I remember the very first trip Sarah and I had ever taken. We went to Paris, for our honeymoon. We were newlyweds and ready to take the world by storm. Our camera of choice was a tiny Canon Rebel with the standard kit lens. It wasn’t fancy, but for us it was the ticket to a lifetime of memories captured.
Like most things, the more you travel the better you get at it. You learn how to navigate a new city, how to find good food and (most importantly!) how to hone your photo editing process. When I went back to look at all of the “amazing” pictures I had taken on that first trip, I was really disappointed. Sure, I was hitting the shutter button a lot, but I wasn’t being very intentional with each shot. The camera acted as an extension of my face rather than a useful tool to collect great content.
It was at that point I decided it was important for me to learn how to take better photos. Here are a few tips I learned over the years. They’ve helped me tremendously, and I hope they help you too!
Where + When
So much of taking good photos while traveling has to do with where and when you take the photos. Before we go anywhere, we look up exactly what we want to shoot (but always keep an eye out for those spontaneous shots!). If you know the general region, we suggest just typing it into Google image search. If you know specifics, you can use apps like Instagram or VSCO’s search tool to really get an idea of great photo locations.
We used both Instagram and VSCO’s search tools throughout a recent Thailand trip to find places we wanted to photograph, while also giving ourselves the freedom to wander around, discovering new places. This balance of research and wanderlust are what we love about travel photography and help us to always make the most of our time in a new place. The images we return home with have become proof of a trip well spent! When you’re in a new place, figuring out what to photograph can be overwhelming. Everything is a new sensation and new experience, so you want to document it all. Finding your personal passions will help to hone in on what you really want to focus on. Personally, we love photos that highlight the simplicity of nature. The world is so chaotic and busy that finding an area of serenity that exists naturally is so beautiful and appealing, but also reflective of the city we’re in. It’s one of the reasons we travel!
Timing is also HUGE.
Some of our best photos were taken during what’s called “The Golden Hour.” Basically it’s anytime the sun is at the horizon (sunrise/sunset). Setting the alarm clock to be up before sunrise is so painful but also so worth it. This is the time of day when the lighting produces the richest colors and most even lighting. You get some warm, creamy highlights and the deep blues that start to set in with the evening.
You’ll want to capture these colors naturally, but editing in Adobe Lightroom will also help enhance and pull the richness of those colors out of the image. I dive more into some Lightroom editing basics later in this post to help you really capture your travels. However, when working with images captured during Golden Hour, we like to use the Color Selection tool in Lightroom. It allows you to individually adjust the hue, saturation and luminance of a specific color. See below.
If you’re unable to capture the perfect shot during Golden Hour, don’t fret. During the day, we try to take photos in the shade or with overcast skies to avoid harsh contrasts between sunlight and shadows. This makes a world of difference in the editing process because you’re working with even tones across the image. It allows you to adjust the entire image without destroying the highlights or lowlights.
Most often we shoot with our Canon 5d Mark III. It’s a fantastic camera and really meets the needs of what we’re going for. We love the full sized sensor, tons of AF points and video features. With that, we will often shoot with Canon’s 24-70mm LII lens. In a perfect world, we’d all shoot with specific prime lenses for every scenario, but we’ve found that the 24-70 provides incredible sharpness and versatility. The marginal gains that we’d get from swapping out prime lenses hasn’t outweighed the cost to purchase them, especially when you can achieve a lot of those added features in Adobe Lightroom. Specifically, using the Lens Correction tool, you can remove chromatic aberration, lens distortion and lens vignetting. Adobe Lightroom also has camera profiles baked into the software that “fix” common lens distortions associated with specific lenses. It’s a very neat feature and one that will help you achieve those marginal improvements that prime lenses typically offer.
It’s also worth noting that we like to shoot everything in RAW so we have more flexibility in the editing process. Keep following along for a deeper exploration of how we edit!
Publishing + Editing
After you’ve taken all of these amazing photos, getting them published to your platforms is the next step. As mentioned, our primary camera is a Canon 5d Mk III, which hasn’t always played nicely with platforms like Instagram, but now it is easier than ever. We use an Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter to import our photos to our phones on the go and have never looked back! When we get back to the hotel, we also back them up on our laptop and sync across our Adobe platforms (when there’s wifi!).
One of our biggest creative influences has been the film emulation products created by VSCO. They sell presets for Adobe Lightroom that mimic film photography and really bring a creative approach to digital editing. Once you download a VSCO preset, install it to Adobe Lightroom and have fun! We try to use them as a starting point for our creativity. Every image is different (lighting/composition/tones), which means that there is no perfect VSCO preset to make your photos instantly look incredible. All of them should be viewed as a jumping off point to set the direction you want the photo to go, and then you can perfect the image with Adobe Lightroom’s potent adjustment tools.
Some of our favorite VSCO presets for Adobe Lightroom are TRI-X and Kodak Portra 800 (Film 01 pack), 400H+1 and Kodak Portra 160 +1 (Film 06 pack), and Agfa Portrait XPS 160, Ilford Pan F 50, and Kodak Ektar 25 (Film 07 pack).
Behind the Scenes
For those of you with Adobe Lightroom, you’ll definitely want to follow along here – for those of you without, what are you waiting for? We’ve put together this little tutorial to show you how we edit and some of the tools we use most often. Here is a before and after photo of a beautiful rolling hillside in South Dakota. Hopefully some of these adjustments will give you an idea of how to achieve a similar look with your own travels!
[image-comparator left=”http://travelfoodlove.co/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/FW2I0771-1.jpg” right=”http://travelfoodlove.co/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/FW2I0771.jpg” width=”100%” classes=”hover”][/image-comparator]
One of our favorite things to do is to enhance the greenery in photos. We do this in several ways, but it always starts with the Color sliders in your toolbar. We typically start with adjusting the greens, but where we are determines how we adjust them. In this particular photo, we want the field to have a blueish hue to the grass. So we select the green color, move the hue towards the right which changes our grass to a bluer cooler. In general, the hue slider will move a color up or down the color spectrum (ROYGBIV). Blue, for example, can be made to look more like an indigo/violet if you move it to the right, or a greenish-yellow if you move it to the left.
You can see the exact adjustment made here.
The photo below is a screen shot of all of the adjustments made in the Color toolbar for this photo. The most dramatic adjustments were made to the warm colors in the photo. These adjustments allowed me to really draw out the colors in the sunset. Given we shoot everything in RAW, we retain more of the color data and therefore have greater flexibility in the editing process.
We also like to use the Graduated Filter to enhance large sections of a photo. For the following photo in particular, we used it to pull out some of the detail in the clouds by increasing the clarity. We also wanted to make the sky appear a little bluer and achieved that by making the shadows darker and increasing the saturation. You can see the affected areas here in the pink tint. The Graduated Filter can also be used on the bottom of an image to create a base, giving the image a sense of balance and stability.
These are just a few ideas on how to get started. Some other links that I’ve found particularly useful can be found here.
*This post has been written in partnership with Adobe