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Photography Tips for Snapshot Travelers

by Caroline King

How important to you is capturing your travels on film? Are you one to spend loads of time and money on photography or do you prefer to keep that memory in the temporal lobe? I fall somewhere in between. I don’t have a super high-tech camera but I am pleased when I come home from a trip with handsome photos. Though you won’t find me setting up a tripod in Trafalgar Square, I’ll sure envy the photos captured on that tripod.

So for those of us “in-between photographers” how does one balance keeping the photography bit of our travels as a side dish, and the main focus on the traveling experience? Here are some tips on how to not let the photo-capturing process be a distraction and how also to return home with some beauties.

  • My favorite photos aren’t always of the main event, the grand spectacle, etc. Shots of Westminister Abbey come out lovely for just about everyone, but the snap of the fish and chips I had just before the Abbey makes me laugh and feels a little more personal. Those random shots show the details of a culture you tend to miss. My advice is to capture things that surprise you – funny streets signs, mimes, freckled pigeons, etc. Plus if you don’t have a chance to get a proper angle of something famous you can just buy a post card.
  • Digital cameras are nice because they provide a safety net for those photos you don’t want to keep. However this also makes sorting through photos more time-consuming. A general rule I find helpful is to not take more than three photos of the same thing – in case you find more interesting shots to fill up the memory card. Also, the flip LCD viewers on some digital cameras are brilliant for travelers because they let you take nonchalant waist-level photos.
  • I don’t think there is a definite etiquette rule about photography. I think there are generalizations with truth to them but like most parts of traveling, you have to use common sense. The first thing to gauge with etiquette is whereabouts you are taking the photo. My brother told me that while he was in Cuba he was informed that the locals thought by having their picture taken, that it was capturing their soul. In most places I don’t think it is necessary to ask every person you may capture on film. Mostly this is because those photos will probably be of a crowd and it would change the dramatic action to ask permission. Now if you were wanting to photograph someone specifically then I say ask permission. Really, when in doubt, ask – because it is better to be overly polite than rude.
  • On a more technical level, lighting will tend to have the biggest effect on your photos. I’m not sure most people are even aware of this either – they mostly just aim and shoot and use a flash if it’s dark. The best lighting is not direct lighting. If you are outside, the first and last hour of sunlight is an excellent time to capture a brilliant photo. When taking the photo be mindful of its composition. It’s best to break the visual into thirds instead of just centering it on the frame. Also when photographing people never cut them off at their joints, but rather in between, say the knees and thigh.

>> For more tips to help you take better travel snapshots, check out our 10 travel photography quick tips!