Five Tips for taking better travel photos

Remember the old joke about the dreaded invite over to see someone’s vacation photos? Well that scenario is long gone now that we see instant updates on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. There was a good reason though for that dreaded invite and it is because the photos were usually boring. A cliche shot standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, a random photo of a famous landmark, or a photo of a famous piece of art in a museum is so over done that we have simply lost interest. 

So what does make for more interesting travel photos? Having recently returned from Berlin I thought I would share a few of my images to illustrate five tips for taking better travel photos.

1.Shoot no matter what the weather. You never know what the weather will be like when you travel  so get comfortable shooting in all conditions. We spent nine days in Berlin and it rained…EVERY…SINGLE…DAY! Seriously, over the nine days we were in Berlin the weather ranged from a steady light drizzle to a “cellular burst” that produced heavy rain and 70 MPH winds. Sadly, we found out the next day that two people were killed during the storm from falling trees. The sun finally came out late afternoon our last day there. At first I was really cranky that I wouldn’t be able to get any good shots of the city but actually some of my favorite images were taken in the rain. The photo below was me the entire time in Berlin. Everything I photographed was from under this umbrella. 

Nine days in Berlin photographing in the rain

Shooting the famous Brandenburg gate in the rain framed by all the colorful umbrellas and rain coats added some interest and color. I like the shot much better than if it was just a monument shot.

Rainy day in Berlin

Another positive thing about an overcast or rainy day is that it can bring out architectural details that shadows from the sun often hide. I love the way the Cathedral dome stands out against the overcast sky. Putting a slim black boarder around the image helps it from getting lost on the page.

Berlin Cathedral in rain

2. Get lost and wander. Since I had the luxury of being in Berlin for over a week and had no planned agenda, my husband and I spend hours each day just wandering through the city. Getting lost is a great opportunity to find interesting images that are not typical travel photos. Not every photo has to be a beautiful view or a well known landmark. There are post cards for that. Walk down alleys, sit at a cafe and people watch. Look for interesting colors or textures or an interesting juxtaposition. The photo below was really off the beaten path but had we not wandered I would never had seen this wall that really spoke to me. I love the color, the texture, the brick arch and that blue door!

Berlin brick wall

Typical travel photo? No, visually interesting? Maybe not for you, but for me, yes.

I found this view compelling of the white building rising up over the graffiti covered plywood. Again, not a typical travel photo but I think it reflects the vibe of Berlin.


3. Shoot Inside. There was one day during our stay where the weather was truly frightening. It was down pouring rain all day and the winds were blowing so hard that parked motorcycles were flipping over. That day was definitely a museum day. There are so many interesting photo opportunities in museums but look for things to shoot besides the art work. I see so many people in a museum stand directly in front of a painting and pull out their phone. Are you there to see and experience the museum or to simply record the art work? 

I took this image at the Natural History Museum as my husband was peering into the enormous “wet” specimen room. 

Natural History Museum Berlin

I love this image of the beautiful architecture of the museum. This says more to me about the museum than had I simply just photographed a piece of art work.

4. Use people as props in your photo. Sometimes waiting around until a person walks into the frame is a perfect way to highlight the scale of something or add a human touch in the photo. The architecture of this new building becomes more impressive with the person in the photo. 

This metal spiral staircase was not nearly as interesting without the people climbing the stairs.

5. Be open to the unexpected. You never know when a great photo opportunity will present itself. When traveling be sure to keep your photo radar turned on. Always be observant and when the unexpected happens be ready to grab the shot. I had no idea a man playing a guitar would be seated at the end of this underground tunnel and the purple light made it all that more mysterious.

I posted this image of a smoking bride on Facebook and it clearly was a favorite of all the images I posted. I had about ten seconds to get this shot and had I not been on alert it would have passed me by.

Smoking Bride

My final piece of advice is to shoot lots and lots of images. The more you shoot the better the chance you will have travel photos that everyone will like to see!

What do you like to photograph best when you travel?







The one thing you can do today to eliminate crappy cell phone photos

Since I began my blog series about using the iphone camera, I have gotten several emails from readers telling me their images look “crappy”. Well truth be told, I too used to have a phone filled with crappy photos. The reason? It had nothing to do with exposure, lighting or the iphone camera. The problem wasn’t with the phone at all but with my ATTITUDE!

That’s right, I was a DSLR snob and I had no respect for the iPhone camera. My years of working as a professional and using top of the line cameras and lenses had so prejudiced me that I considered the iPhone nothing more than a sub par point and shoot camera. I gave little thought to the image, what the background was or even what the lighting looked like. I would just pull out my phone, point, shoot and…done.  I gave the photos no thought because I was simply using my iphone to grab a quick shot. This negative attitude resulted in crappy photo after crappy photo.

