With cameras on our phones, everyone is a decent photographer these days. It’s easy to grab a snapshot or a selfie at a moment’s notice. But sometimes it’s difficult to capture mementos of our travels—nature shots seem ho-hum, or we take photos of our travel partners but never have any together. So here are a few tips to help take your photos to the next level.
1: Look for even light.
Beautiful, sunny days look gorgeous, but cameras can struggle with the harsh shadows cast by the midday sun. If you’re shooting portraits, place your subject in the shade to get the same exposure on their face and body. You can always bump up the brightness using a photo editing app to get it exactly how you want it to look, as long as the light is even.
If you’re shooting a landscape photo, try angling your body so that the sun is at your back, shining on whatever you’re shooting. Unless you’re into artsy stuff, in which case, we love the look of bright, dappled sunlight coming through tree branches with just a hint of a lens flare. Insta-perfect.
2: time your best shots for golden hour.
An hour after dawn and an hour before dusk is what photographers call “golden hour.” It refers to the special golden quality the light takes on during those periods when the sun is low in the sky and its rays are slanting through the atmosphere. Golden hour makes any subject look a little more magical, whether you’re shooting a mountain at dawn or your kids after a long day of adventures. So if you’re looking to capture some really special keepsake photos, plan your best shots for golden hour and watch as Mother Nature gilds your subjects with light.
3: get close to your subject.
One common photography pitfall is shooting a subject from too far away. But getting closer and filling the frame can make for more dynamic shots, whether you move physically closer to your subject or just zoom in a little. You can still shoot “wide,” or from further away, but adding a handful of close-up shots will imbue your photo story with rich context and detail it may otherwise be missing.
4: focus on the small things.
To build off that, sometimes it’s not possible to get closer to the subject of our photos. In which case, why not rethink the subject? Instead of shooting a photo of the sunset, try focusing on something nearby instead. A bee on a flower, or a sandcastle casting a long shadow on an empty beach. You’ll still get the benefit of that beautiful sunset light, but a shot of a smaller detail is more likely to bring back the feeling of that place and time as opposed to a generic photo from further away. Sometimes specificity just makes our memories stronger.
5: check the backgrounds.
We’ve all seen funny pictures online of people who were unwittingly photobombed by their surroundings. Animals popping up unexpectedly, or a background object captured at just the right moment to make it look like it’s part of something else. When you’re intently focused on capturing your subject, it can be easy to overlook unwanted elements in other parts of your photo. Like a shirtless guy drinking beer just behind your smiling partner’s shoulder, or a dog in middle distance picking that exact moment to heed nature’s call.
So take a second to scan your photo composition and look for unwanted elements. Sometimes it pays to wait a few extra seconds for tourists to clear your shot, giving the illusion that your surroundings are more serene than they really are.
6: just get a selfie stick already.
Sure, they’re kind of silly, and we all had a good time making fun of selfie sticks when we first heard about them, but the thing is… they’re useful. For one thing, you can take more than selfies with them. They’re perfect for capturing group shots without leaving anyone out. (Mom and Dad, looking at you here. Please get in your own family photos.) It’s like having an extra-long arm to help you angle your camera perfectly, so you don’t have to cross your fingers and hope a stranger has good photography skills and the patience to get your shot just right. And if you happen to be in an area where there’s no one around to take your photo, well, then nobody will judge you for using a selfie stick, will they? It’s goofy, it works, embrace it.
7: in a pinch, look for a flat surface.
In case this isn’t obvious, tripods are perfect for setting up things like long-exposure photos, videos and group shots. But if you’re a casual photographer, you might not want to lug a tripod around with you. So keep your eyes peeled for flat surfaces where you can prop up your camera to capture shots that require total stillness. For instance, you might set the self-timer and then run into the frame to capture a cool shot of yourself on a solo hike. Or maybe you want to do a time lapse of fog moving across the water, or the moon rising. Get creative with your surroundings to help get the shot you want.
And if, like most of us, you’re using your phone as a camera, there are some very cool, bendable mini-tripods you can get online to help position your shot.
8: use a cheap bluetooth remote control to trigger the shutter.
Another easy hack is to buy an inexpensive bluetooth remote control to trigger your shutter. Rather than using a self-timer, you just keep the small control in your hand and press the button to signal to your camera or phone to take a shot. Great for self-portraits or setting up your camera to capture shy wildlife while you hide behind a tree. (Shy, small, peaceful wildlife, like rabbits. Don’t do this with bears.)
9: Go ahead and burst.
Burst mode is when a camera just automatically takes shot after shot of stills in a row. You can typically trigger this function by holding down the shutter button on your camera or phone. It’s great for capturing quick-moving action, like someone doing a cartwheel or a cheetah going for a run. But it is just as handy for getting selfies or group shots, because you’ll capture twice as many photos as you typically do, allowing you to sift through the stills for the perfect moment.
You can also use burst mode to create really cool stop-motion effects, almost like a movie, since there are subtle changes from shot to shot. There are a million ways to experiment and play with burst mode, so let your imagination fly.