I’ve been shooting film photography in a lot of different countries for many years and over that time I’ve picked up a lot of important things along the way.
If you want to find out how to get the most out of your travels then look no further!
1) Get Up Early
I know it’s hard to wake yourself up early if you’ve been enjoying a bit too much of the local nightlife. However, getting up early and shooting just before and after sunrise can be a complete game changer for your photographs.
The morning’s beautiful soft light can transform your location and help you to take pictures that most other people can’t be bothered to get.
Also, I’ve found that you can often find people doing different things than usual and your locations will be much quieter, so you can avoid the crowds.
Shooting in the mornings is a completely underrated way of getting much better shots easily!
2) Shoot In The Evenings
Shooting in the evenings can have a similar impact to shooting in the mornings. As the sun is setting and the light is becoming softer again, you can once again get brilliant pictures with that glowing golden hour feel.
The wonderful colours and softness of light can really make those evening shots stand out.
Also, there tend to be a lot of different activities that start to happen in the evening so you can get some interesting and unusual pictures.
3) Do Your Research
Try to research your location beforehand, by this, I don’t mean a quick google. You should use something like Reddit to get real people’s advice on cool or unusual locations.
The reason why I suggest Reddit for this is that you can ask a question in something like r/Bologna and you’ll get answers from a lot of people that either live there or have visited there. This firsthand information from locals can be invaluable and will help you to discover places, people and events that you wouldn’t have known about if you hadn’t asked.
I personally used this to my advantage when shooting pictures of Starlings Murmurating in Aberystwyth. I couldn’t find any information about whether they were definitely there or not so I asked the local Reddit. Their information helped me to decide when to visit and the trip was a success!
4) Travel Light
While travelling in Italy, it became more obvious to me that travelling light is really important. My suggestion would be to take your camera and at most 2 prime lenses (Like a 28mm and a 50mm).
Having a reasonably small camera and lenses that’s readily accessible can make a massive impact on whether you take a shot or not. If you’re camera is too big and unweildly then you’ll be less likely to get it out and take the shot!
Also, I find that some cameras can be more of a target for scammers or thieves, so having something that’s quite small is better in that regard.
5) Devote Time
Devoting a specific amount of time to taking pictures will help you get better pictures of the course of your travels.
I find that being in the ‘mode’ of photography can really help me, whereas if you’re just taking photos passively it’s easy to miss those important moments.
Usually there are large periods of time when you’re travelling where there’s actually nothing to do, so filling that time with actively taking pictures is a great way of making sure that you come back with some good shots.
6) Set A Destination
I use this technique quite often when I’m in a new city. I pick a location of interest that I might want to photograph and then I walk to it in a roundabout way. That way, along the way I find compositions and locations that I definitely wouldn’t have found otherwise.
In the pictures above, I was walking to a canal in Milan which was on the outskirts of the city. I followed google maps but along the way I knew I wanted to wander if I saw anything that caught my eye. Without this walk I wouldn’t have found all kinds of interesting apartments and locations, not to mention the shots I got at the canal.
Set a location and walk to it in a roundabout way!
7) Look For People In Compositions
Even if you don’t see yourself as a street photographer or somebody that takes pictures of strangers, using people as a focal point in your picture can really change your travel photos.
For instance, this picture I took in San Fransisco wouldn’t be as interesting without the two people in the photograph. It’s not invasive, you don’t need to be close up, it just helps to give your eye something to look at and brings some life to an otherwise boring shot.
Thinking about where people are in your shots will help you to make more interesting compositions and take better pictures overall.
We project ourselves and our own emotions onto other people, so often the subject of a photograph can engage the viewer in a way that a subjectless viewer can’t.
8) Take A Quick Course
Taking online courses is absolutely invaluable! The most important things that I’ve learned are usually from an online course that sent me in the right direction.
You’ll save time and money by learning from someone else’s mistakes rather than your own. So if you want to sign up to a course on shooting better travel pictures then I’ll leave a link here for you.
9) Make Sure You’re Comfortable With Your Camera
A lot of people buy a camera specifically for a trip and never use it until they finally go away. Don’t be that person, if you want to take better shots then make sure you’re comfortable with your camera.
I made the video above about how to shoot on a film camera. You may have something completely different but watch your videos and learn how to use everything!
10) Think About How You Frame
What is in and out of your frame is what makes your image. If you think rather than just holding your camera and shooting then you’ll make really interesting compositions.
For instance on the picture on the left hand side, I’ve chosen to not show the subject, only the umbrella and raindrops, this creates intrigue.
Whereas, on the right hand side I really wanted to include this advert of the two women in the background and pair it with this woman in the foreground. This creates a narrative that wouldn’t be there if those subjects were separate.
The way you frame things, what you choose to include or not include in your pictures can dramatically impact the quality of your compositions!
11) Change Your Position
It can be really easy to find yourself just shooting from a normal standing position, not moving or changing angles.
It’s so important to be dynamic and ready to move into a different position, changing the height that you’re shooting from or creating a new angle that changes the picture entirely.
This photograph above (though not the most inspiring), is the result of me crouching down to get the entire bin in the foreground while getting Edinburghs skyline in the background. If I’d had been stood upright it wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting.
Be ready to change your positions or your angles to create a much better picture and you’ll always reap the rewards!
12) Ask Permission
Depending on the context and your proximity, you’ll want to ask locals permission to take their photograph. Remember you’re in their town or city, you’re in their space, they’ve probably seen thousands of tourists and they’re sick of them.
