A travel blog without photos is like a Sunday lunch without roast potatoes – just not right. However good a wordsmith you are nothing beats an actual photo of that ravishing beach to really invite the readers in and show them what it was like, rather than just telling them.
Great photos on your travel blog are also important when it comes to sharing and social media. It’s your photos that are Pinnable, Instagrammable and Stumbleuponable (yeah, they’re words now) and that will get the right people on your site to read your words.
You don’t necessarily need expensive equipment to create blog enhancing photos. A lot of travel bloggers now, including me, just use their iPhones. I was in the Huffington Post with 15 of the Best Travel Photos Taken With an iPhone alongside some great travel bloggers who also use their iPhone for their photography, or fauxtography. For the past year all my photos have either come from my iPhone or my Windows Nokia 1020.
So whether you’re armed with your iPhone, your top of the range DSLR or something in between, there are a few things to keep an eye out for to get the best photos you can. Here are my tips from what I’ve learned over the years, and a few exclusives from my favourite travel bloggers, theplanetd.com, backpackerbanter.com and timetravelturtle.com.
1. Think about lighting, and get out for the Golden Hour
When you’re a travel blogger you obviously don’t have the luxury of being able to control the lighting and brightness as much as say, a fashion blogger in a studio. You need to learn to work with what you have. When it comes to taking a photo work out where the light is coming from – you’ll want it in front, not coming in from the back or your subject will appear too dark.
Make sure you’re out and about for the Golden Hour too – just before sunset – this is when you’ll get the richest colours and the most interesting and complimentary light for your photos.
2. Use some editing software
For a long time – until a few months ago – I never bothered with any editing. To be honest, I felt like I didn’t have time and that the photos were fine as they were. Then I started looking around and saw that the bloggers I loved were obviously taking way better photos than me. It wasn’t till I thought about it that I realised they weren’t taking better photos, they were just editing them.
There are a few apps that can help you out with editing on the go.
3. But don’t edit too much
There are some bloggers, never to name any names, who edit so much they’ve taken all the natural colour out of the photos and they’re just left with some over processed pic that looks nothing like reality. It’s a fine line, and I can definitely see how editing gets addictive. The more you do it and become skilled at it the more you’ll get to know how much is too much.
4. Tell a story
“Make sure the photos tell a story. Think about different shots that portray the destination the way you want people to see it. We all see beauty and interest in different things, so let the reader see your point of view. I always look for the different perspective when taking photos. I also make sure that the photos fit the story we are trying to tell. Just because you have a beautiful beach shot, there is no sense putting it into the article if you are talking about conservation or adventure. Make sure the photos enhance the story, not distract or detract.”
– Deb from theplanetd.com
Armed with Deb’s advice I came back with the series below from a bike ride in Taiwan. I was going for new perspectives, some action shots and of course, illustrative photos too. What do you think?
5. Think about the framing
Have a look at what’s in front of you before you bring your camera up to shoot it. It’s common to see people snapping away as soon as they see something of interest but it’s a better idea to really look first, see how everyone else is taking the photo and then think of a different way to capture the shot. Consider the frame and come up with the best composition based on what you see. Turn your grid lines on to make the most of the Rule of Thirds too.
6. Take more shots, different shots
If you’re taking one shot you might as well take a few. The challenge though is in making those ‘few’ different. I’ve got so many photos on my laptop of the same thing over again but if I had them from other angles or in different lighting it would be a lot more useful when it comes to using them on the blog. You could stand above, below, to a different side or angle on a slant. Play around with your photography until you find a way you like, and then keep on testing and improving.
You can see how I’ve tried to do this in my recent photo posts.
7. Take detail shots
If you like making collages taking detail shots is a great way to get the material you need to improve the story behind the photo collage. You can use the big space for the overall shot and then back up what your audience is seeing with a few details to add to the story.
8. Be ready and waiting
You need to learn to think fast and capture the moment. Staged photos and selfies can get kind of boring – the best blogger photographers know how they can capture emotion and action in a photo at a second’s notice. The more you use your camera and the more familiar you get with the settings the easier it will be to find the right one when you need it.
9. Use lots of photos
“Shove loads in there! People love looking at pics so whether you’re talking social media or blog posts the more pics the better – get a good variety of shots in there too. They say a picture is worth a thousand words so turn your 800-word blog post into a thesis with pics. If you’re not great with a camera I’d suggest checking out some online tutorials and start getting creative, without images your posts will rarely gain popularity.”
– Chris from backpackerbanter.com
10. Keep shooting
If you’re photographing people don’t just tell them you’re taking a photo and do one. Try and get a little shoot going on with them – it’s when they relax that you’ll get the best shots on the warm up and chill out. Take them from a few different angles – everyone has a best side! You need to anticipate what they’re going to do so you can bring the photos to life by capturing their personality in the shots you want.
11. Try to create your own look
I’ll admit I find this really hard but it’s definitely something I want to be better at in the future. If you can create your own ‘style’ for your images it really shows you have a brand, a unique perspective and your images will be instantly identifiable to you.
Frankie from asthebirdfliesblog.com does this brilliantly. To me her photos are wistful, kind of dreamy yet still illustrate her words and define a moment in time that she decided to capture. All the photos on her blog have the same qualities. She doesn’t busy them with writing or by trying to fit too much in a shot. Just look at this one…
If you compare that to the bright and sometimes brash ones I use (see the header photo) you can see she’s definitely got style.
12. Get out of auto
If you are using a camera please don’t buy a big expensive beaut and then just shoot on auto. Get to know your camera settings and how to use them and your photos will be a lot better.
The ISO setting is related to the amount of light. If you have plenty of light you can reduce your ISO setting, especially if you’re taking landscapes or photos of things that are still. If it’s dark, you don’t have a tripod or whatever you want to take a photo of is moving, you’ll need to use a higher ISO setting.
This is how much light you allow into your photo. If your aperture setting is on low, so the opening of the lens is larger, then you let more light in and the background gets blurrier. If you make the aperture setting high then less light gets in and so the background will be sharper.
Set this low if you want to give the illusion of something moving – like if you were to capture a flow of water for example. If you want to go the other way you’ll need a fast shutter speed and this will freeze the movement so a moving object will appear still.
13. Use yourself
Include people as much as possible. Even yourself, if you’re brave enough. I’m getting better at including photos of me as it’s definitely something I look for on other travel blogs. I’ve seen photos of Machu Piccu a million times, but I’ve never seen a photo of you in front of it with a big grin of achievement, or similar. It’s all about making your photos interesting, and unique.
14. Illustrate the story you want to tell
When I asked Deb from PlanetD (answer above) and Michael from timetravelturtle their number one tip for using photography to enhance a travel blog they had similar replies. I wanted to include them both as the story of the photos is not something I really think about and if they both said it, then it must be important and I need to get all Enid Blyton on this camera phone of mine.
So, to reiterate the story telling point…
“The most important thing is to think about the story you’re trying to tell with your photos. It’s likely your photos will go alongside your text on your blog and it will be better for the reader if they suit each other. When you are in a destination taking photos, try to think about the things you’re likely to mention in your story and make sure you take photos of them. But also think about the mood and the narrative. If the story is going to be about a hard climb up a mountain, take photos of the path, the stairs and the equipment you use. If the story is about how cold a city is in winter, take photos of the snow, the ice and of people wrapped up in warm clothes. In general, you should be writing the story in your head as you take the photos and making sure you’ll be able to illustrate the key points.”
– Michael from timetravelturtle.com