11 Things Any Travel Photographer Wannabe Can Do To WIN At Photos...TODAY

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/sunset-in-manarola-cinque-terre-italy-gm538749607-58328610

Three out of every five persons have my condition…(I think anyways.)

You probably know me, well sort of. You know me, or someone very much like me - in your circle of friends, your family, your co-workers. I’m the one who could easily be dubbed a ‘photographer wannabe.’

Oh sure, I have the tools needed like many of you - my smartphone (OMG - thank goodness for their ease!), a camera, and even a video camera. What I didn’t have, was any freakin’ idea how to use them really well, but rather just a super bad case of IPE.

If there are any physicians reading this - STOP - before you go check any medical journal to see what you might have missed out on, relax. You won’t find it there ...yet, but I am POSITIVE I’m not alone in this embarrassing condition.

IPE is Instagram Photo Envy.

If you’ve ever spent any time on Instagram or the like, you will see TONS of well-crafted, perfectly poised photos, colour coordinated layouts, with filters, and what not, SHOWING the story vs telling. This is simply fascinating to me (said in my best Spock voice).

And yes, I ENVY the seeming magic to make these come out so well. How in the F do they know how to do all these things - the angles, the focus point, etc??? It’s mind-boggling to this photographer wannabe!

I know it’s absodamnlutely vital to what I do as a digital nomad because, well, travel and photography are two things that were made for each other. If only I can get pics like the Instagram heroes I follow - to show vs tell!

I’ve spent time recently in Costa Rica, Panama, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Spain, and I’m now exploring Italy. These are places that are just PERFECT for great photos so I became hellbent on learning how to make my photos Instagram worthy too!

So, as I’ve leapfrogged the globe, I consulted the great all-knowing oracle of Google, and immersed myself in sourced photography tutorials and how-to guides to enhance my skills with a camera. And one glorious link after another led me to a genius website called PhotographyTalk, whose mission is to empower photographers of all skill levels to take their best shot. Outfreakinstandin!

I gotta tell you, this site has a TON of resources for non-techy’s like me! And for even the well-seasoned photographer! I found tip after tip, after tip that I found hugely helpful and the best cure for my IPE suffering and I hope for yours too! Here are some of my faves and most impactful...

Indiana Jones Your Trip

https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/travel-planning-concept-on-map-gm891573112-246883416

One of my heroes of travel and adventure is Indiana Jones. And the one thing you can be sure he never left on an adventure without (besides that wicked hat and whip of his) was a map or a plan! He knew where he was going to search for his treasure!

You gotta be like him. Dig into that great oracle of Google again and research out the sites and people you want to see at your destination BEFORE you leave home. This saves you a ton of grief (and time) later vs being cooped up in your hotel room for hours doing research.

The more you know about a person and his or her way of life, or a place and its surrounding area, the more accurately and intimately you can depict it in a photograph.

Get Into It

https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/indian-street-seller-in-kathmandu-gm636774732-113176003

Building on the previous insight, the pics you take when you travel aren’t just a snapshot of a moment in time. Instead, they are the very way you tell the story of your journey. Remember? Show vs Tell.

But to really deep dive into a great story, you have to actually experience what you’re doing and where you are. That means getting into it - get into the place where you are. Find the places off the beaten path where the most locals are enjoying food (NOT the touristy places), listen to the local music, or simply do some people watching for a few minutes as you sit and relax.

Remember, you’re a traveler first and a hunter of the story second. Get out from behind the lens, have some experiences, and use what you learn as the “paint” for creating more impactful images of your travels.

Make It Official - Use A Tripod

https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/outdoor-photography-in-istanbul-turkey-gm648576208-118426737

Yes, the idea of dragging around a tripod around as I travel did not originally resonate with me, but I can assure you after trying it - if you shoot with a tripod, your images will be so much better!

For starters, a tripod stabilizes everything for you which gets you sharper images. I can’t even begin to recount for you the number of blurred shots I had before getting my travel tripod! Ugh!

Secondly, using a tripod helps you slow things down.

I know that sometimes I get totally jazzed about a new place with all there is to see and do and that rushed feeling often showed up in my photos.

By using a tripod, I’ve been forced to hit my internal pause button while I mount my camera and frame up the shot. I’ve now found this a great time to really think about things like lighting, composition, and framing. All those things needed for Instagram Hero making!

Keep It Light

https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/rear-view-of-female-traveler-wearing-black-shoulder-bag-with-colourful-houses-blurred-gm681154668-124967053

Let’s face it - with baggage fees skyrocketing, you definitely don’t want to cart a ton of photography gear around, so it’s vital to only take what’s absofreakinlutely necessary.

Get yourself one of the new lightweight, foldable, often bendable travel tripods to make your life far easier. The one I have allows me to even hang my camera from the weirdest positions!

Also be super choosy on the number and types of lenses you take with you. One zoom lens, like a 24-70mm, and one prime lens, like a 50mm, will be PERF for most situations.

