Solo Travel Pictures: Getting Great Shots!

Homes overlooking the seas in Positano, Italy.

If you go on a trip, one of the most exciting parts is sharing the photos with your friends when you return, or posting some highlights to social media. One of the biggest dreads that we don’t tell our friends is when the photos are bad and we see that + 20 (or more) symbol on Facebook, meaning there are many more. Usually you just click like and hardly ever finish looking at them. Most of us are not professionals but we still want to take decent photos. There are several tips on how to take good solo travel pictures that involve more than just learning to point your camera! Getting great shots sometimes takes work! Like the one of Positano to open this article, I had to lug my big butt up some steep hill to get it. Luckily I had a Snickers bar and a Diet Coke. (No comments please haha!)

Learn Your Camera’s Basics

Admittedly many of us have more camera than we need. We have the latest and greatest and think the expensive one can guarantee us great photos. Not true. An expert can use your phone and take pictures better than you using his pro gear in most cases. Even if you have just a $200 dollar point and shoot or a nice camera phone, learn how to use the basic functions along with a few extra modifications. Practice. Some cameras take great pics in auto mode but the more you practice the better you will be! Try to learn to get out of auto! (I like this guys vids!) He explains things so well and makes complicated stuff sound easier!

Location, Location, Location

If you travel partially because you are a photography buff, then plan a trip to a locale that you not only enjoy, but offers you the type of scenery that floats your boat. For a city street photographer, there is only but so much stimulation for you in say, Bora Bora. But Barcelona? Different story. Also, when to go may matter. Research what the pros say about certain locations at certain times of the year. The lighting is different, the weather is different, the possibilities are different. The amount of people may or may not matter to you. The events happening may be a reason to stay or go. You decide. Certain cities during festive times offer a new range of possibilities versus that same city during regular times. Maybe you want the quieter times.

What Time Is It? (light, light, light)

Pay attention to the time you may be near some iconic places you may want to shoot. The golden light of early hours of early eve/late afternoon hours change your possibilities. The high noon sun of late morning to mid afternoon can be too bright for a certain shot you may want and the softer light of the golden times offers that warm soft light. The brighter sun could make you a better photographer because you may have to work harder by changing position, and angles and seeking shades while trying to capture shots that won’t be hurt by the harsh light. Find tips on taking shots in the harsh sun and carry a small reflector to help easily fill in light on close subjects where the sun behind creates too much shadow in front of the subject. I was told to think about the light, not the view!

et-people watching-seaside-plaza

Know Your Rule Of Thirds…

I remember just pointing at anything and trying to copy what I saw pros doing. I knew always putting the subject in the middle was boring and a lot of dead space in a picture wasn’t good. I just felt that. When someone explained to me the rule of thirds, I thought it was genius! When I explained it to a friend last year he thought I was a genius haha! Nowadays you can crop some bad pics into the proper grid, but take time to go online to any of a billion free tutorials and learn it. Then you will understand that grid box thing on your camera that you turn off! Knowing the rule of thirds helps understanding many photographers basic rule of thumb.

…But, Know it is OK To Break Rules!

Ultimately it comes down to you, but there are other types of composition possible. A lonely tree in a field with the rule of thirds may have no counterpart! Nothing in the other vertical line area to cause tension in the scene, therefore interest, or balance in some artists eyes. Hmmmmm…I’m just the messenger!

Fill the Frame

Decide what your subject is and try to give it more space in the frame. It changes the focus of the viewers eyes and directs them to the important part of the image. Also know when not to follow this rule because sometimes what is in the background may help with context. But if you really want the viewer to focus on that subject, get closer.

Swiss Alps in Spring

Use The Rain

Many photos taken just after the rain can be so much better than a bright sunny day! The color change can go from too hot to softened by the water on some materials that absorb some moisture. Look at leaves and trees just after the rain and see the effect on the darker bark and leaves a little greener at times. There are chances for reflection and the gray cast of cities can be juxtaposed with the colors of signs, neon, clothes, brakelights and such. The ominous clouds add good parts to pictures.

archway-stone- street

Limit Your “I Was Here Shots”

We know you went to Rome. You are standing in every shot. We know what you look like. We have known you for years. Sometimes your selfies are too much of you and not enough of what we want to see that you saw. If your trip to London is just more selfies than why would we look. You take that picture on Instagram weekly. I particularly hate these. Unfortunately I skip many people’s entire trip account because that is all there is.

Change Position, Change Perspective

We all want that picture of that iconic scene or building we have been looking at our whole lives. We want to see it with our own eyes. Take that picture that you always wanted. It may be the same as everyone else but it is yours! Now change the view! Kneel down, look up, look down, get close, get back, wait until evening…anything to get a different view of the iconic!

My solo travel picture of St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal, Canada!

Take a Camera Everywhere!

