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Library of Inspiration

5 Tips for Better Travel Photography

By Scott A. Woodward

I believe that photography is the most accessible and democratic form of artistic expression. The ubiquity of digital cameras – on mobile phones or small point-­‐and-­‐shoot models, all the way to large, powerful DSLR or medium format cameras – is making it ever simpler to capture high-­‐quality images anywhere, anytime.

But as most will attest, making great photographs has little to do with owning the best and most expensive equipment. The real secret behind great photography is in how you see a moment and interpret it in a still frame, regardless of what type of camera you are using. Are you able to make something ordinary appear extraordinary by showing it differently? Are you able to make the viewer feel an emotion when they see your photograph? Are you able to transport someone to a moment with you simply by pressing the shutter?

I once read that a camera is a great excuse to delve into a place deeper than we otherwise would. I like this description. Searching for an interesting photograph forces us to look at our surroundings differently, to explore a place further, to look beyond the obvious and hunt for something unique and special.

I call my photography style “Choose Your Own Adventure Photography”, after the books I used to read as a child. Literally and creatively, I can go one direction and discover a remarkable photographic opportunity; or I can go another direction and find something entirely different. It is this adventure that is the beauty of photography for me.

#1 – Be inspired. Research the destinations and locations your travels will take you ahead of time. The more you know about where you will be shooting, the better prepared you can be. Try to have some ideas for the types of photographs you want to create beforehand. There is no shame in looking at other photographers’ interpretations of a location or scene. Use others’ work – there is an endless stream of imagery from photographers across the globe on Instagram and Facebook and Flickr and Twitter – to be inspired and help get your creative juices flowing so you can create your own unique photography.

#2 – Add life to landscapes. Beautiful landscape shots can be breathtaking, but if you’ve ever been subjected to a friend of family member’s holiday snaps, you know how dull they can become after you’ve looked at dozens of them in a row. Try adding people to your landscape photographs. Even if they occupy just a little bit of space within your frame, a human touch helps make a more powerful photograph: it gives scale to an image, offers perspective and adds drama.

#3 – Play with light. The most critical ingredient in all great photographs is the lighting. The best images always make interesting and powerful use of light. The angle of the sun significantly affects the warmth, contrast and texture of a photograph. As often as possible, shoot in the warm “golden hours” of early morning and late afternoon (one hour after sunrise or one to two hours before sunset when the sun is low and the light is soft and yellow/orange). Dramatic light can make even the most mundane subjects appear outstanding, so also be on the lookout for beams of light peeking through clouds, filtering through trees, or shining through windows. Make use of long shadows cast during the golden hours, and try to use backlighting to silhouette your subjects.

#4 – Experiment. Be on the lookout for creative and dynamic angles. Shoot without looking through the viewfinder. Shoot speeding traffic by moving the camera at the same speed as the vehicles. Get on the ground and shoot up. Climb a tree and shoot down. Shoot without the flash. Try long exposures.

Get close to your subjects. And when you think you’re close, get even closer. The more creative you get, the more you’ll learn about what works and what doesn’t work, and the better your photographs will be. Or maybe you’ll just get lucky and make a beautiful accident.

#5 – Be a tourist in your own city. To me, people don’t necessarily have to travel to make “travel photography”. London is an exotic destination to someone who lives in Bangkok, just as Bangkok is an exotic destination to someone who lives in London. There are fascinating places, characters and stories everywhere – even in our own backyards. My advice is to be a tourist in your own city: explore your familiar surroundings with a keen eye and you will find wonderful photographic opportunities. This practice and experimentation will help you be better prepared when you do finally go on a big adventure.

About Scott A. Woodward

Scott’s father is an avid and accomplished amateur photographer. When Scott was a young boy, he taught Scott how to operate a manual camera, skilfully interpret light and imaginatively compose an image. But more importantly, his dad instilled in him a sense of wonder and adventure; it is these traits that truly make Scott a photographer.

Scott’s editorial work has appeared in publications such as National Geographic Magazine, Condé Nast Traveller, Travel + Leisure, Departures, Monocle, Vogue, GQ, Esquire, The Financial Times and The New York Times and he has photographed advertising campaigns for global brands like Google, MasterCard, Adidas, Nokia, InterContinental Hotels, Johnnie Walker, Nestle, Standard Chartered Bank, Johnson & Johnson and Unilever. Luerzer’s Archive honoured Scott as one of the “200 Best Ad Photographers Worldwide” and Nikon named him “One of Asia’s Finest Photographers”.