I first started to question my attitude when I read a few blogs written by professional photographers who were shooting with the iPhone. At first I was very skeptical and thought they were just lazy or not really professional. Then a few photographers that I follow and admire revealed that the majority of their work assignments were taken with the iphone and used the term iphonography and iphonograpers. Seriously???? Iphonewhat??

It was at this point I stopped disrespecting the iPhone camera and looked at it more seriously. I learned about the camera’s features and editing Apps but most importantly, I started to give the same attention to the composition and lighting as I would had I been using my DSLR. My photos drastically improved overnight.

Here is a perfect sample. On the left is an image of two pillows that I might have taken when I put no thought into taking the photo. I would have just pulled out my cell phone and grabbed a quick image. On the right is how I photograph now. I looked at the pillows carefully, realized one was upside down, decided a lower angle would be best, adjusted for the back lighting (by sliding the sun icon up the screen) and then took the photo.

OB-pillows badgood

See how the image on the right is more pleasing simply because I took the time to think first and shoot second?

So if you think you have crappy iphone photos try spending a bit more time and effort before you rush to point and shoot. Take a moment, look at the lighting, is it flattering to your subject? Are you holding the phone too high or too low? Is there a better angle to shot from? Is there something distracting in the back ground that can easily be moved (i.e. the classic plant growing out of someone’s head). I guarantee you my friends,  if you simply change your attitude and give your photos a bit more thought and time, those crappy photos will be a thing of the past.

By the way, I want to give a shout out to my friend Deborah Main who made the beautiful custom green and red pillow on the right in my above image. She is a true pillow goddess and you can see her work here.

7 tips for taking better Instagram photos

Although I was a little slow joining in on the Instagram craze, I am now officially addicted. While drinking my morning coffee, multiple times throughout the day and always before I put my phone down at night, I scroll through my feed looking at images. I know I am not alone in my obsession as almost everyone tells me Instagram is their preferred choice for social media.

We all want to post great eye catching photos so I have seven tips to share for taking better Instagram Photos.

1.Don’t use the Instagram app to take your photos. It is best to take your photo with the native cell phone camera or your DSLR and then import it to Instagram. You will have more control and can edit the image as needed before posting.

2.Keep it simple: Most people are scrolling through Instagram on their phone so keep your photos simple, clean and well edited. A nanosecond is about the amount of time you have to grab someones attention. If you are looking to engage the viewer in order to get those little red hearts, then keep this rule in mind. Instagram is not the venue for cluttered photos with lots of intricate details.

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

3. Look for strong shapes and saturated color: Your image does not have to be anything extraordinary. Look for bright colors, interesting shapes or shadows and the simplest of things can have a strong visual impact.

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

4. Use symmetry. The human eye loves symmetryIn the past Instagram only allowed square format but now you can post both portrait and landscape format. I advise sticking to either square or portrait since the landscape format gets compressed and becomes even more difficult to see. If you use the square format (which is my favorite) then skip the “rule of thirds”. Try centering your subject to create a pleasing symmetry.

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

5. Use natural light and be thoughtful of the time of day. Lighting is by far the most important element of any good photo. If the lighting is bad, no amount of editing will turn it into a great photo. Early morning and just before sunset is the ideal time of the day to shoot outdoors because the light has a soft warm glowing quality. Overcast days are also good because the overcast sky acts as a giant soft box. On bright sunny days beware of shooting between 10am-2pm as the light can be very harsh and unfaltering.

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

6. Look for interesting angles. Try photographing an object from above or below. Experiment with different angles and camera heights. I love shooting down from tall buildings. It’s an always changing landscape and often times a great opportunity for something unique. Besides shooting up and down also be on the lookout for interesting angles and unusual juxtapositions.

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

7.Use editing apps but not the Instagram filters. I confess, I fell prey to using the IG filters when I first joined. There are some very odd colored ones and although I quickly tired of the filters I then learned how to use editing apps to tweak my photos. Again, I went a little too far with those as well. My early posts had some very unnatural looking skies and neon green grass. Luckily, that phase also was short lived. Basic edits such as cropping, straightening architectural lines, boosting the contrast (if needed) and slightly upping the saturation can take a good photo and turn it into a great photo. Just don’t over do it. My favorite basic editing app  is Snapseed. It’s free, easy to learn, and can accomplish most of what you need. For more advanced retouching apps I use VSCO, Adobe PhotoShop Express, and TouchRetouch.

If you are serious about improving your photography all the above tips will help but nothing beats getting out there and practicing. You need to train your eye just like any other muscle and the more you shoot the better you will get.

If it’s “LIKES” you are after be sure to check back next week because I have seven tips for getting more “likes” on Instagram.

If you want to follow me on Instagram just click here.

Happy Shooting!


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