You don’t need to have art degree and expensive equipment to take good photos. Having so called eye for photography (or a talent) definitely helps, but there are ways to take better pictures even if you are just a regular person with point-and-shoot camera, not knowing much about all the photography stuff like aperture, shutter speed or ISO. It’s a bit like with cooking – not everyone can (and want to) be Jaimie Oliver, but pretty much everyone with the slightest interest and willingness can learn how to cook decent dishes that other people can enjoy. This mini-tutorial is for this kind of people.
I don’t consider myself travel photography expert (or any other type of photography expert for that matter), but I think that over the years I have picked a few things that have helped me to take few decent photos. And I want to share some of those things. These are just the basics, but it all starts with basics, doesn’t it? I guarantee that if you follow those steps your photos will get better. It will probably take a little bit of time and practice, but once you figure it all out, following those steps will become a routine. And your photos will become more interesting.
So let’s get started!
Step 1 – Define the subject
The whole point of photography is to record something. In case of travel photography it can be many things – a person, a building, an object, a landscape. The key is to photograph it in such a way that it’s clear what the subject is. Each picture should have only one principal topic, idea, center of interest and this is what should grab viewers’ attention the minute they look at the photo. .So if you are photographic a person, make this person key element of your photo. If you are photographing Machu Picchu try to e.g. eliminate people in the first plan. If you are shooting a lady selling flowers on the street, try not to put surrounding people in the frame. Make it easy for viewers to understand what it is that you tried to capture.
Let me show you an example. I found this photo on Flickr and I can’t be sure what the subject is. Is it the Opera House? Is is a lady in green dress? Or maybe it’s a fence? I’m guessing that a person who took this photo tried to capture Opera House, but it’s been done in such a way that it’s not obvious. Opera House is not a center of interest in this photo. There is too much going on. The next three points will show you what you can do to avoid photos like the one in the example.
Step 2 – Try a few different angles
Sometimes moving just a step to the front/back/side can make a huge difference. Of course there will be situations when you won’t be able to try different angles (like when you are shooting a street scene that only lasts a few seconds), but if you are photographing a static or semi-static object do take time to explore few different options. Not all photos need to be taken while standing. Try to kneel down, climb the wall or maybe simply shoot from the side instead of up front. Move around your subject a bit and you will surely find some interesting angles. It really doesn’t take lots of time, but can make your images so much more interesting. Nobody is going to look at your photos for very long if they all similar in a style.
Step 3 – Use the rule of thirds
Rule of thirds is probably the best well known rule of photography. It’s also one that’s the easiest to follow, and one that can instantly improve your photos. All you need to do is to think for 2-3 seconds before you take a photo. In this time imagine breaking an image down – horizontally and vertically – into thirds, and as a results having 9 equal parts. The idea is to place the subject of your photos (or anything that you want to emphasize in the photo) in such a way that it sits along one of those imaginary lines or at the point where they cross. This helps to add balance to your photo. If the rule of thirds sounds complicated, don’t worry – its’ not. Read more explanations and see some examples here. With little practice it will become a natural thing for you to compose your shoots using this rule.
Step 4 – Think before you press shutter button
If I was to give only one photo advice to people who don’t know much about photography this would be it – think before you press the shutter button. Take a few seconds and check if you got your horizon straight. Scan the frame and see if there are any undesired elements within it. If you are shooting a portrait you don’t want somebody’s else back or hand in the frame, or if you are shooting landscape you don’t want an electricity pole in the frame right in the first plan. As I mentioned before, sometimes it’s just a matter of moving a tiny bit to the front or to the site. Don’t rush it. Spend 5 seconds examining the frame. I know in the digital era it’s cheap and easy to keep pressing the shutter button constantly, but if you are after quality (and not quantity) than it pays off to slow down.
Step 5 – Do some post processing
Photoshop is a modern day darkroom and don’t let people tell you that using it means cheating. It could be cheating if you use it to significantly alter your photos (like adding or removing objects ), but if used wisely, Photoshop can do magic. One thing to understand is that camera can’t see the world the way human eye can, so photos need some help to better reflect the original scene. You don’t need to be a master of Photoshop and spend hours editing your shots. All you need is about 30 seconds per photo (edit only those that are the best) and the ability to use the curve tool. There are many other tools available in Photoshop that can improve an image, but I believe that curves is the best and at the same time pretty easy to use (it’s the only PS tool I use). I won’t go here into explaining how it works, because David from Chromasia has done an excellent job explaining it. Just go to the link and open the sample tutorial called “Tonal range and the Curves tool“. It’s free of charge and I guarantee that if you apply this knowledge to your images they will look much, much better (if you only have Photoshop Elements – which is free of charge – you can still apply lots of the information from this tutorial).
And that’s it! 5 easy steps and your photos can be so much more interesting. Now go and try it for yourself. Let me know what you think. Maybe something needs more explanation. Or maybe you have other tips that work well for you. Share them with us!
Good luck with your photos!