Stephen Bailey
How do you Take Better Travel Photos - Pro Tips from Jarryd Salem
How do you Take Better Travel Photos - Pro Tips from Jarryd Salem
Stephen Bailey

How do you take better travel photos? Unorthodox Travel asks professional travel photographer Jarryd Salem. His answers can inspire the travel photographer in anyone, even those who have never touched a camera.

Jarryd you’re a professional travel photographer. Tell us what came first, travel or photography?

I’ve been traveling for about 13 years now and photography didn’t really come onto the scene until maybe seven years ago. So I was quite fortunate that I had the opportunity to travel the world without a camera in my hand, and then as time went on I developed a bit of a passion for photography.

Was there a certain destination that really inspired you to take photos?

I wouldn’t say it was a certain destination or place. It was a series of people actually that I met that really encouraged myself and my wife, Alicia, to get into photography. 

In Belize and Guatemala we met a couple of videographers and photographers. And it really kind of piqued our interest into having this passion, that you could take a hobby or something that you love while you’re traveling and create something beautiful out of it.

Then we got lucky and met a professional photographer who is a BBC wildlife photographer of the year. He took the time to really show us how a camera works and how to edit photos, how to compose photos and stuff like that. 

What camera did you start with?

The first camera was just some tiny little point and shoot. But the camera that really started things off for us was a Sony RX 100 mark 2, back in 2014.

It’s a fairly standard camera that has some manual capabilities and it allowed us to learn aperture and shutter and things like that. But it wasn’t anything fancy. It wasn’t anything professional. We ended up selling a bunch of photos that we took on this fairly cheap camera.

You know, most people have got something floating around in their home they can take photos with. 

Your work has appeared in National Geographic, BBC, CNN, Lonely Planet, all these famous outlets. What are you traveling with now in terms of photography equipment? 

Now we’ve got so much more camera gear. In fact the camera gear we travel with far outweighs our clothes and hiking gear.

These days we’re shooting exclusively on Sony mirror-less cameras. They’re just fantastic, real, beautiful cameras that can get some incredible shots. 

If you’re new to travel photography what camera would you recommend starting with?

Let me ask you this, have you got a smart phone with a camera? Well you have a camera right there. They can take beautiful photos that you could make a living out of. 

For most people and even amateurs who are aspiring to become professional, you don’t need to go out and drop thousands on a bunch of camera gear to start creating beautiful imagery. You just need to have a passion and go out there and start taking photos with whatever you have. 

This is what’s so great about photography in 2021.

Burana Tower, Kyrgyzstan, by Jarryd Salem
Salisbury Plain penguins, by Jarryd Salem
Moraine Lake by Alesha Salem
Moai statues at sunrise, by Jarryd Salem

The great thing about travelling is that you have all these landscapes, people, cultures, and interesting things to photograph. And you’re saying, just pull out your phone?

Absolutely. And also when you’re traveling there are a lot of situations where you don’t want to pull out a huge camera. You’re going to draw attention to yourself. And that’s where you can just use a phone to get those candid shots

Okay, so taking photos on an iPhone or any other camera. What tips do you have?

There are two main things you really need to start thinking about if you’re taking shots with anything, whether it is an action camera, a smartphone or a professional camera. 

The two things that you can control really easily are composition and lighting. So thinking about your lighting is really important. That’s why people go out and shoot at sunrise and sunset and the hour or so on either side – the lighting really makes a huge impact on your shots, making something look either warm or more pleasing to the eye. 

Or for example, in an indoor place, just thinking about where the light is coming in. Just paying attention to those little light things and how they illuminate your subject.

So maybe there’s a really bright light directly behind your subject. You can still get a good shot, but maybe if you take a couple of steps to the right or the left and you remove that back light, then it’s going to be nicer. 

Secondly, composition is essential. Once you learn the basics and once you’re paying attention to it, it’s pretty easy to get most shots. So just thinking about where you’re placing the subject in your shot, being careful not to chop off very important elements of the shot.

So just move around so you can position your subject in the frame. 

After lighting and composition all the other things will come. These are the technical side of photography, like aperture, ISO and shutter speed. But you can learn that down the track. If you’re brand new to it, grab your camera and just focus on lighting and composition. 

Have you ever been to a destination that is paradise for a travel photographer? Do you recommend any destinations for aspiring photographers? 

The Silk Road is incredible, especially the diversity you’ll come across in terms of the people. And then the landscapes changed so dramatically and the architecture is something that’s really fascinating. So I feel like the Silk Road in particular is a very inspiring place to take photos. 

Pakistan is also a very photogenic place. Then in terms of landscapes, countries like Chile are just absolutely beautiful.

China was really interesting in terms of diverse landscapes and Antarctica is a place where everywhere you point your camera is just insanely beautiful and overwhelming.

So there are a bunch of different places, but with travel photography there’s no right or wrong in terms of subjects. 

If you’re interested in people then you can go anywhere, you can go and get beautiful shots of people in your local neighborhood, go down to the city and go to events and things like that. If you’re into landscapes that you just go to your local park and play around photographing nature. 

So the great thing in this day and age, while we can’t all necessarily travel too far, you can still go practice and travel in your own backyard. 

Are there any specific photos that you’re particularly proud of?

We definitely have images that we’re more proud of than others, for example, portrait photography on the Silk Road.

I think the photos that really changed our lives and careers were from Hang Son Doong, which is the world’s biggest cave in Vietnam. We were lucky enough to visit that place when it just opened and photos were starting to go viral. 

We got a job taking photos for the BBC and we had no idea how to use a DSLR camera. We still were shooting on our little point and shoot camera at the time. So in the course of a week, Alicia and I had this crash course on how to use wireless flashes and tripods.

And so we went into that cave on an assignment, knowing absolutely nothing about photography. We just bluffed our way into it and managed to come out with photos that have taken us to many different places in terms of career so they’re probably the ones that were most proud of.

Is there a final recommendation you can give to anybody interested in taking travel photos? 

What I love most about photography is that it allows us to travel with a different eye. We come across a blank canvas and try to create something beautiful with our cameras. 

So just go out there, have fun, smile, enjoy the world.

Jarryd Salem is a professional travel photographer who has been published in media outlets such as the BBC, CNN, National Geographic and the Lonely Planet. In 2020 he was selected as one of 11 Sony Digital Imaging Advocates. Jarryd Salem and Alesha Bradford are the directors of Nomadasaurus, a very popular travel blog where you can read more photography tips and see more examples of their work. The couple also head up Van Life Theory, a site dedicated to van life (they’re now on their third van!)

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