place we’re in and by wanting to take good pictures that we forget about people. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Even if you don’t like to see yourself now, even if you’re embarrassed to ask that person in the hostel for a photo together, even if your friends have already seen them a lot, when you see those photos in the future you’ll be very grateful for familiar faces and forgotten faces. Even yours, which will prove you were there for real.


Your attitude

You already use the camera well and are an expert in choosing original angles and photographic composition. You only need not forget the most important thing when we travel: to go with your eyes wide open.

Everything is photographable. Many times, and more in these times of Instagram, we travel already knowing a little what we are going to photograph. We go from tourist point to tourist point without stopping to contemplate the road that takes us from one place to another. But (and sorry about the cliché) the important thing is the journey, not the destination. Try to forget everything you know about the place you’re in, everything you’ve read about what’s worth visiting or what’s worth visiting and what’s not. Look around you.
See what other people photograph. And I don’t mean the whole group of tourists doing the same thing, but that person away from the group pointing in another direction. Yes, it’s a bit copying, but a great way to discover different angles and learn to look at things differently. I made this picture this way: I was in Edinburgh in a not very pretty street and a boy appeared making soap bubbles. Everyone photographed him, but I saw a gentleman pointing at the buildings. The resulting photo is one of my favorites.

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Be respectful. Especially when photographing people, try to ask permission. How will that improve your photos? If before putting someone in front of the camera, with more or less dissimulation, you talk a little with her, create a small relationship and finally ask for the photo, you will have a closer image, perhaps a smile, and a story to tell when you show the photo. In addition, they may even discover something new to photograph that you hadn’t noticed.

And, most important of all: play and experiment. What are your tricks to make good photos when you travel?

About the author

Ana Bulnes

Freelance journalist. I write about culture, language, technology and travel. My favorite things are going to concerts, reading and waking up in a foreign country. You can find me on my blog, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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