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Travel photography tips

Travel photography tips

Take your travel snaps to the next level with these expert tips

Love looking over holiday photos and reminiscing? We asked architectural photographer John Madden how to capture your travel destinations like a pro. 

Your iPhone is all you need

It’s really tempting to drop a stack of cash on a serious camera when you realise you’re keen on photography. But smartphones take great photos now! They’re compact, and often have features like wide angle and portrait lenses which allow for lots of experimentation. 

There’s a law of diminishing returns when it comes to taking camera equipment on holidays (selfie sticks notwithstanding). Sure, a digital SLR or mirrorless camera might give better results in capable hands, but they’re expensive and cumbersome to lug around. The inconvenience of getting the camera out means less pictures are taken and they take up precious luggage space.

Learn your phone’s quick tricks, like tapping the iPhone screen to focus and to set the exposure (adjusting how bright the image is). Portrait mode (found on later model iPhones) gives you that lovely feeling of depth and puts the subject in focus. 

The must-snaps

It’s certainly exciting to take a photo of the Eiffel Tower in person. Consider what else is happening when you’re there – there are the seasons, rhythms of the day, special events and random happenings which all make each moment special. 

Sometimes it’s nice to capture locals in the scene going about their normal day against an iconic backdrop. And a different perspective can work wonders: if you pop over to the Trocadero, you can sit on that ledge and get the customary ‘holding the tower’ photo because of the lovely framing. Sure, it’s a bit kitsch but isn’t that the fun of it?

If you’re going to take pictures with locals in it, ask them nicely if you can take their portrait. It’s respectful, you’ll likely get a better photo and it can be a good icebreaker. 

Use your time wisely

Have you heard of golden hour? It’s that time just before sunset or after sunrise that will give you that dreamy light, especially when photographing cities and built spaces. Natural and artificial lights are roughly balanced in intensity, with deep, rich sky hues and the streetscape balancing these out without dominating the image. It actually lasts less than one hour and any moments you can snare in this window are really valuable!

Often travellers miss this great opportunity before sunset, as it typically happens at the end of the day when people are winding down, or preparing (or out) for dinner. So it might pay to make this extra effort. If you’re an early riser, sunrise is perfect. If you’re that keen that you have a tripod, this is the time to use it.

The rule book

You probably already know these but they bear repeating. Don’t rely on zoom too much, as it affects your photo quality (smartphones mostly use a digital zoom, not an optical zoom like a professional camera). Don’t take photos in front of windows because of the glare (unless the reflection is intended as part of the composition!). Try shooting from lower down, not from chest height, especially with landscapes.

Photographers love to talk about the rule of thirds, which basically means you separate your image into vertical or horizontal thirds. So if you’re shooting a landscape, you might separate sky, trees, earth into thirds. Points of interest ‘should’ go at intersecting points. Some smartphones can show you the grid as an overlay. If this helps you frame your photos, great. But don’t get too caught up in ‘designing’ your photo: the shot you are drawn to is the one you should snap! There are images I love that don’t adhere to the rules.


Less is more

Your phone will likely do a great job of editing and balancing the settings automatically, and you can easily crop, straighten and tinker with effects. Amateurs can go overboard trying to add saturation and contrast, and actually make the images worse. Editing photos is like adding spices when cooking: a little can really add to the result, however, too much will ruin it.

One of the best things about taking pictures with your phone is how enjoyable it is to review your pictures over time – sorting by dates, location, people (faces) and albums. 

Make a habit of reviewing photos on your phone and remove duplicates, or ones you don’t like. Better to have a tightly curated selection of photos… you don’t really need six similar shots with varying facial expressions. Choose wisely. Let’s be honest, for most of us you can assume that if it ends up on social media it’s considered a keeper!

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