How to Take a Prize-Winning Travel Photo
Have you ever wondered what makes a great photo? We’ve all struggled to capture that perfect moment and come up short. But by employing these practical tips, we hope to enhance the overall quality of your photos—and increase the fun you have when taking them!
Photo provided by Don C. Forester, Ph.D.
Follow the Rule of Thirds
When taking a photo, your instinct might be to place your subject in the center of your picture. Resist this temptation!
One of the first compositional techniques that professionals learn is the “Rule of Thirds.” In your mind’s eye (or your camera’s, if it has the capability), draw two horizontal lines and two vertical lines to divide your frame into nine equally-sized rectangles. Think of the layout of a tic-tac-toe grid.
As a rule of thumb, the key compositional elements of your subject (faces, horizons, animals, etc.) should be placed along these imaginary lines, or at their intersections. Studies have shown that people’s attention is naturally drawn to these points of a photograph. Framing your subjects in this manner allows you to take advantage of this phenomenon, subtly creating a more appealing presentation.
The twisting tree trunk in Tanzania naturally divides this image into thirds from left to right, as well as providing a natural “frame” for the subject of the photo.
Photo provided by Sharon Arkin.
Have Fun with Your Photo
Images of smiling people posed stiffly in front of an iconic landmark are ubiquitous—so why not try to capture a moment that makes the viewer laugh?
Photos that have a sense of humor, such as a funny or unique expression, are more interesting for the viewer. And when you capture a moment of surprise or energy, the photo comes to life, separating it from more traditional posed photographs<
Often times, a simple change of perspective can make an otherwise typical photograph memorable, so try placing your camera at unusual angles—angle it up from the ground, or get a higher vantage point by climbing nearby stairs or ladders.
This traveler’s surprised expression as she mounts a camel in India adds a humorous twist to the photograph. Memorable expressions naturally engage the viewer and pique their interest.
Photo provided by Barbara Berryman.
Watch the Light
Lighting is one of the most important compositional elements of photography. In fact, you can change the mood of almost any image—dramatic, playful, reflective, suspenseful—by changing the lighting.
The best time of day for photography is in the early morning just after the sun rises, or in the evening just before it sets. The elegant, mystical dance of color and shadow can lead to some amazing photo opportunities, and, according to an OAT Photo Editor, “Your subjects will be bathed in a soft, golden glow.”
Avoid shooting in the early afternoon, when the bright, harsh light of the sun overhead can ruin an otherwise perfect photo. If you must take a picture in less than ideal lighting conditions, follow the advice of Photo Editor Meredith Mulcahy: “Put your subject in the shade, and use a flash to control the amount of exposure.”
The colorful painted houses of Reykjavik, Iceland seem to “pop” in this image—a result of the warm clouds which complement the scene.
Photo provided by Bob Stamper.
Be Polite, Be Subtle
Some of the most remarkable travel photos capture people in candid moments, which offer a glimpse into the daily life of the person or the larger culture. But take the advice of Photo Manager Meredith Gausch: “Nobody likes to feel like a subject.” So smile, laugh, joke, converse, or gesticulate while snapping your image. Even if you don’t speak the language, try to make your subject comfortable.
When shooting local people, the rule of thumb is to ask permission first, as many societies have cultural or religious taboos about capturing someone’s image. Award-winning photographer and OAT traveler Dr. Joseph Heyman has a different take on this: “If I see a wonderful moment, I like to seize it. If you approach someone first to get permission, what happens? They stop what they are doing and you lose the moment.”
Dr. Heyman suggests you take your picture first, then approach and ask permission. “I always walk right up to them and ask, ‘May I take your photo?’ as I show it to them in my viewfinder. Usually they are thrilled with the result and give their OK. If they do not, I delete the shot right there so they know I am respecting their wishes.”
In other words, shoot first, ask questions later—but always be respectful.
A potter in Jaipur begins a new clay project, while a curious observer looks on. Because neither the potter nor the child are looking at the camera, the photographer captured a natural glimpse of everyday life.
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