The Arty Blogness of Ansate Jones

8 Ways to Make Your Travel Photos Not Suck

I might get a lot of flack for this. But there’s a reason for the existence of that old trope of making guests sit through boring slides of your vacations. You’ve just been to a whole new world and you want to share your experiences with your friends and family, so why not make your photos reflect that sense of wonder and amazement? If these are memories you’re making, why not get them as perfect as possible? Here’s some tips on how to make people actually want to see your travel photos, and not just feel obligated to leave polite comments on Facebook.

1. Go For a Non-busy Background

One thing you probably don’t want to end up in your vacation memories: random background creeper! (From Awkward Family Photos)

This counts for just about any photo but in travel pics a busy background can be an especial nightmare. Now, by ‘busy’ I don’t mean a crowded street market or a teeming school of fish. In those cases the business and confusion is what you want to capture. No, what I mean is taking a picture of your preteen daughter and accidentally including two giraffes mating in the background.

Aw, that’s adorable. You actually thought I was kidding. (From Awkward Family Photos)

Or trying to create the feeling of a wild, romantic landscape… but you can totally see an icky trainyard behind the happy campers.

And they were never seen again. (From Awkward Family Photos)

Background is always important, and can make or break a picture. It’s much better to pick a more neutral one that lets you focus on the subject, or to blur out the background with low aperture, a zoom lens, or simply getting closer to who or what you’re shooting.

A prime lens is perfect for blurring unwanted backgrounds because its f-stop is so low.

A prime lens is perfect for blurring unwanted backgrounds because its f-stop is so low.

2. Use Soft Side Lighting Where You Can

Not grumpy, just squinty! (From Dain Bread)

When you’re taking pictures on the fly, sometimes it’s hard to remember the position of the sun or other light sources. Our eyes can adjust to light much more effectively than a camera lens, meaning that taking pictures in full sunlight can result in washed out images. It gets worse when, as inevitably happens, you want to take your fellow travelers’ portraits. Squinting, shadows under the eyes, washed out skin… all of this happens when the lighting sucks and none of this is 100% fixable in Photoshop. It makes your subjects look like they’re having no fun– which surely they can’t be while staring into the sun waiting for you to get the perfect shot.

He was having a good time, really. I swear.

Side lighting usually has the advantage of being softer, more diffuse, and extremely flattering to faces. Try to position your subjects so that the light hits them from the side or indirectly. You can also use shade.

(L) Side lighting tends to bring out the most pleasing and dynamic angles in the human face, which is why it’s used so often for modeling. (R) If you’re looking for filtered light, position your subject under a tree. Just be careful the light and shadow isn’t too dappled!

3. Choose Interesting Angles

(Photo by Bjarke Christensen Røjle)

Travel photography is, at its heart, documentary. We take pictures to chronicle our trips and experiences. That’s why it’s so tempting to quickly snap a photo of everything that catches our interest without stopping to think whether it’ll actually make a good picture. We treat our cameras almost like scanners. I’ve even seen people taking pictures of commemorative plaques and signs: nothing more than text. There’s nothing wrong with this, but if you’re going to put this photo in your Flickr stream, why not make it look good? Think about what interests you in a particular subject and try to capture that in the picture.

A somewhat boring shot, but you can see that it’s one the other tourists seem to gravitate toward!

Tons of skulls in a crypt? Try taking a picture from the end of a long row of them to give that feeling of infinity.

A more dynamic angle can add visual interest and create a different feel.

Statue of an imposing figure? Why not take that picture from the base to make it look even taller and more imposing? Even pictures of signs or flat museum displays can benefit from a little dynamic angling.

The same museum display looks flat when photographed straight-on, but viewing it at an angle makes you appreciate its dimensionality and purpose.

4. Encourage Candid Behavior or Unique Posing

This is what happens when you let strangers take your photo. (from Darren Alff)

One of the most common ‘boring travel photo’ tropes is seeing shot after shot of someone standing stock still near a statue, building, or sign with a cheesy smile on their face. After a while this not only gets repetitive but awkward since they’re always staring right into the camera and so obviously posed.

I don’t care if you’re being eaten by a shark or not. You’re not spoiling THIS family photo, Timmy! (From Awkward Family Photos)

Why not try for a more natural shot? Try having your friends or family members interact with the environment in some way so that it doesn’t just look like a photo opportunity but an actual memory.

This quickly became our quintessential ‘traveling through the UK’ image. We took a lot of trains, okay?

Even if it’s silly, it’ll be something unique you’ll look back on and smile about. Although the whole ‘holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa’ gag may seem old, it’s still way better than just someone standing there blocking the scenery.

I still don’t get how this ended up on Awkward Family Photos. It’s adorable and creative!

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