You may not feel like bringing any gear today or tonight. Sometimes that is when we regret it! Even a backup pocket point n’ shoot can capture something we didn’t expect to see and make us so happy we had it! And a high end DSLR or mirrorless isn’t always everyone’s cup of tea! There are so many options for pocket point and shoots , but I see the Sony RX series on so many lists! The latest and greatest being near $1000 dollars but this excellent one here at  Amazon is a little easier on the wallet!

Bring a Tripod!

Even if it’s one of the little ones or a travel tripod it gives you options. You may or may not take it with you all the time but when you have it in low light or a  tough setting where you struggle to be still or need to use slower shutter speeds, you will be happy. Tripods can be expensive and in need of a new one brings me to PrimaPhoto with a lower price and good rep. (Here)

Bring Extra Backup!

Extra storage cards are a priority! Don’t get stuck needing one when there should always be one in your gear bag! If you are filling one up then download tonight to be ready for the next day! Plan out your gear for this particular trip! If it amounts to just a point and shoot or a camera phone, make sure you have space for your pics! Make sure you have a keep dry plan even if just amounts to a hefty bag and running under an awning. Don’t go out in the rain even it stops without an emergency keep-it-dry! Even a waterproof camera bag needs a bag cover if you are the nervous type. As far as back-up gear..ditto the memory card advice and apply it to batteries!

Keep it Dry!

Moisture is dangerous to your camera. Bring extra lens wipes and try to avoid taking your camera from an cool dry environment with a cool camera directly into a warm humid moisture filled place. Your camera will fog up and moisture inside the lenses is a no no! Keep your camera in a plastic bag sealed. A big ziplock works. Let it warm up slowly before whipping it out right away. When you enter for the night if you are worried make sure your room is dry and let everything sit out and dry. If there is a warm DRY place to keep it for the night then do so. It will warm up inside your camera bag quicker if it is not ice air conditioning cold.. You want the smallest change in temps possible and the dryest options. If you are worried, avoid being out in the wet without a retreat to stand under. No open field on those days for me.

Remember the Rice

You can always buy rice or dry beans. Keep a ziplock bag full of it in an emergency. This is helpful to keep in your gear bag in humid environments. Silica dry packs! (Here). These will help absorb any moisture from your gear surrounds. Keep your gear bag sealed.

There are a many tips from many good photographers. A couple more are have patience! You may have to wait an hour to get the shot you really want for various reasons from light, to crowd. You came all of this way so be patient. I am working on that one. Don’t let people you may be with get in the way. They may not care as much as you. If you are not traveling solo, then split up for a few hours (during good light),go solo and get some shots in and meet up later! Get used to asking locals if they mind if you shoot them. Sometimes in street photography you can use cars and objects to hide behind and  sneak shots but don’t disrespect someone. “Do you mind if I..” goes a long way. If you really want that shot, in developing places dropping some change should not be a problem if you really want that shot. In Thailand  most of the ladies selling you noodles don’t care, if you buy and tip first……most anyway.

Keep Snapping But Take Time To Enjoy!

Take several shots of everything you like. Take many shots of some things that are not always your cup of tea but just say something to you. At some point though, put down the lens and just take in what you see so you can remember it through your own physical and emotional experience. Just relax in front of your favorite scenes and take it in. You came a long way to see it and to feel it so get a drink or a snack and hang out!

mosque

Whatever you do, take a look at some flights and start your journey in your mind! Hope to see you on the road!

8 Comments

  1. Thank you for some great tips and the wonderful photos.
    I agree with you about selfies, too many people feel they have to be in every photo they take when I would prefer to see the scenary of the place they are visiting which may inspire me to visit.
    Just out of interest what camera do you use?

    1. The Italy photos and the Morocco photos are mine. I took those with a Sony a6000 mirrorless. I am still learning how to uses it but since the newer a6300/a6500 models came out, the price is better for it. Body only or 1-2 kit lenses. It is a great camera for travel! Hey I do appreciate you stopping by! Best of luck!

  2. The rule of thirds is something I hadn’t heard of before. Great Pictures! Do you have a recommendation for a camera phone? What about the lens that attached to the phones?

    1. I am sorry my friend but I personally don’t take too many travel pics with a phone. Though I would say from using them for everyday shots that I have seen all of the most popular top phones like the latest iphones, samsungs and googles leading the way. There are folks out there with the attachable lenses taking great pics though. I just don’t enjoy taking pics that way. One of the main problems many people have is just snapping with them without using manual settings. You get what you get when you could get better if you learn more. But I am a novice so I won’t begin to try to teach!

  3. Thomas, your pictures are amazing. I love the depth of the one in the alleyway with the arch. Great pictures and great writings. I look forward to seeing more.

    1. That particular pic isn’t my personal one! I am trying to tag my own shots with the location written in text on the image such as the main shot of Positano at the beginning of the article! I do appreciate you for coming by!!!

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