Over the years, the majority of my travel has been done solo. When I first started my travelling adventures, I was 19 and thought my iPhone 4 was the height of photography. Grainy selfies and crappy snaps taken by other travellers did me just fine.
However, as I started to travel more and as I started to blog, I began to realise how much I actually enjoyed capturing beautiful shots. When I’d get that one good shot I would delight in it so much, and over time, that joy and fun that I got from taking photographs has only blossomed more and more.
I started to invest in camera gear (although I had no idea how to use it) and over time, became more and more competent and adept behind the lens. The quality of my photos has only improved over the years, and though I am in no way a professional, I am now able to capture beautiful travel photos with (relative) ease.
However, there is so much more than just equipment and practice when it comes to getting ‘the shot’.
Here are some things that you can do to help develop your skills as a shutterbug.
A little planning goes a long way
Sometimes I go to a destination knowing exactly what kind of photograph I want to create, other times I go and wing it! Oftentimes, the winging it approach works like a treat, but sometimes, a little bit of forward planning goes a long way in capturing a beautiful shot.
For example, I knew I wanted to capture a shot like the one below at the famous white pagoda on the outskirts of Mandalay. In order to capture a striking shot, I planned an early wake-up for the best light, I organised a driver in advance to take me there and I picked out an outfit with contrasting colours so that I would really ‘pop’ in the shot.
Don’t study other people’s photos (too much)
As much as a little planning can help compose a beautiful shot, doing too much study beforehand can actually hinder your creativity. I have fallen into the trap so many times of seeing a beautiful photograph on insta and desperately wanting to create my own version, only to end up feeling creatively stunted, disappointed that mine doesn’t look ‘as good’ or frustrated with the whole experience.
Now, I actively forgo studying other peoples shots entirely. I’d much rather see and capture a place through my own creative lens and create something unique rather than a similar version of someone else’s work.
This next shot is a prime example of this! I ventured to this gorgeous resort in Indonesia and made a point to avoid looking at pictures others had taken of it.
Some of my favourite hotel shots of all time.
Consider investing in a drone
I bought my first drone in 2018 and after getting over the initial terror associated with using it, it rapidly became one of the most used pieces of equipment in my camera bag.
Having a drone allows you to capture landscapes from a totally different angle, set up epic shots of yourself and even helps to see things that you wouldn’t be able to see yourself!
My first drone (a DJI Mavic Pro) lived a long life of 2.5 years (which to be honest, is a lot longer than I expected to keep it) until I drunkenly flew it into a pool late last year. However, as I write this, I am happy to say that I have literally just bought a brand new drone and am so excited to start showcasing so many more beautiful drone shots.
Sometimes, for whatever reason, the shot you envisage just won’t come to fruition. The lighting might not be right, the atmosphere and surroundings might be off, your assistant might not be able to execute what you ask for or the nature might be working against you.
In those moments, remember to be flexible and try something different, even if it differs from your original ideas. A classic example of this for me was my morning at Giraffe Manor in Kenya. I had a very specific shot in mind, but it just wasn’t coming to fruition, so I ended up pivoting and trying something new – which allowed me to capture this next shot – which quickly became an all time favourite.
Always shoot in RAW
God, when I think about all the years I spent shooting in only JPEG… it’s enough to make me want to bang my head on my desk!
Shooting in RAW means that your photographs will look a lot duller before you edit them, but will contain so much more image data so you can actually do a lot more with them. You can shoot consistently underexposed and end up with endless editing options when you put them in lightroom, whereas JPEG pictures can quickly look over edited and grainy.
This image is a classic example. The lighting was harsh, so I purposefully shot an incredible underexposed shot, but despite that, was able to brighten it to achieve a gorgeous photograph of this gorgeous leopard.
A great shot doesn’t have to be anonymous
The pressure to create the ‘perfect insta shot’ is rampant within the travel creator community. Unless you have long flowing hair, a colourful dress and a floppy hat and are facing away from the camera – you can feel a bit like you are doing the wrong thing.
I hate it.
When I write and when I photograph, I do it in a way that I want to feel honest, relatable and real. I find that this can be achieved most easily by actually including my face and personality within photos – don’t be afraid to feature yourself and all that you’re about – doing so will help you stand out.
A good tripod is your best friend
Oh my lord, I feel positively naked without my tripod! I have spent so much of my life travelling alone, and when doing so, if I want a shot with myself in it, this is the only way to make it happen.
My tripod allows me to capture gorgeous remote shots, solo shots, couples shots and long exposures. It’s a must have for me, and comes with me on each and every adventure.
Think about your composition
It should go without saying, but it pays to take a step back and just have a moment to contemplate the composition of each shot. Think about the balance, the colours and the features. Don’t feel limited by the old ‘rule of thirds’. Whilst that is a fantastic basic idea of shooting, it pays to simply look through your lens and have a think about how the shot looks. Play with different angles and compositions of the same shot and figure out what looks the best to you.
Consider a wide angle lens
My super wide 7-14mm lens is my most used and all time favourite lens. It allows me to capture more of the surroundings in each shot, as well as making it much easier to capture a shot with minimal space to do so.
It is useful for landscapes, portraits and architectural captures – what more could you want?
Remember that’s all about the right light
Bad lighting can be the death of an otherwise gorgeous shot. Sometimes, simply waiting for the light to change can have a huge impact on your final result.
When in doubt, let patience prevail.
Whatever you do, DON’T PROCRASTINATE
Fatigue when on the road is unavoidable. Travel is amazing but it can certainly be exhausting too. Some days, the temptation to stay in bed for a few more hours can be overwhelming, but do your best to avoid these urges.
Losing time means losing light, opportunities and the freedom to spend longer getting ‘the shot’. Learn to rise when your alarm dictates, and remember that you can sleep as much as you like when you’re back home. Travel time is the time to embrace the fatigue and get on with it!
Make sure that your lens pairs well with the situation
I talked about my wide angle lens before, but I also need to give some love to my 40-150mm lens. A telefoto lens is the ideal piece of equipment to use when photographing wildlife. Being able to get super zoomed in, even if the wildlife isn’t particularly far away, is an invaluable tool in capturing the personality of the creatures you are shooting.
Golden hour is worth its weight in, well, gold!
Sunrises and sunsets are when you will be able to photograph with the absolute best lighting. The term golden hour refers to these little slots of perfect light, although in my experience, morning light tends to be less gold than the sunsets!
These times of day are the most ideal for capturing dreamy images. Plan accordingly.
Try to wear clothes that will stand out against the colours of your shooting location
I touched on this in an earlier point, but choosing clothes that will stand out from your surroundings is a simple way to make the key focus (yourself) of the shot stand out.
Brightly coloured pants, raincoats and jackets are easy packing additions that you can break out for shots. I tend to gravitate to oranges, purples and pinks.
and lastly, don’t be afraid to turn off autofocus!
Most high quality cameras have a pretty incredible autofocus, however, sometimes, they can still struggle, lag or just simply fail to put what you want in focus. In those moments, don’t be afraid to switch off your autofocus. Manually focusing only takes a few moments, and can ensure that the heart of the shot is exactly where you want it.