Travel photographers, like rock stars, aren’t born—they’re made. Peer into an awe-inspiring photo or lend an ear to a powerful melody. Neither is accidental. Underlying each is hard work, skill, technique and dedication to the art.
After inspiring generations of musicians with their timeless music, the masters of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll have returned to spark an unlikely crew: travel photographers.
Forget all the warnings—rock music is not the work of the devil, but it still might make you a better travel photographer.
Here are some creative travel photography tips, bestowed upon us by classic rock song titles, to help you seize those moments you’ll never want to forget.
“Blinded by the Light”
When Manfred Mann’s Earth Band covered Bruce Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light” in 1976, no one figured the single would tear up the charts. Adhere to the following simple rule implied by this song title and your pictures might become—just like the song—a massive hit: don’t be blinded by the light!
Handling light properly is the most important aspect of travel photography. We’ve all peered at our friends’ pictures of the world’s most iconic sites only to be distracted by the bright white sky crashing into foreground, drowning out all the brilliant colours and details they intended to capture.
So, what went wrong? Light metering systems are not all made equal; some cameras adjust to these conditions adequately while many—especially cheaper point-and-shoots—fall seriously short.
But the problem doesn’t stop there.
Shooting in the bright midday sun, an unspeakable crime we have all—no doubt—been guilty of, will all but guarantee substandard pictures.
A better practice is to shoot pictures in the soft morning or evening sun. When the sun’s rays shine lower in the sky, colours regain their vibrancy and shadows return to subjects, better highlighting their defining features.
If you simply must shoot in midday, adjust your exposure compensation downwards and err on the side of underexposure. Recovering details in slightly underexposed photos in post-processing is far easier than adjusting for overexposure, which will most often completely wash-out all features.
“Every Picture Tells a Story”
It doesn’t take much digging into the title of this 1971 Rod Stewart classic to see how its message applies to aspiring travel photographers. Every place has a story to tell and yet tourists often snap pictures, left and right, without a second thought.
Want your pictures to look like everyone else’s?
Keep walking and aimlessly hitting the shutter button at every building listed in your guidebook.
Want your photography to stand out?
Explore what you find unique about a place, discover an angle and shoot from different perspectives.
Remember: travel photography is a highly personal and subjective art; your experience of a place could be vastly different from someone else’s. Photographs should capture your own vision and should tell a story through your own eyes.
Don’t shoot as if you are compiling a portfolio for a tourism board; unearth what has impressed upon you (the good, the bad and the ugly) and go from there. Seek out colorful characters and compelling settings to allow your story to unfold before the lens.
To bring your creative vision fully to life, experiment with different camera lenses, angles, depths of field and focal lengths—each of these combinations will express your narrative in a different way.
“Your Time Is Gonna Come”
The title of this 1969 Led Zeppelin classic reminds us of one of the true virtues of a great photographer: patience. Taking an extra few minutes—and perhaps even seconds—can spell the difference between a striking and clichéd exposure.
This is not to say that the tried, tested and true picture doesn’t have its place (realistically, who could visit Pisa and not, using some visual trickery, prop up the Leaning Tower with their own brawn?). But to create fantastic and memorable photos you’ll have to go a bit further.
Even the most photographed of subjects—the Eiffel Towers, Taj Mahals or Big Bens of this world—do not automatically commit a photo to drown in sea of clichéd travel photos. By all means, grab the shot you’ve seen a million times, but then move on.
Negotiate the terrain, escape the crowds, duck down, climb higher or lay on the ground; these are all tactics in every great travel photographer’s arsenal and give you an opportunity to capture the subject in a different and hopefully more interesting way.
Most of all, to get that shot you’ve always envisioned you need to be prepared to wait.
Great photographers often return to a location numerous times before finding the “perfect” conditions for their photograph. Hobbyist travel photographers on a tight schedule do not have this luxury, but even waiting for a sun to shift slightly, for crowds to dissipate or for that interesting character to wander into your shot could vastly improve your travel photos.