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12 tips on taking better travel photos

Photography is a great way to document your travels and tell the story of the places you visited. Pictures from your trip conjure up memories, emotions, and even sounds and smells that take you back in time.

If you've ever returned from a trip only to find that the photos you took are flat and uninspiring, you're not alone. Photography is a skill that takes time, effort, and practice to master. But learning to create stunning images is easier than you may think. Even if you're not a great photographer, you can take pictures that you'll actually want to share with family and friends and post on social media. Whether you're traveling with a digital camera or your smartphone, all you have to do is follow a few tips.

1) Set up the shot

Take your time. Spend a few minutes walking around an area to find the perfect location for your shot. Think about the moment you're trying to capture and the story you're trying to tell.

2) Find a unique perspective

Even if you're shooting the same tourist spot you've seen a thousand times, try to put a creative spin on it. You don't want to take photos that look exactly like the ones in the guidebook. Move around. Get down low. Experiment with unexpected angles and viewpoints. Even just slight change of angle can make a big difference.

3) Take candid shots

A picture of your family posing in front of the Eiffel Tower might make a nice holiday card, but it doesn't tell much of a story. The best photos capture real moments from your trip—candid, inspiring, unplanned moments. Keep your camera out, and don't be afraid to snap photos when nobody expects it.

4) Take photos with people

People make travel photos more interesting. Photos of people are more personal and can create a sense of scale, especially when you're photographing a landscape or natural scene.

5) Shoot in good light

The early bird catches the worm, and the same goes for great photos. Shoot early in the morning when the shadows are longer and light is softer. Or shoot a sunset with some interesting cloud patterns. Shooting at these times comes with an added bonus: You're more likely to have the spot to yourself.

6) Frame the shot

Use your surroundings to frame your subject. Good framing options include trees, doorways, and windows. Sometimes you may need to stand farther away and zoom in to get a good frame.

7) Capture small details

Landscapes and street scenes make great photos, but don't forget the smaller details. Look for architectural features, flowers, leaves, food, colors, textures, and patterns. Reflections can make beautiful photos. Rather than just taking a photo of the sea, look for a pattern in the sand. Close-ups tell a more intimate story and add variety to your photo album.

8) Use lines

Lines can help viewers identify the focal point, particularly in landscape shots. When composing a photograph, use natural elements or other features—a sidewalk, staircase, railroad tracks, or a path in the woods—to focus the image.

9) Focus on the foreground

With photos of mountains or city skylines, it's easy to lose the sense of scale you felt when you were there. Focusing on the foreground can add depth to the photo. If you're shooting a mountain, incorporate a foreground element into the shot. In a city scene, a street vendor or storefront can provide context and scale for the skyline.

10) Follow the rule of thirds

Most digital cameras and phones have a setting that lets you place a grid over the preview screen. Four lines will appear—two vertical and two horizontal that divide the picture up into nine equal squares. Placing your subject where the lines intersect can create a better composition. If you're shooting a sunset, compose the shot with two-thirds sky and one-third land or sea.

11) Tell a story

A photograph is worth a thousand words. As a photographer, it's your job to figure out how to tell a story with your image. What does it feel like to be here? How can you portray the emotion? Adding a mysterious element can help viewers connect more with a photo. A shot of a waterfall is just that. But a shot of an empty chair beside the waterfall sparks the imagination.

12) Take lots of pictures

You can never take too many pictures on your trip. If you're ever in doubt, just take the shot. Every photo won't be amazing, but you can always go back and delete the ones you don't like. If you don't take the photo in the first place, you'll never know how it might have turned out. And when it comes to photography, practice makes perfect.

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