6 Tips for Taking Better Travel and Adventure Photos

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There is no question that photography and adventure go hand in hand. Whether you’re traveling to some remote corner of the globe, snapping a summit photo on a big mountain, or just capturing a sunset over the landscape in your own backyard, great photos are an essential part of telling the story. As someone who is lucky enough to get travel regularly as part of his job, photography has long played a crucial role in what I do. That said, I’m hardly an expert and I’m constantly learning new things on how to be a better photographer.

Recently I had the chance to attend a Nikon School class on Landscape and Travel Photography that was taught by professional photographer Reed Hoffman. The course no only reminded me of some of the basics that I hadn’t always been thinking about, while also teaching me a few new tricks that I can carry forward on future adventures. With that in mind, here are 6 tips I learned for taking better photos.
Get to Know Your Camera
This may seem like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised at the number of people who buy a camera, charge the battery, shoot a few photos, and end their familiarization there. To get the most out of your camera, you have to really drill down into the menus to figure out where all of the settings are, while exploring what those settings actually do. If you’re using a DSLR, you should learn how it performs in a variety of environments, how well it it shoots images with different lenses, and how well it functions in low light conditions. You’ll also come to know how fast it shoots photos and get a sense of how it captures color and light. All of those are important things to know before you really get serious about your photography.
At the Nikon School course that I took we actually went through the various menus and examined what the settings actually did. Some of it was very basic and common sense, but others weren’t too intuitive and easy to understand. But, the instructors made it easy to figure out what everything did, sending us out better informed about the technology behind the equipment we’re using. Also, it is always fun to experiment with different settings to see how they impact your results. 
Think About Composition
I like to say that there is a big difference between snapping pictures and taking photographs. If you’re just pointing your camera in a general direction to capture a scene, you’re probably just doing the latter. However, if you put the camera up to your eye, think about the shot, frame your subject in an interesting way, and take your time with figuring out what makes it the most interesting, you’ll start to take much better photos. For instance, the subject of the photo doesn’t necessarily have to be front and center, but actually might be more interesting somewhere else in the image. The Rule of Thirds comes in handy when thinking about competition too.
Wildlife Photography Rewrites the Rules
Many adventure photographers love to take photos of wildlife, myself included. But capturing great images of animals can be a real challenge at times forcing us to rethink some of the rules we have for taking photos. For instance, most of us like to shoot in manual focus modes, but when taking shots of wildlife, autofocus is probably the right way to go, particularly if the creature is on the move. Knowing how your auto-focus works can help increase your chances of getting a good photo too.
On Nikon cameras, there are several auto-focus modes. AF-S uses a single servo option to quickly focus on the subject and hold that focus in place. However, AF-C is continuous servo focus, during which time the camera shifts focus, making it a better option for moving subjects such as wildlife. In AF Area mode, the points of focus shift based on the subject, how large they are in the frame, and a few other variables. Picking the right setting takes a bit of practice but can produce great results. 
Consider Light and Shadow
The use of light and shadows can make a huge difference in the quality of your photos. Bright sunlight can wash out a scene for instance, while more muted light can produce unique color tones. Also, shooting a photo with the light source in a different location can create some interesting elements to the image, like long shadows at the end of the day or interesting rays of light cast upon a reflective or unique surface. 
Thinking about where the predominant light source is in your photos can make all of the difference in how well they turn out. This includes accounting for the sun and the time of day. Instead of just snapping off a quick image of what you see, stop and think about how the current light conditions may impact the final product. Would the photo be more interesting from a different angle? Are the shadows darkening out the subject? Remember, your eye sees things differently than your camera lens, and what we see in realtime may not be what appears in the image. Alternatively, don’t be afraid to use light in interesting ways to cast a different photo altogether. You may just find that the subject of the image isn’t what you had first intended, but the light itself. 
Don’t Forget About Framing
As photographers we often get too caught up in what the main subject of the photo is and don’t always think about what is happening around that person, place, or thing. The reality is, sometimes the environment is more interesting than subject itself, and framing it in that place and time can make all of the difference. When shooting your photo, pay attention to what is happening along the edges. Find interesting ways to fill those spaces with things that add a unique element to the shot. Putting a border around your subject – such as shooting through a window pane or doorway – can make the shot more interesting and unique. But, those are simple and obvious framing techniques. Look for other natural “frames” that can be used to add something to the photo as well, keeping in mind what is going on in the foreground and background too. 
Go the Extra Mile
When it comes to taking great photos, you often have to have plenty of patience and be willing to do things that others won’t. Most travelers quickly snap photos while passing by a location in a blur, and as a result they capture an image of the place, but not something that truly captures the essence of it. If you want to get memorable shots, be willing to wait around long enough to get the exact image you’ve been waiting for. Also, don’t be afraid to wander off the beaten path to get a photo from a different angle or from a unique location. Everyone takes a photo from the easiest place to capture it, but truly great photographers are willing to go the extra mile to get something that is all their own. That could mean that you have to spend time outside in cold weather, rain, snow, wind, and other conditions. Ultimately however, that can lead to a better photo, and probably some great stories to go along with them. 
Patience and persistence are a photographer’s best traits. Any professional will tell you that they shoot hundreds, if not thousands, of images to get the perfect photo. Most will set up shop in a certain spot and will sometimes wait hours to get the image that they want. As travelers, we don’t always have that kind of time to spare, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still think a bit differently about the image we want to capture and put a bit more effort into making that shot a reality.

For more information on the Nikon School click here

Kraig Becker