In this post, you’ll learn how to be the best travel photographer in your friend group, if not the world, but more likely your friend group.  If you follow these rules, you won’t go wrong!

Compose the Photo

Patterns: the human brain is a sucker for them. We’re always looking for patterns — be they shapes in the clouds, symmetry in buildings, or colors that compliment each other. There’s just something about a pattern that our brains love.

Understanding these patterns and what pleases the human brain is a nifty shortcut to taking better photos. And that’s what composition in photography is all about. Learn and apply the rules below, and you’ll start taking more photos that people will enjoy.

The Rule of Thirds

One of the most important rules of composition is known as the rule of thirds.

I learned recently that this is based on how babies learn to identify their mothers’ faces, which can be split up into three parts, comprising the eyes, nose, and mouth. The rule of thirds requires you to break an image into three equal parts either vertically, horizontally or both. The goal is to place key compositional elements into those thirds.

On your device, find the setting to enable a grid over the preview screen. Four lines will appear, two vertical and two horizontals. To get a great sunset shot, you can easily apply the rule of thirds — composing the shot with two-thirds sky, and one-third land or sea. You want to avoid splitting the image half and half, as it won’t look as good. The shot below of a sunset in Santa Cruz illustrates this and also has an interesting subject in the left third of the image.

Leading Lines

When composing a photograph, you want to make it as easy as possible for the person looking at it to figure out the subject and focus of the image. One way to do this is with leading lines — the use of natural geography or other features that the viewer will naturally look at first and which will lead their eyes to the main subject.

Roads are excellent as leading lines, particularly in big landscape shots. When I was traveling in New Zealand, I wanted to create a photographic story of the hike up Mount Taranaki, one of my favorite New Zealand hikes. Near the start of hike, the walking trail itself gave me a perfect leading line to illustrate the journey ahead, drawing the viewer’s eye into the frame and up to the mountain.

The goal for this image was a self-portrait that evoked my life of travel. The parallel tracks, which appear to converge, were perfect for leading the viewer’s eye to the subject — me. I felt I captured the imagery of wanderlust that I was looking for by using them.

Foreground, Midground, and Background

Have you ever taken a picture of a mountain or city skyline and then looked at it later and wondered why it doesn’t manage to convey the majesty of what you were looking at?

This is likely because your photograph is a two-dimensional image and you have lost the sense of scale that is apparent when you are present and in the moment. When composing a shot — and this is particularly true for landscape photography — think about the different elements in the foreground, midground, and background of the shot.

When you are out and about in the world, think about everything around you. If you see a far-off mountain you want to shoot, look around and see if you can find something interesting in the foreground or midground to incorporate into the shot. If you’re near a river, maybe that could be a canoe. Elsewhere it could be a house. Or a group of sheep. Or a car starting to scale a winding road.

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