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6 Ways to Improve Your Travel Photography on the Road

6 Ways to Improve Your Travel Photography on the Road 1

Travel and photography just seem to go together. 

We all want to document our adventures, but are you getting the most out of your photography?  I asked in the Xscapers Facebook group “if there was one thing you wish you could improve about your photography, what would that be?”  Looking over the responses, I could see some themes start to develop.  So, with those responses in mind, here are 6 things you can do right now to improve your photography skills no matter what kind of camera you carry.

Practice a few of the rules of composition.

A little thought about how you frame your subject can make the difference between a lackluster snapshot and a beautiful photograph. You don’t need to learn all the principles of composition to take great photos. Simple things like moving to the side, stepping closer to your subject, or shooting from a lower angle can make a huge impact.

1. Rule of Thirds

Let’s start with a rule that will make an immediate difference in your photography, the rule of thirds.

Simply stated, when you apply the rule of thirds, you place your subject into a third of the frame. When you watch TV, flip through a magazine, or look at professional photographs, you will see the rule of thirds in play over and over.

As you take your photos, resist the urge to put your subject in the center of the frame and snap away. When you move your subject out of the center and into a third of the frame it makes for a more interesting and balanced photograph. This includes the horizon. If you are taking a landscape photo, your horizon will have more impact if it is in the bottom third or even top third of the frame. The sun may be the center of the universe, but it shouldn’t be centered in your photographs.

Imagine your camera or phone screen divided into thirds vertically and horizontally in a grid pattern like a tic-tac-toe board. To help you with composition, most phones and cameras offer an onscreen grid. Turn that feature on to help you place the subject of your photo off center and in a third of your frame.

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Moving the lighthouse out of the center and into a third of the photograph and the horizon into the bottom of third give the image more impact.

2. Leading Lines

Another way to create a more impactful subject is to apply the rule of leading lines.

Leading lines pave an easy path for the eye to follow through different elements of a photo to your subject. Most anything can be used as leading lines, rocks, rivers, roads, fences, trees, cliffs, beach and certainly paths.  Open your eyes to all the lines around you, and let them lead you to better photos.

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The road and trees are all leading lines directing your eyes down the Oak Avenue.

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Using the river as a leading line pointing the way to El Capitan at Zion National Park.

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Instead of taking a photo of the Castle, I moved around the side and took advantage of the walk way as leading lines.

3. Fill the Frame

Try to create a center of visual interest by moving in closer. 

Too much empty space or too much clutter in a photo makes it less appealing.  Don’t feel like you must cram everything your eyes see into the shot. Get rid of the distractions and keep your subject simple. This will help you have a strong point of focus making for a better photo. 

 Generally speaking it’s always better to use your legs to get closer, but you can also crop your photo or zoom in to fill the frame. 

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Notice how getting rid of the empty space and filling the frame makes for a better photograph. 

4. Don’t Forget About Your Foreground

The part of your photograph that is nearest to the viewer is extremely important.

Look for a focal point in the foreground of your photos.  A plain background can become a great photo if you include something interesting in the foreground.  If you are taking a photo of a sunset, consider what you could include in the foreground to give your photo more impact.  A person, a boat, a tree, or some rocks in the foreground can take your photograph to another level. 

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A boring picture of a colorful sunset is made more interesting by including a dock as a foreground focal point. 

As you are practicing improving your composition, remember that not only is it important to understand the rules but they are also meant to be broken. The key is knowing when is the right time. 

5. Pay Attention to Your Lighting

You will get the most out of your photos if you pay attention to your lighting. 

One of the reasons we see so many driver’s seat selfies is the natural, diffused light we find sitting behind the wheel of our cars. 

Too much light makes harsh shadows and can overexpose your photo.  If there is not enough light, your photo may be underexposed and blurry. Before taking your photo, pay attention to the light on your subject.  Can you move or turn your subject for better lighting?  Look for softer and more even light to take your photos. The best light you will find all day is in the morning and evening. The sun is lower in the sky and will give you softer and more flattering light. If you are taking photos in the middle of the day, look for shade or even a cloud to help diffuse the harsh light. 

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Here are two photos of the Grand Canyon, taken from the same place, only about an hour apart.  The first image has harsh shadows and flat colors. For the second image I waited until right after the sunset giving me more diffused and even light. 

6. Edit Your Photos

Many people feel intimidated by editing their photographs. The good news is that it’s easier than ever to make light edits to improve your photos. 

Don’t feel like you have to be a Photoshop expert when it comes to editing. These days the camera on your phone has a pretty robust editing capability built right into it. Filters and presets are built in as well to make editing a one touch process. Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram also have built in editing software to help you up your photography game. The same is true for your cameras; many have built in editing and filters or come with some form of editing software. 

If you want to have more control you can dig into the photograph settings and adjust exposure, highlights, shadows, contrast and saturation.  Start from the top of the editing menu and adjust the sliders back and forth and see how it affects your photo and stop when you like it. It can be just that simple.

