Backroads trips are often filled with once-in-a-lifetime moments of serendipity and camaraderie set in the world's most incredible locations, so it's only natural that many of you would want to document your adventures with a camera. The top photos we receive from our guests are showcased each year in the Backroads Guest Photo Contest. With substantial trip credit given to the winners, people often ask us for advice on how to improve their chances at snagging one of the top five Grand Prizes. So read on for some tips to improve your travel photography and come up with some prize-winning photos!
1. Capture real moments
Instead of asking your fellow travelers to pose while saying "cheese", try to make photos on the fly when people are engaged in activity or having a good time. The goal with candid photos is to capture the true essence of a trip, and it's often these candid moments that you will be most proud to have captured.
2. Pay attention to the light
Light is everything in photography. When photographing people pay attention to the shadows. When the sun is behind the subject their faces are often under-exposed. If you find yourself in this situation then try a different angle of light, such as side lighting or front lighting. Midday can be a very challenging time of day to take good photos of people due to the high-contrast light but one way to work around this limitation is to fill in the shadows with fill-flash.
3. Wake up early, stay out late and bring a tripod
The best light for landscape photography often comes at dawn and dusk, when it would be impossible to hand-hold a camera effectively. One of the landscape photos that I took while on the Backroads Quebec Multi-Adventure Tour was published by National Geographic for an article about Quebec City. I wouldn't have been able to take this photo had I not brought a tripod along while exploring the city at night.
4. Have your camera ready at all times
The best moments while traveling are not contrived so you should have your camera ready at all times if you want to photograph the special moments. Rather than storing your camera in the bag, I recommend using a camera strap - but not just any camera strap. When photographing active travel it's important to have a sling type of strap that you can comfortably and safely wear over your shoulder. An effective camera strap should allow you to take photos while being active with minimal interruption.
5. Compose with people in the landscape
While Peter Lik style landscape photos are beautiful, having a human subject in the photo often makes it more compelling. One piece of advice is to compose the photo like you would a regular landscape photo then wait for someone to appear within the frame. Try to get ahead of the group and look for vantage points where you can set up your camera and wait. Photographing active travel is not easy (since people are always on the move!) so you might have to train extra hard if you want to consistently be ahead of the group. Good motivation!
6. Practice with your camera on local photo shoots
A once-in-a-lifetime trip is not an ideal time to be learning how to use a new camera. It's very difficult to produce quality photography if you're pre-occupied with the basics of how to operate the camera. Every camera is different so even experienced photographers require some time to get adjusted to new camera gear. My suggestion would be to go on regular photo shoots closer to home. As for myself, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and I especially love to photograph in Marin County and around Mount Tamalpais State Park. Much of this area is protected forests so it's a wonderful region to take landscape photos.
Last, but not least, just have fun and enjoy yourself!
Here are some more of my favorite shots: