The advent of the smartphone and Instagram have transformed photography. One thing that hasn’t changed: it’s still tough to take a great shot. Thankfully, these top travel photographers have your vacation-loving back.
You’re in San Francisco, eating and sightseeing your way through one of the country’s best cities. You stop at the Golden Gate Bridge and take out your smartphone to capture its majesty. This could be Instagram glory, but all you get is a dark blur in a foggy square.
Here’s how to fix that.
Good photos don’t require a heavy-duty camera. People shoot impressive photos with smartphones around the world. But you need to learn how to work that potent micro-shutter -- and how to make the surrounding scenery work with you. That’s called composing an image.
Despite your phone’s swift editing options, composition is where it starts.
Think of lighting, perspective and depth. Portrait and travel photographer Dustin Cohen (@dustincohen
) says finding the background, foreground and middle ground in a shot makes the image more engaging. Look through his Instagram profile for examples, like this shot of New York City from atop One World Trade Center.
It has the tallest buildings in the foreground, the East River in the middle ground and Brooklyn in the background.
He frames the city at an angle and focuses on the nearest structures, so the picture has direction -- you can tell the background is far away.
A shot like that doesn’t take a pro, but it will make you look like one to your friends and followers.
Dylan Schwartz’s Instagram feed
looks like a travel catalog -- because he leads creative marketing campaigns for global brands like Toyota and Google. With nothing but a smartphone and some good lighting, he captured the bright, jagged mountains of Hawaii's Na Pali Coast in a frame evoking the Earth’s constant rotation.
Photographers call the hour before sunset the “golden hour,” when gentle natural light illuminates beautiful photographic possibilities everywhere you look.
“The light is warmer, produces more saturated colors and more interesting shadows,” Schwartz says.
In Schwartz’s Hawaii shot the shadows suggest movement, like the rock formations are turning. He recommends downloading Sun Seeker, an app that pins down where the sun is during a given time of day. “Make sure you’re in a location where you have a clear path for the sun to set unobstructed to the horizon,” Schwartz says.
Sunset photos rein in the double-taps on Instagram, and Schwartz suggests always adding a location to your post. Yes, this is a simple way to brag to your friends about the Hawaiian beach you’re exploring, but it also gets your professionally lit photo in front of anyone who’s looking at pics of Na Pali.
Your shot will stand out in that stream of photos as long as you stand away from the crowd when you take it.
Mike Richard is the founder of Vagabondish
, a guide full of “dubious travel tips.” Nothing dubious about his photography tips, though. To end up with something original, he says, look at how other tourists are taking their shots -- and do it different. Let's say you're at the Space Needle: “Lie on your back, crawl on your stomach or get really, really high up -- anything to change perspective,” Richard says. “You'll already be well ahead of the game.” Often taking an extreme angle can lead to an eye-catching image, even if it makes your acrophobic viewers a little queasy.
Cohen agrees with his fellow travel photographer. At a time when people are taking more photos than ever, he says, it's all about finding “a new way to share something that's been seen before.” And if that means waiting for the perfect moment, go for it. “If you find a frame or a scene you love, don't be afraid to wait for something to happen,” Cohen says. “You might just take a photograph you weren't expecting to take and that is always a good thing.” Photographers take thousands of photos trying to get just one good one/ Your phone isn’t just a mega-camera, it’s also a storage device. So shoot away -- but don’t post everything.
Gary Arndt (@everythingeverywhere
) is a self-taught travel photographer with almost 94,000 followers on Instagram. Last year the Society of American Travel Writers named him Travel Photographer of the Year.
His big tip? Edit everything.
Not all the vibrant landscapes you see on Instagram are without touch-ups. You can do them within the app itself. Schwartz says filters are a good start, but for really fine tweaks to a photo you can tap the wrench tool and edit lighting, contrast and more.
“It’s easy to go overboard, so keep your edits subtle,” he says. “If you can’t get the image to look good in a few minutes, it’s probably not a great image, so move on and find another shot.”
Shooting plenty is the first step to shooting well. It’s OK if light luggage restricts your ability to pack a camera. The moments you save on the go can look just as refined as the ones you save on a memory card for later.
So, to sum it up, here are these four photographers’ Instagram travel tips:
1. Start with composition. Think about lighting, perspective and depth when you frame an image. Give your shot a foreground, middle and background.
2. Use the light. Natural light is best during the “golden hour,” just before sunset. It’s warmer, produces livelier colors and more interesting shadows. Take advantage of it.
3. Add a location. When you geotag your shot on Instagram, it will appear in the stream of photos from that place, which means more people will see and like it. You can also find other travelers this way.
4. Stick around. You might find the perfect frame for a beautiful shot, but need to wait for something to happen -- locals walking, tourists walking away. Be patient and stand by for the image you want.
5. Change your perspective. Avoid shooting from where other tourists are taking photos. Move around, climb on things or squat down low to get a unique visual keepsake.
6. Edit everything, whether it’s with your camera’s built-in filters or lighting and color tweaks on Instagram. Even pros need touch-ups. Just remember to keep the edits subtle.
7. Shoot lots. Chances are you won’t get a perfect shot on the first try. Take more than you need, and then keep your best ones.
8. Don’t worry. Smartphone cameras are just fine for bringing home your best memories. You won’t need any professional equipment on the road, especially after reading this. As Cohen says, "A good photo will hold up no matter what device it was taken with."
*One final tip: After you share those amazing vacation photos on Instagram, head over to SPG partner Artifact Uprising for awesome print options.