Tips From 10 Expert Travel Photographers
From lighting techniques to spotting unique angles, use these photographer-tested tips to take your travel photos to new heights.
Globetrotting photographer Robb Gordon is often asked what kind of camera he owns. “Nobody asks a writer what kind of pen he uses,” says Gordon. “I don’t really care about the camera. I care about the image.” Photographer Martin Morrell echoes Gordon’s sentiment: “One doesn’t need an expensive camera in order to capture moments that please—[they] can be shot on a smartphone.”
Instagram’s global network of more than 400 million users proves every day that anyone with a smartphone can capture and share beautiful photographs from around the world.
To assist travellers during the Focus on Four Seasons Instagram contest, we called in 10 of the most talented travel photographers in the business to share tips and techniques for taking the perfect photo.
Take advantage of Mother Nature’s lighting at sunrise and sunset
Photographers live for what’s known as the golden hour—those short windows of time after sunrise or before sunset when the light gives anything you point your camera at a rich, golden glow.
“Whenever I can, I shoot during these times for the softest tones and most dramatic lighting,” says Dana Neibert, who is known for his environmental and landscape photography like the shot of Lanai, pictured above. “It’s so easy to make a nice image at those times.”
Lesley Murphy, photographer and travel blogger at The Road Les Traveled, agrees that lighting can make or break a photo. “I shot this during sunrise in Paris from the Penthouse at Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris,” she says. “Needless to say, it was worth the 6:00 am wake-up call. I wanted to make sure it had the best lighting.”
Murphy adds that a remote-control shutter release, tripod and wide-angle lens are helpful when shooting with a DSLR during this golden hour. “But even if you’re taking photos with an iPhone,” she says, “having something in the foreground will help bring out the various shades of the sunlight.”
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Photographer Martin Morrell gives the early-morning French Riviera light (and resulting dramatic shadow) the credit for adding such energy to this photo captured inside Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, A Four Seasons Hotel. “It’s the old adage of dawn and dusk for capturing great light and shadows, when the sun is lower and closer to the horizon.”
When shooting interiors, Morrell recommends including a human element or a small detail to bring the photo to life. “Being observant is key, as well as learning how to inject life into situations.”
Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat, A Four Seasons HotelBook Now
Utilise reflections to transform typical photos
Having worked in more than 110 countries as a photographer, Robb Aaron Gordon believes that sometimes what you don’t show in a picture is especially intriguing. “The mind is an amazing tool that fills in a lot,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to get closer to subjects. Many photos show too much. Filling the frame and leaving more to the imagination is interesting.”
In Gordon’s reflective photo of St Isaac’s Cathedral in St Petersburg (captured in a window at Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace St Petersburg), he was looking for a unique way to capture the famous site. “We often see landmarks in a straightforward manner, but I’m more interested in what it feels like to be there, rather than what it looks like to be there.”
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Photographer Kirsten Alana, the eye behind the travel photography blog Aviators and a Camera, also finds herself looking for different ways to capture “cliché” shots. “During sunset at Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, most people went to the beach to capture the moment,” she says. “Instead, I headed to the Resort’s pool so that I could use its large reflective surface as a giant mirror, doubling the impact. The pool gave a water effect, but was smoother and reflective.”
To recreate this photo, Alana suggests focusing on and exposing for the reflection rather than the reflected object, since the light between the two can vary greatly.
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Focus on what’s most important
Photographer Don Riddle has spent the last 15 years travelling the globe with camera in hand. To add interest to otherwise simple snapshots, he suggests playing with depth of field. “This technique is useful to soften the other elements in the scene,” instructs Riddle, “and bring the focus to the subject you want the viewers to see.”
To achieve this effect, Riddle shoots in aperture priority mode or in manual mode with the aperture setting at the smallest f-number. This style of photo can also be achieved, although it’s more difficult, on a smartphone. “Focusing on something very close to the camera will cause the background to go out of focus. Touching the focus option on your smartphone will force the camera to focus on the subject in the foreground. The closer you are to the subject, the more out of focus the background will be.”
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See the world in 360 degrees
As a cultural and international travel photographer, Christian Horan is always searching for perspectives that might be missed by the untrained eye. “A mentor taught me to always push myself to look further than the obvious angle,” he says. “I continually remind myself to look around when I’m discovering a new location or building.”
Horan captured this dramatic portrait of the spiral staircase at Four Seasons Hotel Casa Medina Bogotá from above, an angle that brings excitement to the shot. “Keep your mind open and eyes open wider,” he urges. “There’s always a new and different perspective to capturing a scene.”
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Photographer and founder of the blog Landlopers, Matt Long also urges us to explore the world from every angle: “You’d be surprised at the moments you’ll discover if you just take the time to truly look all around.”
It was while waiting for his partner in the lobby at Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest that Long glanced up to discover the glass ceiling and chandelier that would become the subjects of this stunning shot. “Don’t forget to look up and behind you. There really are some different perspectives to be found.”
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Sean and Jennifer Nguyen are the husband-and-wife duo behind the popular Instagram handle Kobechanel, a photographic chronicle of the couple’s travels around the world. A quick scroll through their stream reveals that the Nguyens have a penchant for shooting above destinations using a wide-angle lens, as evidenced by this night-time view of Dubai.
“Taking in the vastness of this desert city is best seen from as high above as possible,” says Sean. “Especially at sunset, seeing the transition of the city from sun-baked to moonlit is remarkable.” To create a night-time aerial photo with this same sense of motion, the Nguyens recommend using a tripod and long exposures.
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Find details that bring local culture to life
Capturing local culture beats at the heart of Rachelle Lucas’ culinary and travel blog, The Travel Bite. But as a photographer, she is always pushing herself to go beyond portraits of locals and shine a light on the details that speak to the subject’s unique way of life. “If you enjoy getting shots of people and culture,” she says, “get a different angle and physically move your body to make the photos more interesting.”
While touring the Batik Popiler II Factory in Bali’s Tohpati village, for example, Lucas focused on a woman’s hand rather than the larger picture to illustrate the skill required by the complex batik technique. “It’s a lengthy process of drawing, dying the fabric and then removing the wax. It made me appreciate the designs much more, and is something that a wide shot couldn’t capture.”