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Top 10 Tips for Travel Photography

Let's face it. Trial and error is a major part of photography. I have come back from countless early mornings without a single decent photo. Yet, when I am able to capture a stunning sunrise with everything coming together it becomes entirely worth it.
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By College Tourist; Author: Kevin Walsh, Bridgewater State University

Document Your Travel Adventure With These Travel Photography Must Do's

As you are currently packing your bags and planning for your next adventure, whether it's that weekend trip to a new city, or a new country all together, you'll be thinking about what experience you'll end up having. Being able to document it for yourself to the best of your ability may be very important to you, especially for when you share it with your friends or family.

After studying abroad in Florence, Italy for a semester, I fell in love with travel photography. The chance to experience another culture and attempt to highlight their way of life through photography was invigorating for me. Every chance I had I was wandering the cobblestone streets of the birthplace of the Renaissance looking for that next moment to capture. Mind you, before boarding the plane to Italy, I had zero experience with any camera. I started off the semester without having any real understanding of exposure, ISO or any compositional values other than what came naturally to me. I hope I can guide you with some basic principles I've discovered since coming home from abroad with these Top Ten Tips for Travel Photography.

1.Whatever Camera It Is, Get to Know It! - Whether it's your smartphone or that fancy new DSLR you have no idea how to use: do your research! One thing I have learned is that the less time you need to mess around with your gear, the better you'll be able to capture that great photo you were trying to get in the first place. The biggest help I've received to understand all of the buttons and techniques for my camera gear has come from Youtube tutorials online. You would be surprised at the level of professional help you can get for free if you simply dedicate some time to look for it.

Oak Bluffs Fishing Pier at 5:26 am, Martha's Vineyard, MA

2.Get Up Early - Let's face it. Trial and error is a major part of photography. I have come back from countless early mornings without a single decent photo. Yet, when I am able to capture a stunning sunrise with everything coming together it becomes entirely worth it.

3. Do Things Differently - We've all seen the same boring photo of the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum. Try to get creative! One thing I always ask myself is, "Can anyone take this photo?" Always keep in mind what elements are in your composition; lighting, people, distracting objects, all of which can take away from the moment in which you're trying to capture. One thing I have recently been experimenting with is reflections. Whether it's a puddle or a store window, try to capture some interesting places with the help of tools at your disposal you would normally overlook

4.Get Lost - Wandering around my host city of Florence was incredible. I would always find myself outside instead of in my apartment in order to discover new streets and hidden gems. Get lost, ask questions (even though you may struggle with only your basic understanding of the language) and most importantly, have fun. You only have a limited time in whichever amazing place you've traveled to. Some of my best photographs, whether abroad or back in the States, have been the result of turning onto that random road I had never been down before. But of course, use common sense. No need to wander down that dark alley at 2 in the morning and have your valuables stolen from you.

Walking amongst locals, Florence, Italy

5. Interact - The only way you will get better at taking photos is if you practice. One thing I regretted not doing while abroad was interacting more with the locals in an attempt to better learn their story. While asking if you may take their portrait, be confident. This goes back to tip number one, but be ready with your gear and try to do it quickly so you don't take up their time and make them uncomfortable. Incorporate details such as the objects they carry with them or the environment they're in to tell their story more accurately. Many people have the fear of being rejected. If the person says no, say "thank you" and move on.

6.You don't need an expensive camera - I have seen some fascinating images come from people who only shoot with their smartphone. With social media apps such as Instagram, a fast and easy way to share and become inspired is only a couple of taps away. For editing photos on my iPhone, I like to use a couple of apps. Snapseed and Enlight help bring out the details and establishes the feel you may be going for. Other apps such as Sky Guide and Rise are great for planning out where the light can be during certain times of the day including where the sun rises and sets. For more advanced photographers, these can help determine where the Milky Way is positioned in the sky for phenomenal astro-photography.

7. Tell a Story With Your Photographs - Try to switch things up a bit with your photography and never stick to the same type of photos. If you're using your social media platforms to tell the story of your time abroad, try to incorporate all types of elements into it. Portraits, landscapes and food photography help add depth to your story telling and will allow you to practice in each field. Focus on the most intriguing details in each and always keep an open mind to constructive criticism.

8. Research Where You're Going... to a Point - I believe in balanced preparation. Before boarding that train to some remote area, do some research on a number of things. Weather, cultural no no's, events happening in the area, etc. I rather be prepared for the worst than not at all. At the same time, go with the flow. Missed planes happen, luggage gets lost, annoying situations can arise from anything. The best way to approach them is with an open mind. From a photographer's perspective, try to find the lesser known gems of a location. As I said before, anyone can visit Paris and snap a photo of the Eiffel Tower. By all means get the classic photo, but at the same time try to find a unique way to make the place special to you by photographing a situation you enjoyed, such as the journey getting there or the cuisine of an incredible restaurant you went to.

East Chop, Martha's Vineyard, MA

9. Be Patient - Many photos you see are the result of great patience. Wait for the chance to get that one person who walks through your landscape to allow for a sense of scale. Your schedule may be filled with only quick chances to take photographs since you have many sights to cover, but early or afternoon light provides the best atmosphere for photos. Harsh light in the middle of the day washes out minor details in your subject whereas soft light can accent it properly.

One of my first photographs abroad, Piazza della Repubblica, Florence, Italy

10.Put the Camera Down Every Now and Then - Ironic, right? It's one of the most important values in travel photography. Yes, you are attempting to document your trip in the most unique way possible, but I see people far too often take that breathtaking photo, only to look at the result on the screen and immediately walk away. Think about where you are. Take the time to understand the depth of its importance for the culture around you. You don't get to see Michelangelo's "David" in person every day, or experience an authentic Italian meal in the hillsides of Tuscany very often. Be sure to dedicate some time to value how fortunate you are to experience such a place.

Our experiences are shaped by the places we go, people we meet and everything along the way. Travel photography to me is the culmination of all of those wrapped in one. Documenting my travels provides me with a sense of happiness, as well as some fond memories to look back on. Whatever your goal is when you travel, enjoy it. And most importantly, never stop exploring!

If you have any questions regarding advanced methods of travel photography such as technical settings as well as what gear I recommend, feel free to email me at If you enjoyed this article, follow me on Instagram @kevinrawalsh!

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