How to Take Amazing Pictures While Traveling Abroad

By Emma Swift
Over the past decade or so, I have been fortunate to travel widely, and though my technical skills have evolved, my fundamental approach toward photography has not. In reflecting upon the images that have left the most lasting impressions on me, here are some of my principles as I pound the pavement on foot, bike, and motorbike in search of understanding (and capturing) the human experience just a little bit better.

How to Take Amazing Pictures in 5 Steps:

Photos of people are great, but be respectful:

Some people love to have their picture taken, while others might prefer not to be immortalized in your photo library. Respect the choices of the individuals, and if their body language makes their wishes clear, move on. Depending on where you are traveling, others might also want to take photographs of you. My take? If you are taking photos of others, then let others take photos of you (though this philosophy means that I am featured in several dozen Chinese family vacation albums).

The “exotic” can be interesting, but day-to-day life is just as important:

It can be easy to forget to document things that do not feel different from home, but you would be remiss not to. Travel abroad is not just about seeking colorful differences, but is just as much about finding the simple ways in which places are similar to what we know. While living in Vietnam, I remember posting a picture online from my local grocery store. It had its own Vietnamese flavor, but it was a modern grocery store. Some people were surprised by the image because they had envisioned my town to be more rural than some aspects of it really were. The photograph was simple, but it authentically represented the place without over-playing the differences.

how-to-take-amazing-picturesCapture both the big picture and details:

I love the picture of the children in their identical shoes. It captures many of the social aspects of that province of Vietnam: access (broadly defined), socio-economic status, and individuality. It complements the dramatic landscape photos I took on the same trip. Together, they show not just where people live, but also how they live. It was small moment on a big motorbike trip, but important to the bigger story. Without capturing these details, the memory would have eventually faded and only the most dramatic scenes from the trip would have remained.

how-to-take-amazing-picturesIt is all about the angles:

The best photos are often not the most convenient ones to take. If you want to really get the best shot, be willing to move around a bit. I had to really get in there to take a photo of the man pouring Garam Chai in India, but the movement and framing of the photo are much more interesting than if it was just a picture of a cup of tea. The angle gives the moment life. The same goes for most photographic subjects – be willing to climb up on things, get down on the ground, or move in to shoot from up close.

Make sure you don’t forget to get yourself in some photos:

It is easy to get so focused on capturing the place that you forget to capture yourself in that place. If you are not in some of these images, what makes your photo collection different than a web search? The photographs will be more meaningful if you are in some of them. If you are traveling with a partner, make an agreement to photograph each other candidly during the trip and swap photos. Your future grandchildren will thank you.
As you go out on your next trip, whether it is to Alabama or Zimbabwe, carry your camera with you. Take more photos than you think you need, and save your images frequently so that a stolen or broken camera does not mean double the heartache. And finally, do not be shy about using your camera at home – your day-to-day life is just as important to capture. Plus, practice at home means that your photos abroad will be that much better!
Emma Swift is the Assistant Director of International Student Services. She has spent eight years living overseas in Germany, Spain, and Vietnam and has traveled widely in Asia and Europe. There are never enough vacation days in the year, but luckily her international students at UVM keep her engaged globally while at home in Vermont.