Improving your photography – for amateurs

For those of you interested in photographing your travels, here some encouragement and tips from a fellow amateur. I’m not a pro, my experience comes from taking a single photography module and being on camera duty over the course countless family holidays. However, I have learnt a few simple things along the way that I think can help anyone wanting to create more beautiful holiday pictures.

1. Don’t be disheartened if you can’t afford that DSLR you’ve always wanted:

I use my parents DSLR when I am at home, but as a student I can’t afford one to take travelling with me. That doesn’t mean I can’t take exciting and beautiful pictures though. Obviously, if you know how to use it, there is greater potential with a better camera. However a better camera does not automatically create better photos – my parents are testament to that fact and I have often hinted that their Canon DSLR and collection of lenses is wasted on them! These days you can get a decent compact camera fairly cheaply, and they are getting better all the time. The size of them can also be an advantage when travelling. Some of my best photos have actually been taken on my smaller and cheaper camera, just because I’ve been more likely to have it one me when something intriguing captures my eye. Some professionals even use camera phones for their street photography as they draw less attention. 

2. Get off automatic mode:

I’m “guilty” of still having my camera set on automatic all the time, but learning how to use settings manually will make you a better photographer. Watch a few online tutorials, or just get out there and experiment. In learning about how the camera works, you will also better understand concepts such as lighting and depth of field which will greatly enhance the quality of your photos even if you still end up shooting on auto mode. Sometimes, when you are on the road and you see something awesome that you want to capture, time is not on your side. Then it makes sense to use the automatic mode. Also being completely honest there are times when it does the job and it’s okay to be a bit lazy. But you don’t want to be confined to just using automatic. There are occasions when it won’t produce the desired effect; low lighting being a classic occasion, or if you want to alter the focal point of the image. Thankfully many compacts now allow you to change settings, unlike a few years ago. On my £150 camera, I can change the aperture and shutter speed, but not the ISO. 

3. Switch up the angle:

Taking pictures from different view points will make for a more interesting collection of photos. When everyone has seen countless photos of *insert famous monument* what is going to make yours different?

4. Take your photos as if you can’t edit them… and then do:

It’s a really bad mistake to take a picture quickly, thinking that you’ll just be able to crop it later into something better composed. Cropping out the excess will reduce the quality of your picture once the bit you selected has been enlarged. Take the time to think about the composition and framing of your image. Rules like the golden ratio (rule of two thirds) can be useful guidelines for composition, but don’t feel like you have to stick to them. If you’re just starting out you may not have done any editing, but even the best taken photographs can often be improved by a bit of tweaking. I use Photoshop, but a number of free software options are available if you just want to make a few simple fixes. For most of my photos, I just make small adjustments to things like the contrast or saturation levels. Again, the internet is not short of free tutorials, for learning how to use editing software.

5. Ask yourself why am I taking this photo:

Is it simply to create something beautiful, or are you documenting an experience? The answer can be both or neither, but I find that it is useful to keep this question in mind. It will help you to decide what to include in the frame. 

6. Take more photos:

I don’t mean just take hundreds of photos in the hope that a few turn out well. Think about each photo you take. What I mean here is that, when photographing a scene, try taking multiple photos from slightly different angles, or on slightly different settings. Get a few close ups as well some shots encompassing the entire scene. But PLEASE, when you get home from your trip, delete the rubbish and just select the good photos. You are far more likely to look back through a collection of carefully selected images, then you are to sift through hundreds of mediocre pictures to view the wonderful ones. 


I hope you find this helpful. In the end photography is all about having a play with how you see the world around you. The technical stuff is really good to know but don’t get obsessed by it; let it work for your creativity.



  1. Emma, good points, also in respect to travel photography I would add:

    7. Get up Early – The best light to capture most kinds of subjects is in the golden hours- one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset (depend off course on where you are on the globe). So get up early to get that amazing photo opportunities, while all the other tourists are still asleep.

    8. Keep it Natural – One of the most important and influential photographers of all time, Henri Cartier Bresson- Never ever used flash in his photography. A practice he saw as “impolite…like going to a concert with a pistol in your hand.” Try to learn how to use and enjoy the benefits of natural light before you resort to having that flash button set to auto. Get familiar with adjusting the ASA/ISO setting on your camera depending on the lighting.

    9. Get Higher – Every good travel photo series must have at list is one bird’s eye view of the place (Being referred sometimes as the “establish shot”). Find yourself a vintage point overlooking the entire city or town.

    10. Make sure your in some of the photos! – A lesson I learned when I look back at some of my early photo collections from travels. Dont arrive home from your travels to find they are all scenery and photos of local people. Whwen you look back in a few years at your travels, some of the photos you will want to ensure you have can actually be the ones that connect you as you were at the time with the place at the time. Not just close up selfies but ones that show you in situ with the landscape/town.

  2. Emma

    Good to see the photo of you , Jack and Tash, Jack sent yesterday. Hope you are well. Thanks for helping them on this leg of their journey.

    Do include more photos of yourself on your posts so we can see you in the places.

    All the best.

    John, (Gaye and Lily)

    Date: Wed, 7 May 2014 05:31:46 +0000 To:

  3. All good advice. I definitely agree with trying to avoid using flash. Not only is it annoying if you are photographing other people but I’m not keen on the effect when you are standing too close to a subject.

    In regards to getting higher, you have totally given me reason to legitimize spending money on a hot air balloon flight in Laos now!

    And finally number ten isn’t one I personally have issue with. If anything it’s the reverse and I come home with hundreds of pictures of me, standing in the same pose, in front of the stuff that would make a more interesting picture.

    You will also have to give me some video tips, as Matt and I will be using his new gopro for the first time on our trip.

    • Whilst I’m in Asia I’ve just got my compact Canon PowerShot SX220 HS, which has served me surprisingly well. I was able to borrow a Nickon DSLR when I was doing my photography course, which I think just had the standard lens that it comes with.

      To be honest, I don’t know much about lenses as I’ve not been in the position to buy any. For me it was either buy a nice camera and some lenses OR travel, so I chose the later.

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