Taking Great Travel Photos (Part 2 of 2)

Hope you enjoyed Part 1 of our travel photography tips. We got such a great response (and a shoutout on Elle.com) that we’ll find some excuses to bring professional photographer (and friend of hipmunk) Mike Scrivener back onto the blog. Now without further ado, here’s Part 2!

Use your surroundings

Get creative. Low-light scenes (interiors, dusk, etc.) require longer shutter speeds in order to properly expose an image, but can evoke a powerful mood.

In these instances, you have two options: use your flash or use a tripod.

I always try to avoid using flash if possible; some places won’t even let you use it. Lugging around a tripod is annoying so, instead of using a tripod, try to use your surroundings to steady the camera. If you’re looking for a portable tripod, the Gorillapod is a versatile small option you’ve probably seen around.


Change your perspective

Whether you’re shooting a person, building, or landscape, don’t just standback with your feet firmly affixed to the ground.

Change your perspective and move around: get low to the ground, move closer to the subject, then further away, approach it from the front and then the sides.

If you’re standing in front of a massive structure – like the Duomo in Florence (see below) – get a shot from far away, and then, to really emphasize its size, move in close, get low, zoom wide and shoot it looking up. The lower perspective, combined with the distortion caused by the wide focal length, really exaggerates and emphasizes the size of the building.


Photographing friends and family

We all have tons of traditional vacation photos, with the subject standing in front of something, smiling at the camera. Those photos are fine and good, and i’ve taken tons of them, but rarely are they the kind of shot that will make you stand up and take notice.

Try to move your subject out of the center of the frame, put them off to the side, take a shot of them from behind looking at something. Again, don’t be afraid to change your perspective; shoot from up high looking down or vice versa; get in close, pull back.

Be a documentarian and capture the candid, spontaneous shots. If your subject is somewhere interesting, try tocapture that sense of place in your image and place your subject as part of the scene, not separated and standing in front of it.

At City Lights Books in San Francisco, I took the standard picture of Kath (a passionate reader and writer) outside of the building, but this shot of her sitting in the store, reading, surrounded by books, really speaks to what it was like to be there.


Photographing strangers

Approaching strangers to ask for their photos can be nerve-wracking, but most people really don’t mind having their picture takenand, sometimes, they might even take it as a compliment.

The important thing is to treat them like a person and not just some object to point your lens at. Walk up to them, say “hello” (ideally in their language — if you’re in a non-English-speaking country, it’s always worth learning a few words), introduce yourself, spend a minute talking to them; if they are a shopkeeper, spend some time browsing their goods, etc.

Thenafter you’ve made an attempt to get to know them and developed some sort of comfort level, show them your camera and ask them if you can take a picture.

Their first reaction is usually be to smile for the camera, so take a shot or two of them doing that and then ask for an shot of them just going about their business.

Typically, you’ll find that those candid shots are the ones that are the strongest. Also, try to tell something about who the person is in your picture. Are they selling spices in an open air market? Incorporate the spices and market in the image or, even better, show their hands covered in various colors from the spices.

Always try to avoid shooting strangers papparazzi style. No one wants that (well, maybe Paris Hilton). In some places, you might have to offer a tip in order to take someone’s picture (this was especially true in Egypt, for instance).


The world is full of so many wondrous places to explore, we hope you’ll bring your camera with you. Armed with a few our photography tips, we hope you’ll come back with some memorable photos. Please share your best ones with us!

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