How to get great holiday snapshots

Travel | Christopher Reynolds 20 Nov 2019

The path to better photography is the same as a musician's route to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice. But these tips, hacks, ideas and tactics I've collected from colleagues and teachers over the years will get you there faster.

1) Get closer, physically. The more you fill your frame with your main subject, the better your chances of making a powerful image. World War II photographer Robert Capa was famous for this advice.

2) Get closer, optically. A telephoto or zoom lens can shrink distances and compress compositions, so you can give viewers a tighter arrangement.

3) Get closer for Instagram's sake. If you're shooting with a smartphone and sharing on social media, most people will see your pictures on tiny screens. That means you need bold, simple compositions. Colorful details work better than broad, subtle landscapes.

4) Don't be shy. Or rude. When you can, ask permission before you take a stranger's picture. You might say: "Excuse me. This setting is gorgeous, and a picture will look even better with a person in it. Would you mind if I include you in part of the frame? It'll look great and I can show you the result. Or share it."

6) Read the manual. Or at least the good parts. You can't get the best out of your gear until you understand what it can do.

7) Match your depth of field to your subject. With a digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR), if you're shooting a portrait, there's a good chance you'll want a shallow depth of field that leaves your subject's face sharp but blurs distractions in the background. If you're shooting a landscape, you'll probably want maximum depth of field so everything is sharp. For that result, use a higher aperture, which means you'll be using a slower shutter speed, a higher ISO, or both.

8) Be patient. An unpopulated photo location is like a stage set. If you wait a bit, someone will walk or stand or sit in just the right place, and you'll have a livelier image.

9) Auto mode will take you only so far. Automatic settings are getting smarter, and all cameras are getting better in low light. But if you're shooting a small, bright subject against a dark background (or something dark against a bright background), you may get a better result by shooting in manual mode.

10) Follow the Rule of Thirds. Instead of placing your subject dead center, imagine your frame lined into thirds, horizontally and vertically, so that your image area is sectioned into nine rectangles. Now look at the points where four rectangles come together. Those are the sweet spots

11) Simplify your composition. Exclude everything that might distract from your subject. In particular, watch the corners of your frame.

12) Digital filters such as those on Instagram can dress up a humdrum photo. And the Snapseed app offers even more options. But great pictures begin with what you capture in the first place.

13) Shoot from above. Just about everybody looks better if you shoot their face from slightly above.

14) Instagram might like squares, but some images want to be vertical or horizontal. Don't fight that. Turn your camera or smartphone sideways.

15) Vary your angle. By varying the height of your camera - by crouching, lying down, climbing a ladder or holding the camera high - you give viewers a new way to see an otherwise familiar scene.

16) The first and last hours of sunlight are the best time to take photos. Get up a little earlier. If you have a tripod, the half-hour right after sunset can bring dramatic possibilities.

17) If you're near water - whether it's a puddle or the Pacific - keep an eye out for reflection opportunities. The closer you get to the surface, the better the results.

18) Don't get lazy with the sunset. A successful sunset shot needs other elements, whether it's dramatic clouds, surf or a silhouette or two.

19) Use a tripod. If a full-size tripod is too much hassle, consider a table-top or mini tripod with bendable legs. They're affordable and fit in a pocket.

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