Three Essential Photo Tips

In the age of Instagram, everyone’s a photographer. But a few simple tricks still make snapshots actually worth showing off.

Traveler senior photo editor Dan Westergren offers his top three tips for shooting in the field:

1. Understand light. Get going before sunrise; everything photographs better in the first few hours of daylight. If you’re with family, either persuade them to witness the magic of early light, or sneak out of the hotel and bring breakfast back so they can appreciate your early morning disappearances.

2. Turn off the flash. There’s nothing like an ill-considered camera flash for ruining a beautiful scene. Most digital cameras do well enough at high ISO settings that use of the on-camera flash can be reduced or eliminated altogether. Learn how to turn your flash off, and take a few pictures with flash and a few without. Comparing versions side by side can help you determine when the flash helps and when it hurts. As a general rule, switch the camera from the “auto” setting — which seems to trigger the flash to go off most of the time — to “program.”

3. It’s still worth it to carry a “real” camera. Even the least expensive DSLR cameras, which are quite small and lightweight, have much better image quality than most point-and-shoot cameras. For lighter traveling, I recommend a new category of cameras called mirror-less, or EVIL (electronic viewfinder interchangeable lens). Look for micro four-thirds by Olympus and Panasonic or the NEX series by Sony. EVIL cameras have a relatively large sensor (translation: better images) but are smaller than DSLR cameras. As for the iPhone: great for snapshots and social media, but not a replacement camera. Blown up, iPhone photos usually disappoint.

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  1. Aaron Cress
    Salisbury NC
    May 29, 2014, 12:33 am

    Light, make sure it’s the correct light, and a adequate camera are pretty essential to photography. Simplifying things can be complicate part with a world full of gear. Time to shed some weight and get back to basics.

  2. Wave Dancer
    Cebu City
    May 12, 2014, 5:21 am

    Best travel cameras today are:
    – for the serious fotographer: Fujfilm X-100S, X-T1, X-pro1, Pentax GR, Pentax K3 or K5, Sony A6000 or any other smaller “EVIL” with at least a APS-C sensor or “four thirds”.
    -for point & shoot: Sony RX-100M2, Sony RX 10
    -rugged systems: DSLR’s: Nikon and Pentax / EVIL’s: Fujifilm X-T1 and for sure the goPro 3.

  3. loliyaz
    April 13, 2014, 11:18 am

    yes…i agree! this 3 tips are very useful and realistic….without knowing the lights,camera and appreciation of thereal beauty of the nature, the output is nothing….

  4. Jess at
    August 2, 2013, 9:21 pm

    I both agree and disagree with tip 3. If you’re a professional photographer, then film is the obvious choice. But in 95% of shooting situations, you can make up for a digital camera’s inferior image quality by having a strong grasp of basic photographic concepts (i.e. knowing what makes a good photo and knowing how to use what you’ve got).

    On my first trip to a developing nation and chose to take a cheap film camera (canon rebel I bought on amazon for $13) over my digital point-and-shoot for the exact reason mentioned in #3. Unfortunately, shortly after arriving in the country, a full-blown guerrilla war broke out. The bulky camera quickly became a liability– my life depended on no one knowing I had a camera. The very few photos that I did take turned out beautifully, but it wasn’t worth the extra danger and hassle of having the camera. Not to mention it cost me a small fortune to get those pictures scanned properly to share with family.

    Now that micro four-thirds exist, I now only bring that to dangerous countries. I completely agree that it does not take as good photos as a film camera, BUT, it is far more inconspicuous and convenient– making travel safer and easier. Not to mention, the small size makes it so that I’m more likely to capture moments that I wouldn’t normally have the guts to take with a larger camera.

    Bottom line: you can have the best film camera in the world and still take lousy pictures… And conversely, you can have the cheapest digital camera in the world and still take incredible pictures. Just use what works best for your needs.

  5. Digikewl
    July 15, 2013, 4:30 pm

    I agree with tip three. I have a canon rebel and it has given excellent photos for us. We tend to focus on nature and landscape shots.

  6. Noel V
    New Zealand
    May 3, 2013, 2:57 pm

    The Sony RX1 maybe is an exception. It is a full frame point and shoot which takes great photos. (At the moment at least).

  7. TravelPlay
    April 27, 2013, 2:16 pm

    I agree with points no. 1 and 2 but for point no. 3 i would suggest that the novice should start with the less expensive cameras first (point and shoot) and later on move to the bigger ones like DSLR or if possible join some photography sessions .

  8. Mehul Ganglas
    February 20, 2013, 6:43 am

    To each his own. My preference is always good equipment and better understanding of the subject. Even if you have an excellent understanding of ‘How To’, you might get limited by the equipment at some point and time. No use regretting it then, instead carry sensible amount of both- equipment and knowledge :)

  9. Rama Sivamani
    February 12, 2013, 3:22 pm

    Agree with the comments on #3. If you know how to adjust and operate a slr or dslr you do have more options in regards to your creativity. It doesn’t replace skill but allows you to maximize the skilss you do have.

    I’m conflicted on #2. If they are talking about the built in flash on your camera then I definitely agree. However I never travel without my external flash. If you know how to use it properly balancing it with natural or available light (ex fill flash, balancing with a backlit subject) the results can be really good.

  10. Patricia Horwell
    February 12, 2013, 11:09 am

    I agree, particularly with #3. I worry less about what clothes I will bring when I travel and more about what cameras will I bring.

  11. Susheel Marcus
    February 1, 2013, 3:49 am

    I completely agree with tips 1 & 2. However in the case of tip 3, my comment would be to start off with something inexpensive, and move up in terms of equipment once you are sure that you have the aptitude required for a photographer. In most cases, travellers would be happy with the outputs of point and shoot cameras as long as they have taken heed of tips 1 & 2.

