This is a guest post written by Max Terry (from Photo Geeky)
Ever have an amazing experience on a trip but find that the photos you took just don’t quite capture the feeling? That something about the magic you experienced didn’t quite make it through the camera’s lens? Taking photos that have emotional impact and meaning is definitely an art, one which has at least two aspects: finding the story in whatever scene you’re shooting and learning how to compose your shot in a way that best brings it out.
In travel photography, the primary factor that will make people come back to an image over and over again is whether they can sense the story in it. Sure, capturing a beautiful sunset or a selfie in front of a famous monument can make for some nice nostalgia, but the photos with true impact have some sort of story in them, whether implicit or explicit. In fact, we’re so hard-wired to respond to story that a good photographer (like a good writer) can transform even the most ordinary of scenarios into one with impact just by finding or creating the story in it.
Photo by Ahmad A. Atwah
You don’t have to be a journalist to find story in the world. You just need to stop and take a look around. It’s a training of the eye and mind. It’s something that takes intention and can’t be done in a hurry. At least, not usually. Once you learn to recognize them, there will be story-filled moments that seem to drop right in front of you, but most other times you’ll need to cultivate an awareness for seeing narrative possibilities in the everyday life around you.
There are a number of composition elements that make up a great photo, and though it’s helpful to learn all of them, I’m going to touch on two that really help create emotional impact.
The rule thirds is one of the easiest composition guidelines to learn. It basically says that the human brain finds an image generally more pleasing when the main subject(s) lies off-center on one of the “thirds.” (Thirds are created by splitting the image into three parts, both vertically and horizontally.) If you’re shooting a landscape, for example, it’s usually more pleasing to the eye to place the horizon on either the top third (if the foreground is more interesting) or the bottom third (if the sky is more interesting).
Photo by Max Therry
Of course, like all guidelines there are plenty of exceptions—sometimes placing your subject dead center really works. But in general it’s best to at least consider using the rule of thirds in your shots.
Photo by Martin Jernberg
A strong image will often have a number of different elements in it, some more important than others. Where people are concerned, eyes (and faces in general) carry a lot of visual weight—they’re where our eyes go first in an image. That means that they’re a key element in capturing story in a photo. So while having the subject looking directly into the lens can have a lot of impact, capturing their gaze looking elsewhere will create often create a much stronger story element.
Obviously there are many more compositional guidelines and if you really want to be a great travel photographer it would serve you well to learn them. In the end, though, beyond story and composition, what will really help you to take travel photos with meaning is your own sense of connection and empathy. When you yourself find meaning in what’s happening around you, when you feel “plugged in” to the people and land you’re visiting—that’s when you’ll really have the chance to find meaning in what you see around you. So take the time to truly connect in, compose carefully, keep your camera on you (so you don’t miss those shots that land in your lap), and practice, practice, practice.