Last Updated on August 2, 2018
Most of us love taking photos when we go on holiday, but sometimes it can be hard to nail that winning shot. We caught up with Sydney-based photographer Heloise Love to chat about why she loves travel photography and to glean some expert tips for taking a great travel snap.
I love capturing special moments and having something tangible to remind me of great times. I think it’s beautiful that we can see photos of ourselves of, say, when we were kids and relive that special birthday or family trip. This is why I love travel photography so much – you can capture the essence of the moment and relive it when you get back home for years to come.
My love of photography started when I was about 15 or 16 years old, when I got an old point-and-shoot camera. It was basic, simple, but I loved it! Then, several years ago, I got a gig helping out a friend with wedding photography, and I really enjoyed capturing the emotions of the day. Since then, it’s been a learning journey!
I love to photograph people, because people have so much depth. Not stock photos, not studio shots with models trying to sell something, but raw, emotional photos of people. It feels genuine and authentic, and I think that’s why so many people are drawn to travel photography and taking photos of the interesting folk you meet along the way.
Like any skill, it’s all about practicing and learning as much as you can. Online photography tutorials are everywhere, so even though I studied photography at university, I carried on learning and using all the resources around me.
If you’re looking for some inspiration to take a great travel shot though, there are some tips that I’ve found infinitely useful over the years, whether you use a DSLR or just snap on your iPhone. Here are my tips for taking great travel photos.
1. Take lots of photos
These days, we have the luxury of taking as many photos as we like without having to worry about how much expensive film we’re using up. So click away, take lots of photos, review them and adjust until you get the shot you want. Many photographers will take a hundred photos just to capture one good one, so don’t worry if they’re not all perfect. Just keep snapping away.
2. Time of day is important
Photographers always refer to the ‘Golden Hour’, which is first thing in the morning just after dawn, and also when the sun starts to set in the late afternoon. This is the best time to take photos, as the light is softer and shadows aren’t overpowering. The middle of the day isn’t great, especially when the sun is out, as the glare is too bright and harsh.
This is especially true in my home city – photographing around Sydney Harbour means you get a lot of reflection off the water, which can hinder your photos by making shadows too dark.
To make it even easier to work out what time is best for photos, you can download the Golden Hour app, which will tell you the best time no matter where you are in the world.
3. Get to know your camera
If you’ve got a camera that you’re taking away with you, don’t be afraid to turn off the automatic setting and play around with the different things your camera can do. Research your camera on YouTube – there will be plenty of tutorials showing you the different settings you can use with your specific camera, so you can experiment to get the best shot. I use a Canon 5D Mark 3 these days, and I’m still learning what my camera can do. Know your settings and play around with different buttons – your camera will do more than you think.
4. Learn the rules, then break them
The ‘Rule of Thirds’ is a good photography composition technique to familiarise yourself with when taking photos, which essentially breaks your shot into nine squares. Most cameras and phones will have a grid that you can lay over your shot that helps guide where you should be placing your subjects. Horizon lines, for example, should lie on one of the grid lines, rather than smack bang in the middle of the squares.
When you take your photo, take your time. Think about what it is you want to capture. Really look at what you can see through your lens – do you need to adjust slightly? Watch for poles and lines sticking out of people’s heads (it’s more common than you think and it always looks completely ridiculous!). Review and adjust until you’re happy.
So once you’ve taken your classic front-on photo using the rule of thirds, it’s time to get creative! Duck down for different angles, stand up high on something and point the camera down – anything to get a new perspective on your subject. Most of them will look terrible (or at least, mine do!) but you may just get a winning shot out of it all. Some of my favourite photos have been captured from just playing around with crazy angles, and it’s a sure-fire way to get a photo of the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Sydney Opera House or Taj Mahal that no one else will have.
For lighting, you generally want the light behind the photographer and on your subject, but you can capture some fantastic silhouette photos in the late afternoon when aiming right at the sun. In the middle of the day, when the sun is bright, find some shade to avoid a harsh light and look for a natural reflector – like water – to light your photos. Again, these are just guidelines, so once you take a photo following these rules, break them! If the lighting isn’t working for you, move around, take from a different perspective. You’ll be amazed at how much light can change a photo.
5. Bring a spare battery
I went to the Grand Canyon a few years ago, excited to take some epic photos of this natural wonder. This was a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and we’d splurged on a helicopter tour. As we were hovering over the canyons, I reached into my bag, pulled out my camera and went to take the first photo, when my heart quickly sank. I’d left the camera battery at the hotel in the charger, and I didn’t have a spare one. It was the most gut-wrenching feeling ever. I wanted to burst into tears.
I was incredibly lucky in the end, as the two girls on our tour happened to have the same camera as me, and lent me their spare battery so I was still able to take some amazing photos. But it taught me an invaluable lesson – ALWAYS keep a spare charged battery with you.
It’s also a good idea to back everything up – take your photos off the memory card and make copies on your computer, because if you ever lose that memory card, those photos are gone forever.
6. Frame your photo
No, not literally in a picture frame to hang on the wall, but using what you have around you to creatively frame your subject. Once you choose your subject, say a waterfall, look around and see if there is any vegetation like tree branches or even people, that you can surround the waterfall with to create a more interesting photo. Common framing devices also include walls, windows, and buildings.
7. Tell a story with your photos
One of my favourite places to photograph is New York. There’s so much going on – the street art, the different types of people, the grittiness. It’s a city filled with immense urban beauty.
I went to visit the Wall Street Bull to take a photo – but of course, so did every other visitor in the area! It was swarming with tourists and impossible to get up close to take a nice photo without someone’s selfie stick poking me in the eye. Initially I was disappointed, but then I decided to change the focus of my photo.
I moved further away and instead took a photo of the hundreds of people all pointing their cameras at the statue, and it’s a great shot! I captured a New York icon amidst the chaos and busyness of the city, all the different people, and it’s so much more unique and interesting than just another stock standard close-up of the statue. It’s now a photo that tells a story.
Sometimes people are unavoidable in your photos, especially in popular touristy spots. So find a way to use them to frame the photo, or even be the subject. Think about what you want to capture, but be flexible, too. Photography, just like travelling, can be unpredictable and requires a bit of improvisation every now and then.
8. Download an editing app to enhance photos
Apps like Instagram are great as they have preset filters for photos, but don’t be afraid to adjust your photos manually. Instagram has introduced a feature where you can adjust the intensity of the filters to make your photos look less edited, so try halving the intensity of your filters for a more subtle edit.
Don’t feel you need to be restricted to Instagram, either. Apps like Lightroom come with lots of in-built preset filters, plus apps like VSCO and SnapSeed are easy to use and have whole communities of photographers who share their photos.
Black and white makes for a bold photo, a vignette will darken the edges of your photo while making the middle of the photo pop, and contrasting colours are an effective way to make a photo stand out. So download an app and experiment.
Editing is all about trial and error, so play around and have fun!
Heloise Love is a photographer based in Sydney, Australia, where she splits up her time working for The Life Style Edit and freelancing on her own projects. She teamed up with Jayride.com to give us her tips so our travellers can feel confident behind the camera. You can see more of her photography work on her Instagram and website, heloiselove.com.