Photographer Ida Pap on how to create stunning stand-out travel photos

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Photographer Ida Pap has travelled the world, capturing the spirit of places with her DSLR camera and iPhone. Here, she provides her top tips for capturing the best holiday snaps while exploring a new country. Time to rack up those Instagram likes.

1) Timing is everything

While travelling, the success rate of my smartphone snapshots depends on a number of factors, but more importantly on one simple component: how lucky I get with the timing. Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity; therefore I am always prepared, ready to take a good shot. Broadly speaking, I get ready before the action would even happen, otherwise I risk being too late for capturing a great moment.

I spotted a colourful wall (first photo), which I thought was superb itself, however I was missing something. I was hoping to get a cyclist pass through the scene to complete the composition, when a whole family appeared in front of me, cycling along in a leisurely manner. You don’t get to see this often, not even on the streets of Cuba. Good things come to those who wait! 

2) Find the right distance

We all have different preferences regarding distance when taking photos, so there are literally no good or bad rules here. It all depends on what we want to include in the composition, and what works best is down to an ongoing exploration on location. In this example, I took two photos of the same man, while taking a step closer to him, I somehow felt the latter worked better. Cliché as it sounds, ‘getting closer’ is a good rule of thumb, especially with people. 

3) Find interesting angles

We've all heard the useful tips on trying different angles for different perspective, but how does this work out on location? One of my favourite angles is the ant’s eye view, if the scenery is spectacular,  nothing stops me to get down for a quirky angle of shot. It gives an unusual perspective of the scene, which brings us a step closer to more advanced photography and story-telling. 

4) Understand light

When shooting with smartphones, it’s important to remember that the cameras are simply not able to produce good quality photos in low light circumstances, so night time is not the best option to capture the city in. Even if it looks okay on our phone’s screen, the photo on the big screen will come out grainy and no apps can fix that. Natural light has different qualities too, and time wise, it’s best to avoid midday light when the sun is strong with harsh shadows. The best light is during the ‘golden hour’ when the sun rises or sets, it is when the light is soft and makes everything look dramatic. 

5) Snap the people

Travel photos don’t only refer to landscapes and city sights, but also include people who live locally. Try to capture the far-away culture through the locals as they are out and about, even if it takes moving out of your comfort zone.

In this particular photo, I met an old man in a small farmhouse in Viñales, and I couldn’t resist taking his portrait, even though the midday light (harsh shadows) didn’t work in my favour. The photo came out very dark, nevertheless I was able to brighten it up with my favourite photo editing app, Snapseed.

6) The technical side

If you have a few seconds on location to fiddle with your phone’s camera exposure, you can do so by holding your finger down on the screen until the focus sets on one point (eg. on the face) then just slide one finger up to adjust the brightness and take the photo.

With the photograph of this man, I opened the photo in Snapseed, and applied 50% Brightness, 25% Ambience, 20% Shadows, 20% Highlights, and 15% Sharpening. This is my standard workflow when it comes to bringing more life into my smartphone shots, and I only apply filters before I would post a photo on Instagram.

If you are bored of the limited amount of filters Instagram offers, I recommend you give Infltr a go, which – as the name suggests – has infinite amount of filters to choose from and it’s fun to play with.