How To Improve Your Travel Photography Part 2

By Jeffrey Hernandez

Beyond experience, there are two key elements to photography that can elevate a casual snap to a professional photo: composition and light. If you’re interested in taking your travel photos to the next level, here are a few helpful techniques and tools, even with only a phone on hand.


Symmetry is typically used in landscape, product and portrait photography as we naturally associate symmetry with perfection and beauty. Note, however, that symmetry can also feel static or lack energy.

The rule of thirds is a guideline that can provide a more dynamic, energetic feel compared to symmetrical photos. Rule of thirds grids are typically available on phones and cameras, which you can use to plot your main subject along one of the lines for a visually striking photo.

Negative space – or minimalist – photography isolates your main subject by putting emphasis on the open space around them: an expansive sky, a concrete wall, or a long road. This style can convey both openness and isolation. For this effect, try taking photos from either a much lower or higher vantage point.

Leading lines are objects within your scene that can be used to draw attention to your subject, such as park benches, a row of lights, a trail or the lines on a road.

Long dark walkway with side pillars with man walking away.

Light: Exposure

There are three core aspects of exposure (the amount of light you’re capturing in your photo) that can be controlled within your camera: apertureshutter speed, and ISO.

Aperture refers to how wide open or closed your camera lens is and is measured in f/numbers. The lower the number, the wider the lens is, the more light it’s taking in, and the greater isolation of your subject from their background (great for portraits), while a narrower aperture allows you to the depth of space (great for landscapes). Today’s phones feature portrait modes that allow you to adjust your aperture for a smooth background blur behind your subject.

Bright and colourful plate of a taco and a yellow cocktail.

Shutter speed refers to how quickly the camera shutter opens and closes to capture the photo. A faster shutter speed captures less light but captures fast motion clearly, while a slower shutter speed results in a brighter photo and shows motion blur (great for light trails on highways or in the sky at night).

ISO refers to the camera’s sensor sensitivity (or the film sensitivity if you’re shooting with film). The higher the number, the more light is being captured – but eventually you start to see “noise” (i.e., that grainy look). Shutter speed and ISO aren’t typically adjustable in native phone camera apps, but you can experiment and adjust these digitally with third party apps like VSCO.