For decades, shutterbugs have dreamed of having one of their best shots appear in the pages of National Geographic magazine.

While we can’t guarantee that you’ll reach that goal, these tips from acclaimed National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson should, at least, help you make your own travel photos be a little more memorable — and magical.

Caernarfon Castle in Wales by Jim Richardson

Travel photography: Great light takes patience

It’s a simple fact — great light makes great pictures.

But how do you get that perfect light? Often by waiting for that moment when several light sources balance out.

Getting photos of castles and monuments lit up at night is a good example and requires one essential bit of knowledge — don’t shoot them at night. Instead, photograph them at dusk, just as the light is fading and sky is turning to a rich blue.

None of us know when that moment will come so arrive “too” early and stay “too” late. Keep taking pictures as the sky dims from dusk to night to capture the transformation of light.

That worked when I was at Caernarfon Castle in Wales (shown above). The sky in the early pictures was too light and the castle was barely lit at all. The later pictures showed a brilliantly lit castle, but a pitch black sky. In between, there were images like this one where everything balanced out just so. (The other trick at Caernarfon Castle in Wales is to be there on the evening when high tide coincides with sundown. It’s magical.)

Adventure photography: Use perspective to set the scene

Nothing says adventure like getting up high and looking down on the world, of going where few others go. Getting up high gives you a magical way to set a scene and lay out the landscape in grand fashion.

Once you reach your lofty perch, there are a couple of tricks that can help convey the majesty and great distances. Add layers of depth and provide perspective by placing something in the foreground.

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Also, be mindful of your lens selection. A telephoto from one vantage point could make the image look flat and lifeless. A wide angle lens can help make the nearby objects contrast with a hazy background.

Wildlife and nature: Combine many elements

Birds flying near a sea stack cliff. Photograph by Jim RichardsonMany things come together in a successful picture. Some can be found, some come to us by blind luck, and others take real patience. Good pictures combine many elements.

Such was the case when I was on the island of Westray in the Orkneys of Scotland. I knew there was a lovely lighthouse overlooking the cliffs teeming with shorebirds. But until I got there I didn’t know I would be lucky enough to find a small bit of rock jutting out that would let me look over the scene as if I were suspended over the water.

Then I settled in to be patient, waiting for just the right bird to sweep up in front of me, only a few feet away, to complete the scene.

Photographers often “build” scenes this way, never satisfied until every last element has been put in place. In truth, all the elements were there. I just had to put them together.


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Myria, originally launched in 1998, strives to deliver more conversation, and less gossip. More intelligence, less eye-rolling. More acceptance, less judgment. And throughout the site: more needle, less haystack. Through life's ups, downs, and everything in between, we want to encourage you, support you, and help guide you. The team behind Myria understands that status updates and selfies never tell the whole story, and that we all have stuff to deal with, and that's nothing you need to hide here. Beyond "been there, done that" - every day, we're still there and still doing it. That's how we know: You've got this.


About: These tips and pictures by professional photographer Jim Richardson were provided courtesy of Energizer Ultimate Lithium batteries. He has photographed a combined 45 stories for National Geographic magazine and for National Geographic Traveler, where he is a contributing editor. Richardson has been called "perhaps the most prolific photographer for one of the world's most prestigious magazines." See more about Jim at jimrichardsonphotography.com.

Original publication date: June 17, 2008

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