Outdoorphoto Blog » Take better travel photographs – Part II

Take better travel photographs – Part II

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This is Part II of a series of blog posts in which we share with you some of our most valuable travel photography tips. Part I can be found here: https://www.outdoorphoto.co.za/blog/take-better-travel-photographs-part-i/

We hope these ten tips will help you to better capture your next travel story…

1.    Look for leading lines
Leading lines are lines that draw the viewer into the photograph and they can be found in various shapes and sizes in nature. It could be something natural, like the lines formed by waves rolling out onto a sandy beach, or something man-made, like a winding two-track road in a national park or game reserve. If you can, anchor the lines in the corners of the frame to ensure a balanced composition.


A winding two-track in Ruaha National Park contains beautiful leading lines.

2.    Show some scale
Things that are either exceptionally big or extraordinarily small usually captivate us, but to emphasise the extreme sizes of these subjects you need to include an element of scale in the photograph. The best way to do this is to include something with a known size, like a person, car or everyday object.


This majestic baobab tree in Mapungubwe dwarfs the two cars and people beside it.

3.    Choose the right season
In many parts of Southern Africa the scenery changes drastically with the seasons. Winters in the Kruger National Park, for instance, can be dry, dull and dusty, only to be transformed into something lush and colourful after the summer rains. In the Western Cape, on the other hand, the winters are wet and the summers dry, which means the best time for photography is not the same as in the Lowveld. Kalahari thunderstorms usually occur in October and November, making it the ideal time for landscape photography. Do some research about the destination you plan to visit and make sure you get there when it looks the way you expect it to…


Kalahari thunderstorms are at their most impressive in October and November.

4.    Shoot more silhouettes
Silhouette photos are some of the most striking you can take and don’t only have to be photographed early morning or late afternoon when the sun is close to the horizon. They can be taken any time of the day, as long as you have an underexposed subject with a bright background behind it. This photograph of a group of students looking at a giant fish in an aquarium is a great example of an indoor silhouette photograph.


An enormous brindle bass captivates silhouette onlookers at uShaka.

5.    Make the sun look starry
If you’re going to photograph straight into the sun, you might as well make it look awesome! In order to create a star effect around the sun you have to use a very large aperture value (f/22 or higher). Try to block some of the sun’s rays with an object (like a tree, person or building) in the foreground, but not completely, otherwise you will lose the effect entirely. It’s should almost seem as if the sun is ‘peaking’ around the corner. Try using Manual Mode (M) where you set both the f-value (keep it high) and the shutter speed value (change it until the exposure looks right).


Tabby takes a break during a run in Central Park.

6.    Photograph the full moon
In order to take the perfect full moon photo you need to do three things: 1) Zoom in as much as possible (ideally you should use a 400 mm lens or longer); 2) Use a beanbag or tripod for support (to eliminate the chances of camera shake); and 3) Underexpose the photograph in order to capture the detail (craters, etc.) on the moon’s surface. The easiest way to do this is simply to use Exposure Compensation.


If you expose it correctly, you can clearly see the craters on the moon.

7.    Lie on your stomach
If you want small creatures to stand out when you take portraits of them you should ideally photograph them at eye-level. That means lying down flat on your stomach so that you can get the camera as close to the ground as possible and therefore create an angle at which the background is nice and far behind the subject, allowing you to blur it completely.


A couple of yellow mongooses explore our campsite in Mabuasehube.

8.    Be an early bird
The proverbial worm is not the only thing that early birds stand a chance to catch. They also give themselves the opportunity to capture some of the most beautiful light the day has on offer. Even before the sun pokes its head above the horizon the sky goes through some remarkable colour changes and if there are some fluffy clouds in the sky you’re in for a treat.


A stunning morning sky next to the Limpopo River in the Tuli Block.

9.    Stake out the birdbath
Where there is water there is life and in most game reserves, national parks and even city gardens the birdbath is the place to hang out, especially during the dry season. Choose a spot where the light is favourable and where you can comfortably sit, stand or lie down without disturbing thirsty visitors. Choose your angle carefully, for it will influence the amount of clutter in the background.


A black-collared barbet visits a birdbath in uMkuze Game Reserve.

10.    Don’t overlook the detail
The average Facebook travel photograph album contains loads of portrait photos and even more wide landscape shots that show where the people in the portraits were on vacation. What’s often missing are close up shots that capture the detail travellers encounter every single day – crafts, flowers, colours, textures, hands and feet – everything that forces you to zoom in and look closer. Keep your eyes open for the beautiful small things that are easily overlooked, but add valuable context and flavour to a series of travel photographs.


African craft shops are full of stunning detail just waiting to be photographed.

About the Author:

Villiers Steyn is a freelance travel- and wildlife photographer based in Hoedspruit, South Africa. He leads photographic safaris for Tusk Photo and has had his work published in leading travel magazines, including go!, DriveOut, Getaway, Country Life and Travel Africa.

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