If you’re in a small place and you’re living closely with locals, then creating relationships and asking for permission to take their photographs is a good way of showing that you see them as human beings that deserve that choice.
It’s good to at least try to learn how to ask if someone wants their photograph taking in their local language, that’ll set you apart from most other tourists and show that you cared to learn that.
Not everyone will say yes and that’s okay, not everyone wants their photographs taken.
13) Make Your Camera Accessible
This is a similar concept to using only a little bit of camera gear. Making your camera easily accessible is a massive thing that I find to be super important.
If you keep your camera in a backpack then it takes a while to take it out, too long to take it out immediately as a moment arises. If you carry it in a camera bag then it tells people “I have a camera” and it’s also quite annoying and big usually.
I suggest using an over-the-shoulder ‘sling’ bag, I’ll leave a link to one of these in the future because they’re really useful.
Sling bags are really comfortable to wear and it means all of your gear is on the front of your body and you can access it really quickly. I can fit my SLR and 3 lenses inside mine and I love it because it doesn’t telegraph the fact that you’re carrying a camera.
Being able to grab your camera in a second is really hand and it’ll definitely help you to capture more of those little moments that arise!
14) Shoot Something Different
There are a million pictures of the Golden Gate bridge or the Statue Of Liberty, stop it, you don’t need to do it, no one needs your picture of these things unless it’s really good and really unique.
The picture above is Duomo Di Milano, one of the most famous landmarks in Milan. Rather than photograph in a standard manor, I decided to use the pigeons in the foreground that mirror the spires of the cathedral.
Using methods like this, you can take pictures of things that everyone has already seen before and add interesting elements to them.
So remember, don’t just take the same old tired pictures of a location, try to find new elements that will make it interesting or shoot the sidestreets and lesser known areas!
15) Make Sure To Edit
Make sure to edit your photographs in Lightroom or Photoshop. Usually, photographs just need some slight adjustments to suddenly make a picture POP.
Whether you’re shooting digitally or with film, using lightroom to adjust exposure, highlights, shadows and contrast will transform your shots, even if you’re just making small adjustments.
I often get photographs back and decide that I hate them only to go on to edit them and realise that I think they’re great! If you aren’t at least making some basic adjustments then you’re doing yourself a disservice.
Planning is a big part of a lot of photographers lives, as soon as I started planning, things became much easier.
I use an app called Milanote which I strongly recommend (and it’s free). In milanote you can create your own boards and notes to plan and keep track of whatever you’re working on.
I would definitely recommend using an app like this where you can note down locations or include pictures for inspiration. As I say, it’s free and I’m not sponsored by them (sadly).
17) Look For Events
If you can find a local event or something that’s different and interesting then you’ll get some really interesting holiday pictures.
In Milan, I was walking along and found this classic car show. I stuck around for a while to try to get shots that were interesting to me. These are different from any usual shots in Milan and they wound up being some of my favourite shops of the trip.
If you can find a small local event or custom that could make an interesting shot then you should definitely give it a go. You won’t regret trying something new!
18) Focus On Details Rather Than The Whole Thing
Sometimes focusing on details rather than the whole thing can help you to produce better, more unique photographs!
For instance, in the pictures above, I knew I wanted to photograph this famous pub in Manchester, it’s really interesting and cool. When I got close I realised that if I took a picture from far away it wouldn’t do it justice.
That’s when I decided to get in close and try to take pictures of the details instead. I think these look far better than if I’d just tried to take a landscape photo of the entire pub.
Use this principle when you’re travelling and you’ll end up with far more better pictures!
19) Get Some Alone Time
If you’ve travelled with a camera before then you’ll know that it’s hard to comfortably take pictures when your friends or family are around you. I think there’s just a natural feeling that you’re being rushed.
If you don’t feel this way then that’s great for you, you can enjoy yourself and not worry about what people think. If you do feel this way then you should try to schedule some time that is just for you to go shooting, even if it’s for half an hour.
Getting this free time to go and shoot as you please will absolutely make it so you get better pictures and you’ll get into the ‘flow’ of photography and creativity.
This could be waking up in the morning to get out before people wake up or it could be taking a walk in the afternoon when everyone’s tired out. Get your alone time and you’ll benefit a lot.
20) Don’t Worry About Format
If you’re usually a film photographer then you might be thinking that you need to go and shoot film on your travels. It’s become more and more clear to me that format doesn’t really matter.
It might be easier to travel with a small digital rangefinder like a Fuji rather than taking a film camera and a load of film (which may be in danger of being damaged at the airport).
It’s also generally true that you’ll be able to take better pictures if you can take more pictures. So having the choice of shooting on a digital camera that suits you, rather than a film camera, might be a good idea.
My point is, don’t be married to one format just because that’s what you usually shoot.
21) Look For Colour
Colour and vibrance can really bring your holiday pictures to life! Search for interesting colour and you’ll be rewarded.
Vibrant colour will draw the viewer’s eye into the image and make things a lot more exciting. Try to find a way to include it wherever you can to make the most of your travels.
22) Use Soft Light For Portraits
Often when travelling there is a lot of harsh mid-day light, this mid-day light can ruin your pictures, especially your portraits.
Portraits nearly look better in soft light and this is achieved in a number of ways. For instance, the picture above was taken in the shade under a bridge, therefore we have soft light that is more even on the face.
If you’re taking pictures of people while you’re on your holiday, try to use shade, golden hour or even backlight from the sun to get better, softer portraits!
23) Enjoy Yourself
Remember you’re travelling, you should have fun with your photography and not worry about things too much!
Have as much fun as you can and take great photographs you wonderful people.