Photography is not my strong suit! I have really struggled with it. I’m always second-guessing myself, comparing my work to the incredibly talented travel Instagrammers and travel photographers out there, wondering why my image sucks so bad while their’s are amazing! Photography, my friends, is a tough gig. But here’s the thing, you can learn, practice and improve. It is possible to get better at it! Today I wanted to share with you a few common mistakes I’ve seen travellers making and how you can avoid making them, improve your skills and get gorgeous photos of your adventures!
1. Not doing any research beforehand
If you roll in hot to a new destination with no idea of good places to photograph, you’re going to have a rough time. Trust me. I’ve wasted day after day wandering the streets looking for something cool to photograph, completely missing the best spots.
The fix: Before you leave for your trip, do some research! I check out the Instagram hashtags and geotags for that destination, to scope out hidden viewpoints, beautiful spots, and cool shots to inspire me. I also do an image search on Google and even search for ‘Great photography spots on the Gold Coast,’ for example. This way, I already have an idea of a few shots I want to get! It gives you a great starting point.
2. Trying to cut out all the people
Oh my god… this was me! I used to try and cut out all the people all the time because I much prefer a really clean shot with nobody else in it. But sometimes the people are what make it interesting.
The fix: Rather than trying to fight it you’re best off to accept it and use the people to give the shot some depth, texture and show the scale of what it is you’re shooting.
3. Shooting in the middle of the day
Me. Me. Me. I don’t know how many great photos I’ve stuffed up because I made the rookie error of going out to photograph in the middle of the day. This one is really simple guys… the light is always best at sunrise and sunset, you’ve probably heard it called ‘Golden Hour.’
The fix: If you’re really committed to getting great photographs, then plan your day around these times. Take that list of great spots to photograph you curated earlier and plan to be at certain spots at sunrise and sunset. Your photos will look dreamy!
4. Missing the magic in the detail
This is something Matt says he does poorly and I do well, especially when we’re shooting footage for our YouTube videos. Matt has a tendency to be drawn to the wide shot, to encompass the width of a moment and show the drama of it. When I film, I tend to go more for the detail, I try to find the small things that make that moment special.
The fix: Look for things like someone’s paint-stained hands, a baby’s tiny shoes, the sunlight dotting through the vine creeping up the side of the building, the tiles on the floor, the crack in the mug or the steam swirling off the coffee. To tell the whole story of a beautiful moment, you have to be able to share the detail too. Peep these examples…
5. Being a bit lazy
If this isn’t me, I don’t know what is. I’m so damn lazy. I cannot tell you how many photography regrets I have because I was such a lazy ass I couldn’t’ be bothered to get out the car, walk that bit further or shoot for a bit longer or later. Don’t be me. Don’t be lazy! You have to work a bit harder for those epic shots, but they’re always worth it.
The fix: Give someone your camera to take a shot, then scurry down the rocks and out into the distance, to give it some perspective. Hike up that mountain, climb those stairs, walk that extra mile, do whatever it takes! Don’t be lazy! If you check out the examples below, the person in the shot being all small and far away gives it perspective and a cool focal point for your eye to rest.
6. Not getting in close enough
You gotta get in nice and close to what you want to photograph. Wide shots have their place, I know, I’m a wide shot addict! But it’s really important you get in close to what you want to photograph, this will make sure your shot is nice and clean, crisp and the thing you want to focus on is the hero of the shot.
The fix: Don’t feel awkward! Get right up in there and get the shot you want to get to get. If you’re unsure, take a few wide shots then get in tight and take a few close-up shots too. Don’t forget, you can also do some serious cropping when editing.
7. Taking the same shot as everyone else
We’ve all been there! You roll up to Times Square and, just like every other tourist, get the same cheesy shot standing in the mix of all the action. I get it! I do it too! But the best shots are often from a different angle or perspective.
The fix: Take your tourist shot, then go in search of something unique! Look for ways to get above the action, can you shoot through something to frame the shot? Is there a cafe or hotel or restaurant with awesome views you can get into? Can you extend your GoPro above the crowd on a selfie stick? Be creative!
8. Shooting from eye-level only
When you’re mind is racing with a million other things, you can often just go on auto-pilot, hold your camera up to your face and snap a shot. Often, you can get a much more interesting shot simply by changing the height you’re shooting at!
