How to take the perfect travel shot
Photography serves many purposes. It’s a creative outlet, a social icebreaker and a practical way to document your experiences and prove you actually did those incredible things you said you did, like hanging out with Sam Worthington while you were in the States (this literally just happened to a friend of mine). But taking a good travel shot isn’t as easy as it seems, even with the foolproof point-and-shoot cameras sold everywhere these days. No pressure or anything, but photography is a fairly important part of your holiday – how else will you make everyone super envious of your amazing adventures abroad?
We’ve enlisted the expertise of Brisbane-based photographer Connor McGill for a little Travel Photography 101. Connor is rarely seen without a camera in hand and has been known to frequent the city streets of Australia’s capitals and rural outskirts, chasing down and freezing the perfect moments in time. By day he works selling camera equipment too, so he knows what he’s talking about. With your trusty Smartphone, digital compact camera or SLR and these fail-safe tips, your holiday snapshots will be good enough to print and frame, save as your new desktop background or earn the prestige of gracing your parent’s fridge.
Tip 1: Have a point of focus
Have you ever revisited your holiday pics with reminisce and thought “what was that even supposed to be a photo of?” A lot of people fall short when it comes to the composition of their photo (that’s what the pros call it), but it’s easily fixed. Having a centrepiece in your photo brings new life to it and makes it far more interesting to look at. I like to work with the noun rule: focus on a place, a person or a thing. Although that doesn’t mean the object of your photographic affection needs to be placed right in the middle, but we’ll get to that later. Think of your friends and family who will want to see your images when you get home - give them something to look at! “A photograph is like a conversation,” Connor says. “If you don’t get the composition right, you’re not really saying anything.”
Tip 2: Look for a different angle
Also known as perspective. If you’re interested in the technical jargon, those in the photography game call this the ‘rule of thirds’ or the ‘golden ratio’ where there is a grid of nine squares over your photograph and your subject matter should be on one of the intersecting points. There’s a good chance your camera actually has this function inbuilt. So instead of having that monkey/musician/funny-worded street sign smack dab in the middle of the image, try putting it on the right or left side with some space around it. “Assume control over your photos,” urges Connor. “Don’t be afraid to get up close to your subject matter, move around it to see how the light changes it. Be on the lookout to show it in a different way.”
Tip 3: Be ready to capture the moment
The Scouts were really onto something when they coined the motto ‘always be prepared’. There’s nothing worse than seeing a great Humpback Whale launching out of the ocean, a street performer nailing an awesome stunt or that moment when your travel buddy takes a bite of something the chef SWORE was beef and your camera is out of reach. Connor’s tip to combating fear-of-missing-out is to keep your camera on standby mode if you’re out somewhere particularly exciting. Change your auto-off time to a minute, but charge your battery or keep a spare if you choose to do so. While you should be instinctive with your photo taking, you shouldn’t be intent on snapping all day. “Enjoy your surrounds and capture the things you think you will want to remember the most,” Connor says.
Tip 4: Don’t get too snap happy
It’s not uncommon to return from holidays and think “how did I manage to take that many photos?” Then you have to sort through, delete multiples and choose your favourites for uploading or printing which many people never get around to. You run the risk of being overwhelmed and all your memories sit on that sad plastic card going to waste. Connor’s advice is not to be fearful of experimenting with photography, but don’t be afraid to use the delete button either. Like the Confucius of digital imagery, he shares this pearl of wisdom: “A picture tells a thousand words, but you don’t want a thousand pictures that say one word.” As for what to do with your shots after your holiday high wears off, why not go beyond the Facebook album and create a hardcopy photo book?
Tip 5: Have fun with it!
After all this you’re probably feeling a bit of performance anxiety at the prospect of doing your holiday memories justice. JUST RELAX, OKAY? You’ll get the knack of the technical stuff in time and eventually you will be able to spot a prime photo opportunity from a mile away. Above all else, Connor advises not to over-think it. Travel photography shouldn’t feel like a chore. “Photography is a memory trigger. It’s something you will always have to look back on and laugh at. It’s not about getting the most likes on Instagram.” And while snapping the main touristy spots is a no-brainer, Connor recommends getting outside the CBD and into suburban areas when you get the chance. “That’s where you get the best feel of a place, on the streets the locals call their own. Make time to explore further and venture outside your comfort zone.” If there’s rain on your parade, don’t despair. Overcast weather can be a bit of a drag, but you can always get the most luscious shots at early morning and late afternoon when the sun does all the work for you.
As for Connor’s final words? “Cameras and the beach don’t mix. Most of the camera repairs I handle at work are from tourists who have been to the beach and haven’t taken care of their gear properly.” As a general rule it’s more expensive to repair your camera than it is to buy a new one so if you’re planning on a set of beach volleyball or a leisurely bout of mud wrestling, leave your camera in its case or get a friend to document the experience for you.
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