Anybody can take a cool travel photo these days. We have camera phones, GoPros, affordable quality cameras, apps, Snapchat, and the list goes on and on. If you want your photos to stand out in the crowd, you have to get more creative than your average Instagrammer.
Whether you’re a photoblogger or a vacationing parent, get the most out of your photos by trying out these tips and techniques! After all, your best souvenirs are the memories you capture on camera.
1. Shots from Above
You can capture so much more when shooting from a high angle! Sweeping vistas ae a popular travel photo shot, but why not short directly down and zoom in? You’ll be amazed at how interesting shots look from directly above. Having a drone comes in handy for this, but you can achieve similar results with your regular camera!
2. Ants-Eye View
What’s hanging out down there, between the blades of grass and along the cracks of the sidewalk? Get shots of scrunched-up cans, rocks, and bugs. Only the perceptive may notice that these things are different from place to place. Get those little things on film.
3. Use Reflection
Windows, mirrors, lakes, and sunglasses—there are so many things to use! Find interesting reflections on everyday objects, and discover the fabulous symmetry you can find there. Naturally, you have to get the iconic aviators reflection photo. And don’t forget to capture yourself once in a while!
4. Look for Contrasts
Monochromatic scenes are classy, but contrasting colors are eye-grabbing. Frame something bright on a dark background, or search out contrasting colors. A pink flower among green foliage, a dazzling redhead against gray rock. Find something that grabs you and keep it forever on film.
5. Find Something Unexpected
Education majors will tell you that getting attention in teaching is all about incongruence; you speak loudly or softly, bring in very large or very small teaching aides, or find something quite out of place to captivate your students’ attention. Kids are no different than your photography audience! People look a little longer at things that are unexpected. So go out there with your camera and capture something odd: a funny trinket, an underside angle of a car, a yellow boat on a sea of blue.
6. Use a Selfie Stick without Looking Like a Weirdo
We’ve all seen those tourists, and we shudder. You know, the ones who distort themselves into fantastic contortions in order to fit themselves and seventeen friends in a selfie stick photo. And then, after all that public humiliation, they end up with the stick and a deformed-looking gargantuan hand in their photo! Selfie stick pics don’t have to look that way, so don’t be scared to use one. Learn how to do it right, then try it out.
7. Use a Selfie Stick to Get the Right Angles (of anything but yourself)
You already (hopefully) know that you Facebook friends don’t want to see five thousand selfies of you on vacation. So use a selfie stick to get something else: a new perspective on those hard-to-get snapshots.
Photo by Christopher Johnson
This is a quirky, dorky, and possibly corny way to take travel photos, but can you really hate it? Take photos with plastic dinosaurs as your subject to add a little fun to your photos. Depending on what toys your kids have laying around, Spiderman and Lightning McQueen might want to get in on the action, too!
9. Get New Angle on Architecture
Don’t let you Eiffel Tower photos look like everyone else’s. Why take photos that you could just find on the internet? Grab a unique angle and make your photos something to look at.
10. Capture Local Life
Photo by Marcus Puschmann
Although you may find the occasional accommodating average Joe who thinks it’s fun to pose for you, people generally don’t like tourists take portrait-style photos of them while they’re trying to do their thing. This can be frustrating when you want to capture everyday life, but there ae other ways to do the exact same thing. Get wide shots of residential or commercial areas to show what the locals do.
11. Reach for the Sky
Skylines look good with a lot of sky filling most of the frame.
12. Unique Food
Don’t take a bazillion foodies. Save them for the interesting foods that look really cool or different.
13. Shoot Cars & Modes of Transportation
Photo by Cee Neuner
Transportation modes and appearances vary from place to place, so don’t forget to capture them. Car photos also capture time, since transportation varies from year to year, as well.
14. Flower Macros
Classic, but never old. Extra points for getting a bug on the flower, too.
15. Focus on the Unexpected
Photo by Bruno Nascimento
There are an unending number of things you could focus on in any given place, and some are more obvious than others. Now and then, why not focus on something unexpected? Instead of taking a picture of a house, fill the frame with the trim on the roof.
Quintessential romantic travel photos inevitably have sunsets. And sunsets can never be overdone, so keep on doing them! Silhouettes of palm trees and lake reflections are two undying classics, but it never hurts to be creative.
17. Use Doors and Windows
Any kind of opening will do, really. These can be tricky unless you know your way around the settings on your camera or you have really lucky lighting. The work is worth it, though. The image you’re after should be framed in the opening, although cool exteriors are gravy.
18. Focus on Pavement
Photo by Marcus Puschmann
It may seem weird, but pavement can actually say a lot about a place! Cobblestones, cracked asphalt, flowers growing out of the concrete. Don’t forget about this little details.