The fix: Take your first shot at eye level then try something different. Get down low and shoot from the ground up or hold your camera above your head and shoot from above.
9. Taking an out-of-focus shot
Nothing ticks me off more than taking an awesome shot, getting back to the hotel, downloading it only to find the damn thing is blurry or the thing I was trying to focus on is out of focus entirely. Fail!
The fix: Your camera should have the ability to set the focal point. Do it. Take the time to set the focal point to the thing you’re trying to capture. It takes more time, but it’s well worth it, especially if you’re trying to take a shot where the thing in the foreground is nice and crisp and the rest of the background is blurry. Check out the example below, where we messed up and took a shot of me out-of-focus, then corrected and got me in-focus.
10. Not asking permission
I’ve had people take photos of my face without my permission and it makes me really, really angry. Once they take that photo, I have no control over where it goes and that bothers me no end. It’s my face, man!! You can’t just photograph that whenever you want. Before I take any photo of someone’s face, I ask them for permission first.
The fix: Always ask permission before you snap. If you don’t speak the local language, just hold up your camera, point to it, point to the person then nod and shake your head. They’ll know exactly what you’re asking and either say yes or no. Be respectful either way!
11. Underestimating the power of editing
I used to think I was just a shit photographer, a real talentless hack until I took a trip with a whole bunch of famous Instagrammers. I got a glimpse of the world of Insta-legends and realised a lot of the magic happens in the editing phase. Here’s the thing, you gotta put it into perspective. A lot of the famous Instagrammers work as professional photographers full-time. They can spend hours in Photoshop and Lightroom editing photos and the results are incredible! I have neither the time nor the inclination to do that.
The fix: Firstly, don’t be so hard on yourself! If you aren’t a professional like the talented peeps on IG, that’s okay! You can still edit to pep up your images by using apps on your phone like Snapseed and VSCO. Take the time to edit your photos well and be consistent. Check out this before and after of mine, below, it was an overcast day and the photos didn’t properly capture how this part of the reef usually looks, so I edited it up to better reflect the magic I usually experience on the reef!
12. Not turning around…
It can be all too easy to visit a famous site and just follow the path laid out in front of you. Honestly, though, some of the best photographs can be scoped out simply by turning around and seeing things from a different perspective.
The fix: Don’t just walk along the path set out for you. Stop and turn around, shoot behind you, you’ll be amazed at what you can find. With the example below, the shot on the left is the stairs leading up to this spot. We walked through the open gate and through the other side, I turned around and loved how it looked from the other side too! It could have easily been missed.
13. Standing still
One of the most important things I’ve learned in the last year is the importance of adding movement to shots! Adding the element of movement gives a photograph life and makes it interesting.
The fix: A simple hair flick or spinning on the spot, captured with high-speed burst, can make an otherwise flat shot much more dynamic and interesting!
14. Being too embarrassed to work it
I used to be way too embarrassed to pose elegantly and properly for a photograph. This would result in me leaving, seeing the photos on my laptop and being really angry at myself for not working it like an America’s Next Top Model contestant.
The fix: Don’t worry about what anyone thinks! It is well worth pushing through your fears, doubts or embarrassment to pose properly for a photo. Elongate your body, stand on your tippy-toes, stretch through your arms and fingers, work it like a Tyra Banks model… from head to toe! Don’t be afraid to pull a moody, model, dramatic face. You work it, babe! YOU WORK IT!
15. Being so wrapped up, you forget to have fun!
When I roll into a spot for work and find something I want to shoot I usually have to photograph it with my DSLR then capture some film too, then I Insta-story it, then I grab out my GoPro and photograph and film it using that too. What the heck?! By the time I’m done doing all that, it’s time to leave and I’ve missed it entirely.
The fix: Don’t be me. Don’t get so wrapped up in the photography part of it, you forget to stop and enjoy the moment. Remind yourself to put the camera down and let it all soak in. The video below is a look behind the scenes of one of my media trips last year… this is the fun stuff!
Have you made any of these travel mistakes?
Phoebe is a travel writer and photographer with a love for storytelling and making people laugh. Matt is a videographer and photographer with a passion for the great outdoors and big adventures. Together we inspire big adventures through our guides, videos, vlogs and photographs. Find out more about us here.