  12. Suhail Khan
    January 27, 2013, 4:48 am

    Undoubtedly the fundamental skills of photography are essential; once you are equipped with these and then if we compare DSLR and P&S cameras, we find there cant be any comparison. DSLR results are far superior to P&S.

  13. MjD
    N M
    January 9, 2013, 9:09 pm

    I went to India with a p&s & a DSLR. There was a huge difference in image quality. Most p&s images were almost unusable in comparison-keep the ISO below 400 for a better image.

  14. Jay k
    January 1, 2013, 8:06 am

    The fact is you will never match the quality a dslr can produce on a point and shoot and they also lack a lot of options when it comes to creativity

  15. ZoliKali
    December 29, 2012, 12:07 am

    You are ready for a DSLR when you feel limited in what you are trying to achieve by a compact, or an iPhone. Is no point carrying around a 700g camera if you are not taking your time to understand, compose, bracket etc.

  16. Michael Schuermann
    United Kingdom
    November 25, 2012, 6:16 am

    Totally agree with the first 2. Much as I would like to agree with no. 3, taking more than 1 camera is not a choice for us. When hiking, we need to keep our load as light as possible. The day I decide to join a Nat’l Geographic competition is when I will probably think of getting a DSLR camera. There are good point and shoot cameras weighing less than 500 gms out there that serve our purposes.

  17. Ositadimma Amakeze
    November 22, 2012, 4:58 pm

    “It’s the photographer, not the camera….” Yet, when one has a good one, and is better himself, the best is at the click of his fingers. Amazing result!

    Thanks for sharing.

  18. Koba Jakob Maisuradze
    Tbilisi, Georgia
    November 22, 2012, 3:59 pm

    …I suggest you to travel to Georgia (Caucasus) around Georgian tower villages, in The great Caucasus. Also to visit ancient cultural areas…

    Independent Guide – Koba Maisuradze
    Facebook Page – Travel Master (Georgia)

  19. Mike Martin
    Mammoth Lakes, CA
    November 22, 2012, 2:15 pm

    Which DSLR Canon camera would you recommend for a realtor to photograph listings? Have enough technical skill to “step up” a bit.

  20. David Coomber
    November 22, 2012, 4:13 am

    I have been taking and selling photographes for 30 years,it seems to me now that DSLR are technically so much easier to use then their SLR film counterpart to the point composition is the only difference between a good picture or a bad one. P & S cameras are impossible to use in sunshine where you cannot see a thing and becomes potluck if you get the picture you want. but how many of the millions of people taking pictures really care about the quality

  21. Gabriela Villavicencio
    Tijuana, Mexico
    November 21, 2012, 2:50 pm

    I agree a DSLR will only take a better photo if you know how it works !The image sensor is much larger and the images will therefore be much higher quality no matter who is using it.
    Thanks for all Tips, good luck, good shoot
    gabriela V.

  22. Marino Hidalgo
    Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
    November 21, 2012, 10:18 am

    I used to shoot always on Auto and happy what I got from it. When I upgraded my camera, a close friend of mine told me I wasted my money buying a more expensive camera if I don’t make it work. :) He patiently taught me the fundamentals of photography, and NEVER again I shoot on Auto, and seldom use my flash. Thanks to my good friend who patiently showed me the light in the world of photography.

  23. s flick
    November 21, 2012, 7:23 am

    Justin Dunn: moot.

  24. linda
    saint petersburg florida
    November 20, 2012, 10:56 pm

    i recently sold my old and still usable two and a quarter film camera. ive put film behind me. i had a fairly expensive dslr and wasnt happy. got rid of that and have been using point and shoots. i am happy and my photos are good. the photographers eye is the thing no matter what. ive used pinhole quaker oat boxes and personally i love instagrams. i havent made any since i dont have a cell but love the look of them. almost like polaroid art prints…anyway theres something for everyone. yay!

  25. Mamta
    November 20, 2012, 9:09 pm

    I completely agree with #1 and #3. Great tips!

  26. Aiden Mahoney
    Stephenville NL.
    November 20, 2012, 8:37 pm

    I disagree . I shoot with a Canon P & S and i have won many prizes in photo contests’ and I have sold some of my photos to national & local magazines. I also won an all expense paid Heli-Hiking trip in the Rocky Mountains valued at $7000.00 two years ago. It’s not the camera, it’s the photographer.

  27. Wftristan
    November 20, 2012, 10:51 am

    I agree and disagree with point 3
    A DSLR will only take a better photo if you know how it works !

    Portland, Oregon
    November 19, 2012, 9:42 pm

    I agree with tip number 3. Any DSLR is better than an iPhone or point-and-shoot camera. The image sensor is much larger and the images will therefore be much higher quality no matter who is using it. I haven’t been impressed by micro four-thirds cameras but if you have found them to meet the your needs then go for it. I would just recommend that you try it before you buy it.

  29. Justin dunn
    charlotte nc
    November 19, 2012, 8:49 pm

    To previous poster. If you don’t have the fundamentals then your photo most likely isn’t worth showing anyways; so your point is mute.
    +dynamic range from more expensive cameras are worth it if you print larger than 4×6. IPhone will print post cards just as fine as a phase1.

    November 19, 2012, 6:33 pm

    To a large extent, I disagree with your tip number 3. The vast majority of people will gain nothing by carrying a “real” camera because they haven’t learned anything about lighting and composition. A good camera will not make up for lack of photography skills. We travel with a versatile point and shoot, but we realize the drawbacks of doing so. The benefit of not having to carry a lot of equipment far outweighs the drawbacks for us.