It’s not a new phenomenon for people to attempt to capture the essence of their trips on film. In the past, it was far too common to have to sit through an interminable slideshow of destination snaps taken by a neighbor or be handed a crinkly developer’s paper envelope thick with images capturing every moment of a vacation.
Thanks to the internet and social media, people are able to share their adventures without having to trap people with physical photographs. But, though the tech for taking and sharing has changed, a lot of people still have the same traditional problems with taking beautiful images that they’ve been struggling with for decades. You can’t impress with bad photography, so we brought in a pro to give us a handful of tips that will immediately maximize the quality of your travel photos.
In short: Your Instagram is gonna be amazing.
Internationally-published photographer, creative consultant, & designer Samantha Rebuyaco is a Los Angeles native who currently works primarily as a commercial photographer. One look at her Instagram makes it clear that she knows her way around a destination image. Her work invites the viewer into an altered reality where everything is a little softer and more ethereal than you experience on the daily. And, she can trace this “dreamy” aesthetic back to her childhood.
When she was 10 or 11, Rebuyaco was interested in documenting her life and capturing memories that she could keep forever. Photography was a natural way to achieve these goals. “Even at that age,” she notes, “I was very aware that everything is temporary, so it was my way of ‘living in the moment.’” She worked with her camera to record the world as she saw it, and that remains her goal to this day.
Though Rebuyaco’s professional career launched in fashion and portraiture, travel was what drew her out of that comfort zone. She found the switch exhilarating because commercial photography is very controlled. The sets, the lights, and the models can all be easily adjusted at a moment’s notice.
“But when it comes to photographing landscapes, it’s mother nature who calls all the shots,” she says.
Despite the difficulties imposed by the natural world, or perhaps because of them. Rebuyaco has found the most fulfilling work of her life. This week, she sat down with us and walked us through a list of things to keep in mind when taking travel photographs.
Normally before I go travel to some place, I look it up online and focus on the general area where I’m going to go. I look at inspiration photos to see what vibe I want to go for. When I do my research, finding somewhere where there aren’t a lot of people to get in the way of my photographs is the big thing.
Maximize Sunrise and Sunset
When I am at a destination, I wake up really, really early to catch the sunrise. Then, I just hang out in the middle of the day and try to catch the sunset. That’s sort of my general rule for all the places that I go to. That’s the best lighting. There’s something to that directional light. When it comes from the side, rather from above, it gives things a more glow-y effect. Things look a lot more flattering in directional lighting.
Choose A Consistent Color Palette
I mostly look for color. I think that’s the first thing that I spot when I see something really interesting. Like, if it’s in the trees, if there’s a consistent color, then I’ll try to shoot that. Or, if I’m in a city space and if there’s a repeating color, then I’ll go for that, too.
Consistency is like a hole. I’m really drawn to certain colors, so if I see those colors, then I’ll be like “Oh, that would look really cool.” I normally go for pastel-y, washed out hues rather than strong, dark shadows. I like pinks and blues, but I’m more drawn to purples.
My taste is very eclectic, and I have a hard time finding a way for everything to connect. I feel like color particularly is the connecting piece between all my different tastes in how I approach photographing. Trying to find that uniform aesthetic is hard, and the color helps tie things together.
Look for Repeating Shapes
I also look for repetitive shapes in sceneries. If there are buildings and they all kind of have a round top, like all of them do, then I would probably photograph just the top of them. I wouldn’t even say just look for color, there are some people that are really good at finding architectural straight lines and stuff. I personally go for color because I’m really color sensitive.
I like lines. Like diagonal lines or asymmetry when it comes to shape. I don’t know if there’s one particular shape, but I do like things going in diagonal. I feel asymmetry is more interesting because the subject is not perfectly in the center. I feel like being centered is so predictable to me. Asymmetry gives them a little bit more space to kind of fill in the rest, other than putting something right in the middle.
Be Aware of Locals
I will photograph anyone, but even in those situations, I am looking for color. There’s one photo I took of monks in Cambodia and I was drawn to the color of their robes. But usually, it’s people I interact with who seem really friendly and are willing to be photographed.
I think it is important to take pictures of the locals because it tells more about the place. And, I feel like I kind of owe it to the place that I’m traveling to tell that story, too. It would be selfish to travel someplace and not mention anything about the people that also live there. You’re kind of voiding that country if you don’t. I feel like it’s important to be respectful.
Feature People Purposefully
I always like to focus on the subject in relation to the space; it tells more about the scale of things and it puts things into perspective when you put a person in a landscape. It makes it more relatable rather than just something you would find on the internet.
I feel like if you were to look at a picture of a place, like a landscape, with no people in it, it would nice. But, if you were to actually put a person in it, you would give the viewer a chance to imagine what it would be like to be in that space.
Avoid Tourist Spots
I feel like when I travel I’m not really a tourist necessarily. I mean, I am a tourist, but I go to places where people don’t usually go. I think it’s just because I don’t really like going into crowds or places where there’s going to be a lot of people. I wander off and find places that are sort of empty and dream. That’s what I kind of aim for when I take my photos.
I’m really afraid of being cliché, being the same thing as everyone else. I encourage going out where no one has gone to, even if that means taking two buses and five boats out to somewhere else. A lot of pictures on my Instagram did take that many rides to get to. I can think better, and I can be more creative when it’s something that I haven’t already seen before.
In Cambodia, there’s this beach that I went to, and I had to take three boats to get there. But, it was super white sand, it was super fine, it was the cleanest sand I’ve ever seen. There was no trash anywhere. The water was super blue. Every day that I was there was picture perfect, it was the best time I had because I didn’t have to worry about other people getting in my shot.
It was basically about finding a big open space that was open for me to be as creative as I want to be but with the least amount of distractions.
I like more candid shots. Or if I like what someone is wearing, then I’ll take a picture of that. Or if it’s my friend, I’ll have them put on something else, but I feel like it’s people at the moment when doing things. I keep snapping until I get something that I like rather than telling them how to move or act.
Especially when it’s like locals. I feel like if you tell them before that you’re going to take a picture then it just looks too static. Or, they will try to pose, but if you snap a picture when they don’t know that you’re taking a picture, then I feel like that’s the best.
Take Tons of Pictures
That’s the beauty of digital. You don’t really have to worry about how many exposures you have left, so you just keep snapping. That’s usually my style. Then that one picture out of maybe like 50 shots is the one.