NOT too long ago taking good travel photos was the exclusive domain of the professional snapper with a swag of expensive equipment.
But in this day and age, with a camera in every mobile phone and digital technology putting quality gear in the hands of anyone interested in taking pictures, it’s not hard for even the most unskilled tourist to return from vacation with an iPad full of pretty pictures.
So, when all you need to do is point your iPhone towards a view and click away, what are the secrets to capturing travel snaps that family and friends will demand to see?
Nick Rains, a celebrated landscape photographer with work that regularly fills the pages of Australian Geographic, says the best idea is to tell a story.
“Put together a set of images that have a strong narrative,” Nick, who is also the principal at Australia’s Leica Akademie, says.
“Find a start, a middle and a finish and that might mean taking several photos of the same scene beginning with a wide-angle shot before focusing in on something offering more detail like a face or a close-up of what someone’s hands are doing.
“Remember that some images might not be strong on their own but they will sit comfortably in a series to tell something about the place.
“If you only shoot landscapes or people, it can all look the same, so break up the pace with a wide shot. Then a picture of an animal or a person, a landscape, then something unexpected like the details of a rusty car or a splash of colourful material.
“A beautiful portrait is wonderful but if you’re only presenting that it doesn’t tell a story of the trip, it doesn’t say where that person is. And if you’re at a temple, you should include the view or a close up of what the people are doing.”
Nick says it’s also important to cull images, limiting a holiday collection to just the best pictures that are in focus and well exposed, so friends and family aren’t overwhelmed when they sit down to scroll through an album.
“You do need to edit with a brutal eye, to be strict about what you consider to be a good image and if you think in your gut that something is a bit dodgy then it probably is,” he says.
“There isn’t a perfect number of how many photos you should come home from a holiday with, but if you come back with 50 or 60 pictures that you can string together in a slide show or photo book, then you won’t lose people’s interest. Don’t include anything that’s blurry, unless it’s so amazing you will never see it again, and definitely no selfies.”
Another important consideration, when it comes to quality rather than composition, is to snap photos during the morning and evening when the daylight’s at its very best.
“Try to be out early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when the sun is low, rather than in the middle of the day when the sun is high in the sky,” Nick says.
“A picture taken early or late with low light is always going to look more appealing than something snapped in the middle of the day and that’s especially true when photographing people because, when the sun is above their head, they will have dark shadows under their eyes and eyebrows, which isn’t good.”
Nick adds a few tips for photographing people, especially in destinations with no common language, and suggests asking someone for permission to snap their image can be as simple as “pointing to your camera and raising your eyebrows while smiling”.
“Some people say it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission, but I’m not a fan of the long-distance photo and prefer the person I want to photograph is involved, which generally means asking permission,” the photography instructor says.
“If you’re in a market go buy something. I find that once the transaction has taken place, it’s easier to ask and it will seem like a fair trade, and you will be able to engage with the person, which makes for a better photo.
“Out on the street, it’s a little different and it can be as easy as finding an appealing scene, standing to one side so the locals forget you are there, and waiting for someone you find interesting to walk into the frame.”
Australia’s Leica Akademie offers a variety of courses – from day-long workshops to multi-day trips and overseas expeditions – to help camera buffs, of any ability and using any equipment, learn the secrets to taking better photographs.
The Leica Akademie has a number of travelling “on location” events scheduled for this year and next, including a weekend in the Capertree Valley west of Sydney and a 10-day expedition to India’s Rajasthan, with a jaunt across the Tasman to New Zealand on the drawing board.
→ The writer was a guest of the Leica Akademie.