Even though we should focus on living and enjoying the moment everywhere we go, most of us spend part of our trip looking through the lens with hopes of capturing those moments and places we experienced as a lasting memory of our journey. Nothing wrong with that, of course, we all do it. We love to look at and share those pixel memories, a.k.a. photos, with our friends and family over social media.
But, if we are going to spend part of our trip looking through the glass, then why not try to take the best photos possible? Here are five basic tips that will help you improve your photos, whether you’re shooting with a smartphone, point and shoot, or DSLR.
These days, even smartphones have the capacity of shooting professional looking images worthy of being displayed in a gallery. But, to get those excellent shots, you must first familiarize yourself with every button, every option, and every menu in it to understand what are they used for and know how they affect and improve each image.
Can your phone or DSLR camera shoot HDR? Should you use it? When? Can you adjust the aperture and shutter speed manually? Maybe change the ISO? By the way, all DSLR and pretty much all smartphones do all this. These terms might sound complicated if you’re new to photography, but they are just the basic settings that if set properly, will improve your photography exponentially. In this case, the user’s manual is your best friend. Read it, learn it and your photos will improve.
Knowing your camera is a great start, but no matter how much you know your camera, if you don’t know what to shoot, then your photos will never be great. Most travelers have an idea of the places they want to visit during their trip and do some research before going there. In a similar way, you can research the shots you want to take in any given site by searching images online and seeing which ones appeal to you the most. Try to recreate the best shots and create your own story with these pictures.
At the same time, don’t just focus on these shots. Be spontaneous and photograph any action happening around you - the lady serving bread at the local market, the doves flying above you in the square, the local band playing on the street corner, etc. These pictures sometimes tell an even more compelling story and bring life not only to your images but your trip in general.
Sometimes the perfect picture comes out right on the first shot, but most of the time, it takes a few tries and a series of adjustments to get to the point where you’re really happy with the capture.
Treat your smartphone or DSLR like a professional camera. Each time you take a picture, look at your camera screen to see if it is focused, if the brightness and contrasts are appealing, if the subjects are easily identifiable, if their faces are not too dark, if you included in the shot everything you wanted to capture, and so on.
Sometimes, just changing the angle of the image by placing the camera higher or lower than eye level helps improve the composition dramatically. Take several shots and adjust the aperture and shutter speed to see which one works better. Change position by walking to another spot or by rotating your angle.
These simple adjustments, if practiced often, will not only give you different perspectives of the same place but also help you improve your skills.
This is a reinforcing point of what I’ve said previously. Play with each image setup, and when comfortable, adjust all the settings manually. This is what people refer to "going manual."
Cameras are fully automated these days, and they do a great job snapping beautiful pictures. But, our eyes are better at capturing light than a camera is, so sometimes a better shot is taken when we take control of the aperture, time exposure, ISO, and other variables that define the quality of an image.
While I do still take pictures in auto on a daily basis, I do like to get out of auto (manual) when I know there’s potential to improve the image. Like for example, when there’s lower lighting (like a sunset or night shot), when I want to play with movement (like moving people or a waterfall), or when I want to introduce any other artistic effect in the shot.
It is common for us to see a beautiful sunset, take a picture, and then look back at it and feel like it looks quite dull compared to the real experience. As I mentioned before, our eyes capture light and color much better than a camera, and that’s why we edit our images, to bring them closer to what we saw. And in some cases, we edit to get a bit creative with filters and coloring to establish a mood and ambiance for the story.
There are dozens of photo editing programs for desktop and laptop computers, but the two most popular and powerful out there are Photoshop and Lightroom. For iPhone pictures, I recommend the Snapseed app and VSCO.
But, before you go crazy editing your images, know that over editing can instead ruin them, so edit with caution.
Now, it’s time to grab your camera, step outside, and start practicing these tips!
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Norbert Figueroa is an architect who hit the pause button on his career in 2011 to do a round the world trip. He's been blogging for over three years at globotreks.com, where he shares his travel experiences, budget travel tips, and a good dose of world architecture. From hiking Mount Kilimanjaro to diving with great white sharks, he is always on the search of adrenaline and adventure. Norbert is originally from Puerto Rico and he is currently based in Milan, Italy... when not roaming around the world, that is. He has traveled to more than 80 countries in 5 continents and his goal is to travel to all 193 U.N. recognized countries. Follow Norbert on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus.
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