When I visited Iceland five years ago, I was a photography novice. I did get some pretty good shots of the beautiful scenery, but when we saw the Northern Lights, I couldn’t take a good photo for the life of me! I didn’t know how to properly use my camera to get one of those beautiful photos of the bright, colorful lights that you see all over Instagram, and I missed out on capturing one of the most amazing things I had ever seen. But after taking photography courses in college and after lots of practice, my travel photos have improved tremendously! I’m ready to go back to Iceland to finally get some beautiful photos of the Northern Lights.
I was able to improve my photo skills so much that I’m now a travel photography blogger and freelance photographer making some money on the side to help fund my travels. Here are some tips on how to take better travel photos so you don’t make the same mistakes I did, and maybe you can start making money with your photography, too.
1. Learn Manual Mode
If you’re shooting with a DSLR, this is the first thing you need to do to improve your travel photos. Learning how to shoot in manual mode was the biggest game changer for me. It doesn’t matter if you’re shooting with a 10-year-old camera (which I was doing) or a brand new full frame, if you don’t know how to properly use your camera, you’re not doing to get great shots, especially when it’s dark or blindingly bright. Auto mode can be fine on a normal sunny day, but learning how to adjust shutter speed, aperture, and ISO when you’re trying to take a photo of the Northern Lights, a cityscape at night, or a lion sleeping before the sun is up will ensure that you don’t have a dark, grainy, or blurry photo. And it’s the same if you’re shooting on a bright sunny day on the beach where the sun is reflecting off the water and washing all your photos out. Learning how to use manual mode can also help you get unique photos, like the blurred effect of a bicycle speeding by or making the water appear soft and hazy on a waterfall.
If you’re interested in learning manual mode to improve your photography, check out my online course Understand Your DSLR and Improve Your Photography!
2. Shoot in RAW
Shooting in RAW isn’t absolutely necessary, but if you want to improve the quality of your photos, it can help. If you don’t know what RAW is, don’t worry, it’s an easy change that will only take a few seconds. To switch to shooting in RAW, it’s found in the settings in your camera, and it will vary from camera to camera so check your camera’s manual to find it.
RAW is a higher quality file than JPEG because the data doesn’t get compressed. With RAW, it’s much easier to edit under and overexposed photos because it contains more data than JPEG, unlike JPEG you won’t lose any quality when you edit and save the photos, and it has a smoother transition of tones, among many other benefits. The only downside is the file sizes are much larger than JPEG, so you may have to get a bigger SD card.
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3. Try Different Angles & Play with the Focus
When I’m shooting, I’ll often take up to 10 photos of the same thing at different angles and focus on different parts of the frame. (Needless to say, I tend to walk through new cities pretty slowly!) It may take up more space on my SD card, but it gives me a variety of shots to choose from, and I often like shots from an angle better than straight on shots because you get a different view and you can often see more details. One of my favorite photos from Mexico is a large cactus, and I took the photo from the side so you can really see long and sharp the spines are. Taking that shot straight on just wouldn’t have the same effect.
Taking a photo from a different angle, from the ground looking up, adjusting the focus, or having negative space and using the rule of thirds can give your photo a unique effect and give your blog audience a different view than you usually see!
4. Don’t Be Afraid of Editing
Every single photographer I know edits their photos. I don’t do anything major, but even just adjusting the contrast and brightness of your photos can make them more eye-catching. Find your unique style. All my photos are edited in the same style, so people instantly know that a photo is mine when they see it. However, when you’re editing, make sure you don’t over-edit and don’t use Instagram filters. It’s easy to spot over-edited photos and Instagram filters, and it can make your photos lose their quality. If you don’t know how to edit photos, it’s easier than you think! You don’t have to use anything fancy like Photoshop and Lightroom, since there are tons of free photo editing apps and websites you can use- VSCO, Snapseed, and PicMonkey to name a few. Editing your photos can really help you step up your game, so don’t be afraid to look up some tutorials and try different apps out!
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5. Practice Everyday
I took photography courses in college and started my travel photography blog a few years ago, but I can see a big change in my photos and editing skills in even just the past year. Your photos aren’t going to improve overnight, no matter how fancy your camera or editing software is; you need time and tons of practice to improve. I’m a professional photographer and I’m still improving and learning new tricks every day!
Julia is a freelance writer and travel photographer living in Philadelphia with her Siberian Husky. She never travels without her Nikon, and she enjoys photographing the small details of local life wherever she is. Julia loves the cold and dreams of visiting places like Greenland and Swedish Lapland. She studied in Denmark for a while, and when she’s not traveling, you can usually find her practicing her Danish and Old Norse and writing articles about Vikings.