David Smith, a world travel & fine art photographer from Vancouver, is aboard Insignia as a guest lecturer on several segments of our Around the World in 180 Days voyage. His recent publications include the Wall Street Journal, National Geographic Traveler, Geo Saison Magazine and USA Today Travel Online. Below, he shares his top simple tips to improve your travel photos.

Some travelers don’t take the time to use or have the knowledge of good composition techniques when using their cameras. Frequent travelers also find themselves at famous world locations at the wrong time and place.  Organized tours and cruise port visits often occur during midday when the sun is high and the scene is lit with high contrast and light glare from the noon-time sun.  Unless a return and longer visit in the early morning or late afternoon is arranged, those magical travel photographs with soft colored light at dynamic low angles just don’t happen.

Below is an example of a very bad travel image I captured on a visit to the island of Samoa in the South Pacific. The local tourist board put on a fantastic cultural music, dance and art craft exhibition which started at 11 a.m. just as the sun peaked above with the worst light and glare possible. When the torch bearer passed by me twirling his lit torch, I felt kerosene drops on me but got a few quick grab shots.

Samoan-Torch-Bearer-unedited-600x400When I viewed the image later on my computer I groaned – this is an ugly image! High contrast, strong shadows on faces and horrible composition with the main subject centered, trees and audience members everywhere.

Here are a few easy steps to fix this ugly image:

  1. Reminder: Set your camera image size to the largest possible so future cropping still retains high quality in smaller size.
  2. Straighten the image for the horizon line to be actually horizontal. This is a frequent problem for me. Use your image editing software straighten image tool.
  3. Crop the image to eliminate the unnecessary components, such the tall palm tree and hut on the right and most of the audience members on the left while placing the torch bearer off center. (Cropping alone often fixes poor images dramatically. Use the rule of thirds, leading lines and keep your main subject off centered).
  4. Fix the darkened faces in your digital photography software by increasing the lightness of the shadows, increasing exposure slightly or adding a fill light (or suitable combinations).
  5. A simple fix for the poor exposure is to use the HDR Sketch – Light preset in the Topaz Labs Adjust 5.0 plugin with slightly increased brightness (HDR=High Dynamic Range). This preset automatically increase lightness in dark regions, reduces brightness in light areas and adds texture and punch to an image – and in one mouse click.

Here is the result – now isn’t this better?


For the complete post, visit David’s travel & photo blog.

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