Vacation Photos 101: How to Get Great Travel Photographs

When setting out on a trip, typically my main goal—especially when traveling to an exotic or third-world location—is to capture as many images as possible. However, as important as it is to fully document a location, it's more important to shoot quality over quantity.

Over the years of traveling, my eye has become more and more sophisticated and I try to focus on capturing the best overall photograph, rather than just an "interesting or unusual scene." It has become very important for me to gauge an entire location, lighting, subject, and composition before shooting, as it's very easy to fill up hard drives with images and images of things that are just "different" but not particularly well-photographed. I recently traveled to Nepal, where this philosophy was put into heavier practice than usual.

There are three different types of photographs that I always set out to capture on my trips, meant to complete an overall story:

• The Portrait

• The Scene

• The Landscape or Still Life

I’ll explain each in more detail here:

1. The Portrait

My most favorite subject to photograph on journeys is people. I absolutely love exotic and unique faces, such as people with heavy wrinkles, adorable children, beautiful women, people with interesting facial expressions, colorful clothing or elaborate accessories—the list goes on… Interacting with locals always makes for the most heart-warming and charming experiences, especially when the subjects are open to being photographed and have positive, welcoming energy.

For this, I like to bring a portrait lens: a quality piece with a nice depth of field and a great aperture potential, which allows me to capture people in the best light of day—typically at dusk or dawn. It's very important for me to connect with the people I photograph, as their energy is what drives the image. The more open the subject is to you, the more he/she will comply with your ideas (if you have any particular ones), and the more he/she will be comfortable behind your lens.

I like to shoot many photographs of the same person giving different facial expressions, which creates a variety of options to work with. I also like to treat every subject as a model, scanning the immediate environment for any interesting walls or backgrounds that I can place him/her in front of. It's important to not be shy with people and to convince them to fulfill your vision, because that's what will make your photographs stand out and have their own unique style.

Here are a few of my favorite portrait shots from Nepal:

2. The Scene

Another type of photograph that I like to capture on my travels is the "scene" shot, which is a wider image, typically integrating portraiture into landscape. This type of picture usually portrays a charismatic person, collection of persons or other subject within an interesting environment/landscape or general scene. This can be a more interesting and complex shot because you get to show people (interacting) in their environment—candid or posing—which tells more of a story than a simple portrait does.

A very good scene shot is a bit harder to take, because every element must come together as perfectly as possible: the subject, the action, the background, and the lighting. It's important to pay attention to every detail in the foreseeable photo and to anticipate what people are going to do or how they're going to react.

Sometimes, the best photo is not what you see then and there, but the event that will happen a minute or even 30 later. Patience and awareness is key to taking the best "scene" photograph, as you really have to pay attention, focus, and wait for the perfect moment that can turn a good photograph into a great one. Maybe you spotted a gorgeous street or backdrop but there isn't anyone around to really make it come alive—this is when you should just stand there and wait for the best possible capture.

Here are some examples of scene shots:

3. The Landscape/Still Life

Last, but not least, I like to come home with "landscape or still life" shots, which are usually photographs of a scene that show no human activity or significantly less prominent human activity. It can be a beautiful landscape, the sky, the ground, or a collection of fruit for all it matters, but people should not be the main subject.

Amazing landscape shots are a lot more difficult than we think because, most of the time, lighting is the number one key factor and we cannot control the sun or the forces of the weather. I always find that my best landscape shots are the "lucky" or unexpected ones.

Because I’m more drawn to people in general, I don't primarily focus on taking landscape images, but when they work out, they can be a wonderful addition to a story. Landscape photographs are typically wide, whereas still life ones are more focused. Shooting still life or even abstract images in exotic countries can also be a great way of capturing a culture or environment while having more control over the subject, allowing you to really take your time and compose the image. Lighting can also be somewhat less important, therefore making them easier to capture. These shots are really more about being creative and using your eye for attractive compositions.

Here are several landscape/still life shots from my trip:

Overall, by setting out on a given journey to capture a variety of these three types of images, it allows for a more thorough photographic process, giving the collection of photographs I come home with a true narrative—not just beautiful or interesting imagery.

It also forces me to really take everything in around me, to be selective, patient and aware, and to therefore be very present. Just the nature of being a photographer in these types of environments truly changes the way I travel and connects me so much more to any given place.

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