19. Get Up Early
Wait, you protest, getting up early is no fun on vacation! True. But if you really want some nice early morning shots, you’ll need to make this sacrifice.
20. Seek Out Wear and Tear
Grungy shots are in. Plus, they make fantastic background photos for everything from coffee table books to your Facebook profile! Find faded paint, ripped sails, peeling paint—all of that is photography gold.
21. Love Graffiti
Sure, it generally looks pretty gross in all its glory, but if you can get the right shot and the right angle, it can look pretty cool. Street art is also very awesome.
22. Be Cool with People (As Long As They are Cool With You)
You have two options if you want to keep people out of your photos: you can wait for them to leave or Photoshop them out. Or, you can just leave them in. After all, what’s a destination without the locals? Or the tourists, for that matter?
23. Zoom in as Far as You Can
Zoom in on the little details. Don’t worry about the larger picture being recognizable; focus on that button or that bit of lace to make an interesting and slightly abstract photo. It’s fun to make this sort of photo into a game. Ask your social media or blog followers to ty to identify the location or object depicted, and see how many can get it right!
24. Shoot on Sport Mode
Sports mode isn’t usually as artsy, of course, but it’s a good idea to walk around with your camera set to it. Then, if you have the chance to catch something unexpected or something that’s moving fast, you’re already ready.
25. Get In Your Photos
It’s easy to get caught in the artistry of photography, but don’t be a ghost! Ask someone to take your photo once in a while, or set it on self-timer. Another fun way to get yourself in the frame: shoot into mirroring surfaces. You can shoot some very creative selfies in this way.
26. Keep it Casual
Don’t try to arrange everything perfectly. Take quick shots as you go: a chef sprinkling cheese, a kid kicking a ball, a smile hello.
27. Stop Smiling
That grin of yours is in every single photo of every vacation you’ve ever been on. Switch it up! Keep a straight face, a wandering gaze, or play casual. It makes your photos a lot more interesting.
28. Get on a Kid’s Level
Photo by Breana Johnson
You could hand you camera to a kid, which actually isn’t a bad plan if you’re not afraid of risking loss or damage. An iPhone in a heavy-duty case is usually OK in the hands of a fairly responsible kid. If you don’t have a kid handy, you can get on your knees and take photos from their view.
29. Spell a Word
Names of towns spelled out in creative photography isn’t just for SkyMall. Make your own, and make it meaningful. Get creative with your angles and find shots that look like letters. Get a collection and spell you name or your destination!
30. Find Overgrowth and Ruins
Some of the ugliest eyesores can, over time, become absolutely charming. Old farm machinery overgrown with ruins or flowers spouting cheerfully from the broken windows of an antique car are perfect subjects. Be sure to try some interesting angles to show off the winsome timelessness of the subject.
31. Play with Shadow
Shadows can be your worst enemy, or your best friend. You know the famous photo of camel shadows? It’s a perfect example of how shadows can be used to portray reality in a stunning way.
32. Beauty is in the Eye
If you’re taking photos of people, bring attention to the eyes. Try cutting off the bottom of faces and experiment with focus and zoom. If they eye is the window to the soul, it’s worth being the subject of your photo.
33. Embrace the Darkness
Darkness can make the perfect natural frame for night images. Try illuminating your subject with something like a bonfire for a soft, glowing look.
34. Make it Look Daring
Photo by Jimmy Chin, National Geographic
Make people look small and the scenery look big! Cut off the right objects and include the rights aspects. Your adventure just became a little more epic.
35. Capture the Motion
Whether it’s a fluttering bird, a jumping kid, or a crashing waterfall, you have to get that on your camera. Action shots are hard to grab, but they are some of the most incredible.
36. Get Your iPhone on Camera
Snap a photo of your iPhone snapping a photo. It’s like inception, but with pictures. And it’s really cool.
37. Play with Light
Find the sun breaking through something interesting: a building, a window, a mountain, a tree. Play with light, especially at sunrise or sunset. There are endless things you can do with sunrays and flecks of light.
38. Don’t Forget About Black and White
You can use black and white settings to make good pictures become stunning. Have fun messing around with light and darkness, and pale colors next to deeper ones. The possibilities are endless! Besides, everybody is flattered by grayscale photos.
39. Go Color Crazy
Oil spills and rainbows both have one thing in common: lots of color! Be on the lookout for splashes of color wherever you go.
40. Have Fun!
Be goofy, have fun, let your silly side show! Let the artistic creativity slide now and then and just let loose. If you find a silly cut-out photo op, just go for it! Sometimes you need the goofiness to reset and relax.
Note: all photos without credits are taken by myself (Nick Vinken), courtesy of wingspreader travel.