James Taylor Your Travel Style

https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/im-going-to-fill-my-camera-with-memories-gm504342443-44866726

One of my fave tunes of James Taylor is “You’ve Got A Friend” and as any world traveler knows being friendly, and making friends along the way makes all the difference in your trip! Well I’ve learned that you’ll also get amazetacular photos of the locals if you’re friendly with them!

Admittedly, that can be tough sometimes given language barriers, cultural differences, let alone just approaching a complete stranger about a photo! So do a bit of homework in advance on some key phrases you might need to get a conversation going, about taking a picture, and I’ve found it becomes far easier each time!

You’d be amazed at how far a simple smile and a wave will get you!

Hidden Treasure Hunting

https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/woman-in-the-train-gm542692908-97188627

Now with your newly made local friends, it’s important to ask them about the hidden treasures of their world.

Oh sure, you can always just hit the touristy “hot spots” wherever you travel, but a real Instagram Hero goes off the beaten path again to get into the hidden treasures! These are great opportunities to show that which hasn’t been shown before!

You’ll likely find that your local friends will be delighted to be asked to share what they know about their neighbourhood!

Let It Go

https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/traveler-or-hiker-in-the-mountains-gm619048710-107877361

When I first started traveling, I was a crazed wild woman, bouncing from spot to spot, hellbent on furiously taking in every possible site and my photos were equally frenzied, like a paparazzi chasing after some well-heeled celeb!

Well, I’m not afraid to tell you - it’s exhausting, and my pics came out like crap because I was rushing the whole time, not taking the time to set up the shots, to choose to do all the science of the art.

Trust me when I say that this approach will only make you an Instagram Zero vs an Instagram Hero!

Instead, I learned that things go far better when I let it go, and just CONCENTRATE on taking the best photos of fewer places, as opposed to capturing so-so photos of absolutely everything I see.

Be A Rebel

https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/panoramic-aerial-view-of-cabo-san-lucas-mexico-gm619089656-107921637

One surefire way to create a total yawner of a photo is to take it from the same tired perspective, or angle, as everyone else.

There’s nothing wrong with taking the first photo from your eye level, but after that, challenge yourself to be a rebel and find some new perspectives by experimenting with different angles. Think outside the proverbial box of typical photo shots!

https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/different-point-of-view-gm623451098-109352493

Go low to the ground for a worm’s eye view. Go high for a bird’s eye view. Experiment with wide-angle shots, standard shots, and telephoto shots as well. Just have some fun with ‘em!

Much like shooting with a tripod, the point here is to slow yourself down and allow yourself a few minutes to explore each area. The more you wander around and PLAY with the angles you shoot from, the more opportunities you have to take some FANTABULOUS travel photos.

Light One Up

https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/savanna-sunrise-and-acacia-tree-in-tanzania-africa-gm621359868-108486303

No, I wasn’t suggesting that you light up anything funky while shooting, (although I suppose you could), my intrepid traveler.

Rather, I’m talking about the light of your shot! And by far, the BEST light of the day is right after sunrise and right before sunset.

So, if you want to capture the drama and beauty of that light, that means you need to get up before all the other tourists and stay out after they’ve all headed back to the hotel.

Known as the ‘Golden Hour’, this period after sunrise and before sunset offers soft, warm, and diffuse light that’s absolutely PERF for landscapes, architecture, and portraits, to name a few.

Jump Off The Cliff

https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/woman-using-dslr-camera-gm866162900-144033609

The hardest thing for me to learn to do was to jump off the cliff of ‘full auto’ mode. It was the safety blanket I’d been relying on all these years. BUT it was also, I learned, what was holding me back from Instagram greatness!

I get it now - full auto mode is great for learning the basics of photography, but it doesn’t give you all the control you need to get the best photos.

But don’t worry - that doesn’t mean that you have to go to the other extreme and shoot in full manual mode, either.

Simply get to know your camera’s other settings - the semi-automatic ones, like aperture priority, shutter priority, and program mode. With these, I’ve been able to totally rock my shots with far greater control over everything from exposure to depth of field to how motion looks in my pics.

BUT, trust me - don’t wait until you’re out on the road to learn how to use these modes, though. This is an adventure best learned when you aren’t on your travel clock. Spend some time at home perfecting your understanding of how to use each one.

Be Curious, But Respectful

https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/african-little-girl-from-samburu-tribe-drinking-fresh-gm636334882-112835521

One of my most fave things as a digital nomad is getting to know the people of different places and as any traveler vs tourist can tell you, the world is FILLED with people that are warm, open, inviting, and caring - far more so than we are led to believe.

So soak each place up! Know its people, know their song, their vibrancy - find the common humanity we all share. Be curious. Ask questions. Take photos of everything you can think of, but of course, being mindful too to do it in a way that is respectful of the people and traditions you encounter.

After all is said and done, I went into my travel photography hoping to end my Instagram Photo Envy suffering, but what I gained in taking the time to learn this craft well, is that the people whom I’ve been privileged to meet (and will meet) DESERVE my best in showing their story vs mine.

My hope is that your experiences, and their photos, will be just as rich and treasure-laden!