Another great thing is that most of editing apps are non-destructive, meaning you don’t have to worry about making a mistake. If you don’t like your edits, you can easily revert back to the original photograph.  In some cases, the app will save a copy of the edited photograph leaving the original. So, play around with your photos and have fun.

A couple of photo editing apps for phones that I like are Snapseed and Photoshop Express

They both are simple to use and contain a ton of great editing tools. For computer-based software there are a ton of options. Most cameras come with some sort of free photo editing software.

Depending on your operating system you can also try Apple Photos or Microsoft Photos. Both of these are recommended free products to help you not only edit but organize your photos.

Google Photos is a solid online option. Not only can it be used to edit your photos, it will help you organize them as well. If you are looking for more robust software look at Photoshop Elements, not to be confused with full blown Photoshop. Elements is a really good one-time-cost software that can give you a ton of editing and organizing options. 

Personally, I use Lightroom for much of my professional editing and organizing. Lightroom is a great, easy to use editing program. It’s filled with a ton of features but that also comes with a cost. 

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The native iphone camera app gives you plenty of tools to edit your shots.

A few more tips to help you get the most out of your photography.

Organize Your Photos

In the Xscapers Facebook group, I received several questions about organization.  I take over 20,000 photos a year, so organization is key to me. 

With a phone camera in our pockets at all times, most of us take a ton of photos these days and they can easily get lost in the pile.  Developing some organization to your photos can be a real help.

There are two popular ways to organize, folders and tags.  

The great thing about organizing with folders is you don’t need any special software.  Download the photos into a folder, name the folder and you are done.  

Tagging your photos helps you organize your photos by attaching key words to the photos that can be searched later. Let’s say you took 100 photos at the Xscapers Bash.  You can tag the photos with as many tags as you might need to identify your photos such as #Xscapers, #January, #rvlife, #family, #bash, #beer, #convergence, #desert, #corndogs. 

Depending on the editing software you use, you may be able to add these tags to a batch of photos at once making the process faster.  This is one of the reasons I like using Lightroom; it’s both a great editing and organizing tool. There are many other programs out there to help you with organization, but a few free ones I can suggest are Google Photos, Apple Photos and Microsoft Photos.  Also, a program I have not used but gets great reviews is Adobe Bridge. This is a free program that is designed to organize your photos.

Use the right equipment

A lot of people ask what camera or gear they can buy to improve their photography.  I believe that the best camera is the one you have with you.  

So, I ask, “what camera are you going to carry with you and take photos with every day?” That’s the best camera to improve your photography. For many people this is going to be the one on your smartphone and that’s OK. Many of these cameras take great photos.  

Don’t buy equipment thinking it will make you a better photographer.  Equipment does not replace skill.  You can buy a $3000 camera, but if you don’t understand composition, lighting or how to get your camera off of the automatic setting, the equipment alone is not going to help.  Take whatever camera you have and learn how to use it.  Read the manual, watch some videos, and push your camera to its limits.  

When your camera just can’t physically capture the moment and keep up with your skills, that’s when it is time to consider upgrading your equipment.

When you’re thinking of an upgraded camera, ask yourself what you want the camera to do.  

Some cameras are better at video, some are better for night photography, some are better for vlogging, portraits, landscapes, and the list goes on and on.  In general, for those of us on the road, if you want a camera upgrade from your phone, I recommend some type of mirrorless camera.  Such as the Sony A Series, the Fuji X Series or the Panasonic Lumix Series cameras.  They are great cameras. They’re small and lightweight, so you won’t mind taking it everywhere.  

If a camera is too big and heavy you will get tired of carrying it, and then it will sit in camera bag.  These mirrorless cameras have detachable lenses that add flexibility like the larger digital cameras. Plus, you can learn the manual controls for more advanced photography.  

Invest in education

No investment in photography will help you get more out of your photography than education.

Your camera, even the one on your phone has a ton of great features.  Take a few minutes to learn what your camera can do.  Read the manual, buy a book, watch a video, attend a seminar, take some lessons. There are a ton of free videos on YouTube. Watch a few; then experiment with what you have learned. When you take a photo you really like, ask yourself why it is a good photo. Do the same when you take a bad photo; consider what you could change to make it better. Take your camera everywhere, shoot every day, and experiment.

Committing to a photo of the day challenge is the single best thing I did to improve my photography.  Reading the manual, taking a course, and practicing daily will help you develop your photography skills to get the most out of your photography on the road.  

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Bill Trinkle

Bill Trinkle is the photographer half of Trinkles on Tour with his wife Porter.  Bill has been photographing our beautiful country from one campground at a time since they hit the road in 2012 . He has been photographing landscapes, events and portraits, along with coaching individuals and conducting workshops around the country including Xscapers convergences. Bill’s photography can be found on social media for groups such as The Purple Feet Foundation, More than a Wheelin, Xscapers and Escapees.  You can see more of Bill’s work at Trinkle Photography on Facebook and Instagram.   

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