Even while traveling, when we’re often rushed, when we’re preparing to go to the next site, or the next destination, taking the time to plan the current photo will produce the best photo of the current scene.
Sure, planning each photograph means setting the proper exposure, getting the focus right, and ensuring other technical aspects of the photograph, such as white balance, are as desired, but making a great photograph goes well beyond that.
Making terrific travel photographs, or any photographs, requires a well thought out composition. Carefully select your precise image and its design, order and presentation of the image’s subject matter to grab the viewer’s attention, and help them understand the photograph’s story.
There are eight basic questions you should be asking yourself prior to pressing the shutter release for any travel photograph.
- What do you want say about what you’re seeing when you take the photograph? What will the photo say about its subject? What will the photo say about its location; the country, area, and specific place in the photograph? What story do you wish to express via the scene captured? Do you want to transmit a particular mood, or show how differently the people in the area live compared to those elsewhere.
- What do you want for the main subject of your photograph? Also ask yourself, what do you want as the center of attention for your photograph? For example, a photograph of a single iceberg in an Alaskan bay, may be more interesting than a wide panorama of hundreds of small icebergs in the bay. Narrowing or widening the focus of your photo may make a superior photograph.
Likewise, once you’ve chosen your subject how do you draw the viewers eye to the center of attention of your photograph. In the photograph to the right of a morning along the Schuykill River, I use the Rule of Thirds to draw the viewer's eye to the joggers, bicyclist, and sculler, despite the central position of the cherry tree in full blossum, and the large bridge.
- Will your photograph look better with a horizontal or vertical orientation? For example, landscapes generally look the best in a horizontal orientation, while many narrow monuments (Statue of Liberty in New York) or statues look best in a photograph with a vertical orientation. Zebras and antelopes are probably best taken with a horizontal approach, while a giraffe might be better with a vertical orientation. Try switching up your look to create extra interest by eshewing the traditional.
- If my object is moving, where will it be once I actually take the photograph? When taking a photo of a moving object, such as in the photo to the right of the Paris Metro, you must know where the train will be at the precise moment the shutter button is depressed, You need to anticipate the framing and other aspects of the photograph, when it will be taken.
- How will the background affect the photograph? While we may not notice the background when taking a photograph, while concentrating on the subject, backgrounds definitely affect the photograph. You must make yourself aware of the background, not just your subject. I had a problem taking photos at a beach wedding where chained-to-the-ground trash cans were in the photos regardless of the angle used. By choosing my angle carefully, I made sure the cans were isolated in the photographs, so they could be removed via Photoshop.
- What’s the best shooting distance and angle? Your perspective and how you position yourself when taking each photograph can greatly alter the quality of your shot. In my article, What do penguins and four-year-olds have in common? (Hint: get some measuring tape), I talk about sitting on the ground or kneeling to take photographs of small children. That way you can get an image of their faces, instead of just their hair. Likewise, for small wildlife, I generally get low to the ground. When taking travel photos, take your photographs from different angles and perspectives to increase interest and improve the composition.
- How should the subject(s) in the photograph be arranged? In many travel photographs you can arrange your subjects by changing your shooting angle and position. When taking photographs of people you can often ask them to move around to obtain a more pleasing composition, like I did with this wonderful family in front of Old Christ Church in Philadelphia.
- How do you want to direct the viewer’s eye within your composition? As I’ve discussed in the past, in my article about the Rule of Thirds, when looking at photographs the viewer’s eye doesn’t wander but moves via generally predictable patterns. You can use the placement of your subject within the photograph, as well as via lines, curves and patterns, as in the photograph to the right taken at the entrance of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or in the photo above along the Schuykill River.