Travel photos: How to stop taking bad, cliched shots

Some photographic tragedies are so common on holidays that they qualify as cliches. You don't need to take perfect photos to make the memories stick, but a little work to improve your camera skills might also make the magic of a vacation last a while longer.

Cameras do more than document your holiday, they express your feelings and special moments along the way. By bringing something of yourself to a photo, you can also make the end product more visually rewarding for everyone else.

The cliche: Frozen pose

The mistake: Nobody looks at themselves when presenting to a camera, so getting people to pose for a shot often kills the smile you want to capture.

How to make it better: People look natural when they are comfortable and being themselves, so posing immediately puts up a hurdle to good photography.

I start by asking my subject for permission to shoot, then quickly show them the picture. They laugh and look at me like I'm crazy, and then go back to their own business. That's when I get my favourite photos, when they stop caring about the camera. 

The camera becomes both invisible but intimate. It's not snap and run, it's the photo you get from engaging with locals and sharing your best smile.

The cliche: Stolen portrait

The mistake: Sneaking a photo of someone from across the street with a telephoto lens is not good photography, nor is it good manners.

How to make it better: One reason your iPhone takes such great photos of your friends is because you're standing right in front of them.

Using a long telephoto lens to steal shots of strangers from a distance is plain creepy and totally boring.


Long lenses make for tight shots, devoid of the bigger scene and missing context. Where was that photo taken? Who can tell when most of the frame is missing a sense of place.

Get closer to your subject, get permission to shoot and get used to snapping with a wider lens to make the location an element of your portraits.

The cliche: Washed out sunsets

The mistake: The last light of day can look amazing to our eyes but confuse your camera. If you haven't got the right exposure then your rich red and orange tones can end up pale and pallid.

How to make it better: Cameras don't always see light the way our eyes do and sunsets are tricky for most of them. More advanced cameras have an "auto exposure lock" which lets you guide light metering towards your satisfaction.

Point the lens at the brightest part of the sunset, press the exposure lock, then recompose the scene. The scene will be under exposed away from the sun, yielding big and bold colours that match your impression of the moment.

The cliche: Lost in chaos

The mistake: Getting everything into one picture doesn't always make for the most aesthetic photos. There are times when less is more.

How to make it better: If you tend to fill your images with chaos and have to explain to people what the photo is about, then maybe there's too much going on in the single image.

Start by deciding what is the most important subject for the frame, then build composition around that single subject.

Start tight and close, take a few shots, then slowly step back a little and let more of the scene enter the frame and compliment the primary subject. Leave a little "breathing space" for what's really important in the shot.

The cliche: Blurry bus ride

The mistake: Shooting photos from a moving vehicle is usually more a miss than a hit. It's hard enough to pick out a composition while moving at speed through a city, but if your camera isn't tuned for the task then you just get blurry images and mixed-up memories.

How to make it better: I have low expectations when shooting from a bus or a train. You can see inspiring stuff beyond the window but it's rare to capture any of it on camera.

Usually it's the wrong place at the right time, and the memory of that experience might shine brighter than the photos.

It can help pass the time to rattle off shots in the hope of bagging a winner, but have your camera set for fast shutter speeds first.

Many advanced cameras have a mode for sports photography, which uses a higher ISO to increase shutter speed in daylight and is perfect for fast shots from a moving vehicle.

Selfie love

I actually love a good selfie. Not a fan of several hundreds of them filling up your Instagram feed, but I love seeing one or two snaps of the face behind the photos. It adds a little more 'social' to social media.

The best thing about a selfie is the moment which inspired it. The reason you wanted to share that place with your face is what makes a selfie fabulous, sending home a message to loved ones or reminding someone that you're thinking of them. A wide lens on a small camera is the easy way to make selfies better.

Get used to how to hold your camera and trigger the shutter with one hand, shoot wide and let some of the location fill the scene too.

Ewen Bell is an award-winning travel photographer and writer. See


WIN a Canon EOS 700D Super Kit, valued at $1449