2014 Travel Resolution #3: Become a Better Photographer

Camera. Image by Alba Bautista on Flickr

How are those New Year’s resolutions going? We’re three-and-a-half weeks into January now, often just when our good intentions start to dry up, and resolutions fall by the wayside. Other things might start to fill your time making it harder to keep up learning a language, and the grizzly weather can make it harder to muster up the motivation to train for an active challenge. So my third travel resolution suggestion is something that combines learning and practice, and can fit into any free moments in your day.

 #3. Become a better travel photographer.

Travel and photography go hand-in-hand for many, myself included. We take pictures to capture memories, and to share our experiences with others. But images often don’t quite turn out as we’d hope for. So how can we make our photography better this year? Here are 5 things worth working on.

1. Know how your camera works. There’s no shame in using your camera on automatic. It lets the camera do the thinking, and frees you up to focus on finding interesting subjects. However, you should aim to take away that safety net, and explore the other settings that will give you more creativity in your shots.

Read the manual. Then get to know your camera. Practice changing the basics such as shutter speed, aperture and ISO, until they become familiar, then move on to more advanced settings. There’s no secret other than lots and lots of practice.

2. Think before you click. Even the best camera won’t salvage your photos unless you improve your technique, so consider the composition of your shot before you press the shutter. Learn the basic rules (and how to break them); identify the subject of your image, what you want to emphasise about the picture; and think about the layers within the shot, the background, middle and foreground of the scene. 

Draw the viewers eye into the picture with the composition, and hold it with the depth and focal point of the image.  Check the edges of the frame for distractions, such as brightly-coloured street signs, awkward tree branches, or the disembodied limbs of people just out of shot, that can easily be left out by slightly recomposing the picture. 

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Can you see him? There always seems to be someone in fluoro-bright foul weather gear hanging around when you go to the coast.

3. Understand the qualities of light. As a travel photographer, the majority of your pictures are likely to be taken outdoors, with the sun as your main light source. Sunlight is endlessly variable, but on the whole the most beautiful and dramatic light happens when the sun is low to the horizon. You might have heard this described as the “golden hour”, roughly from one hour before to one hour after sunrise/sunset, approximately 4hours of the day. 

But this depends very much on where you are in the world, and the time of year. Nearer the equator the window of ideal light is much reduced all year round. At higher latitudes there is a great deal of variation through the year. Winter is the best time of year for prolonged periods of good light, as the sun remains low on the horizon for most of the day.  The local times of sunrise and sunset for where you are can be found on a sunrise calculator.

IMG_6612v1s
The so-called “Golden Hour” lasts for most of the day at the end of Winter in Northern Norway, and doesn’t occur at all around Midsummer.

4. Find your own photographic style. Looking through the portfolios of experienced photographers you discover that, although individual images may be very different, there’s just something about them that makes them identifiably theirs. It may be to do with the subject, what they’ve selected to include within the frame, or, more tellingly, what has been left out. Other things like the brightness of the image, the use of saturated colours, a more muted palette or monochrome, the choices applied in post-processing, all come together to define a photographer’s style.

If you’re not sure what your style is yet, browse through your pictures, and work out which you like best, and which you felt most comfortable shooting. Think about what interests you, what you like about pictures you’ve seen from other photographers, and think about the elements tying them together. Developing a style doesn’t happen overnight, and may even take years, so just get out there and shoot, and see what happens.

5. Learn how to edit your images properly. Professional photographers almost never take a shot straight from their camera to their audience; rather than take a photograph, they will make one, complementing the planning and preparation that went into their photograph with post-processing. Don’t think for a moment that this is cheating, it’s an essential part of the creative process, especially if you aspire to make images like you see in magazines. 

Different styles of post-processing give dramatically different feelings to the same shot, so spend time experimenting and getting to know your editing software. Read some blogs to pick up tips from photographers whose work you admire, I like Light Stalking and Nomadic Pursuits, and YouTube has some great tutorials for Photoshop and Lightroom.

Happy Snapping!

My other resolutions can be found here, here, and here

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11 thoughts on “2014 Travel Resolution #3: Become a Better Photographer

  1. patriciamoed January 21, 2014 / 12:57

    Great article and advice! I’m now trying to find my photographic style–which will define my photographic point of view. It’s a work in progress!

    • vickyinglis January 21, 2014 / 13:01

      Good luck! I’m still not sure if I’m 100% sure what my style is, even after months of thinking about it. I love looking at environmental portraits, but I’m often too shy to take pictures like that myself.

      • patriciamoed January 21, 2014 / 13:29

        Same with me, but I’ve reached the point where I tell myself that I’ve got to overcome my shyness and just “do it!”

  2. cravesadventure January 21, 2014 / 16:46

    Great Post and Good Luck! I have been craving photography lately because I have not had the time to get out there. Happy Week:)

  3. Jaspa January 28, 2014 / 15:54

    Some great advice. I always try to follow these rules, but it never hurts to be reminded to think about what you’re doing.

    • vickyinglis January 28, 2014 / 17:01

      Thank you. Once you get a good appreciation of the rules of composition, then you know how to break them for striking effect.

    • vickyinglis February 1, 2014 / 19:37

      Good luck. The key is practice, practice, practice…

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