Squamish, British Columbia

So you just snapped a picture of that temple in Asia, but when you get home the photo doesn't look half as good as the real thing. Sound familiar?

We all want to take better photos; they can transport us back to a place years after we’ve left and bring those amazing memories rushing back. But as much as we value those holiday snaps, no one wants to spend the whole time on their camera, or ruin a natural moment messing around with various shooting modes.

I’m not a professional photographer, and I won’t lie – I do love shooting in auto. I’m not about complicated rules and fiddly settings, but as a travel blogger at Bambi Jane Travel, I do have some handy tricks up my sleeve when it comes to getting a great photo the easy, fuss-free way. Here are my top tips for shooting everything from that dreamy beach to your hometown skylines.

A Quick Note:

I use the Olympus PEN E-PL7. For wider shots, I just use the kit lens, which is 14-42mm, whereas for product pictures or portraits I use the 45mm. I’d highly recommend the PEN (the camera itself has a retro look that’s very instagrammable!), but using these tips, you can still get some pretty great shots using your smartphone.

Lakes & Mountains

I’m travelling in Canada right now, and over the summer I went on an epic Rocky Mountains road trip. The lakes and mountains I saw were so incredible that I think you’d be hard-pressed to take a bad photo of them!

If you want to take your scenic photography to the next level, there are a few things to consider.

Firstly, be careful of over-exposure, especially if it’s the middle of the day when the glare is likely to be strong. Avoid over-exposure by adjusting your aperture settings on your camera to let in less light. 

Next, space is a key consideration for nature photography. If you can, shoot landscapes with a wide-angle lens (35mm or wider) for a vast, panoramic feel. You’ll also get a nice mixture of foreground and background – a composition style known as the “near-far” effect.  For lakes and mountains, you'll want to convey a sense of majesty and wonder, and the key to this is scale. Being able to gauge size and distance is what gives a photo wow-factor. To show scale, have some form of comparison in the frame – a road maybe, or even a person. 

Beaches

Beaches are one of those settings that look beautiful in real life, but when it comes to taking a photo, the camera just doesn't do it justice. This is mostly because of the lack of variety; on most beaches, you've just got sand and sea – it’s a lot of horizontal lines and samey colours. Here are a few things you can do to make those beachy photos pop.

Think about the time of day you’re shooting. Sunrises and sunsets can cast the scene in a gorgeous milky pink glow, or a cascade of fiery oranges. The play of shadow and light makes the shot a lot more interesting than if it’s just glaring sun and blue skies.

Also, think about perspective. Taking a photo simply looking out to sea is going to present you with a horizon line and not much else – and if you don’t get the horizon perfectly straight, the photo won’t be a great one. Think about how you can present your camera with a unique vantage point or view. Is there a rocky part of the beach to add texture? Is there a forest or city skyline in the distance you could get in the shot? Shooting silhouettes or people off-centre adds human interest without detracting too much attention. Head to the Caribbean to photograph some of the world’s most idyllic beaches. 

City Skylines

City skylines have the tendency to be grey and potentially a bit gloomy, especially in winter, so think of ways you can add colour. Are there any flags nearby, or perhaps billboards or colourful shop signs? Could you frame a brightly dressed pedestrian in front of your favourite building?

Consider unique angles. Buildings can be transformed when you look at them a different way, like from above – so get up high! In Vancouver, I took a seaplane to get the below shot – I love how the bird's eye view gives a fresh perspective of the buildings. Obviously, a seaplane isn’t always possible – but a lot of cities do have panoramic viewing towers. It’s also a great excuse to try out a rooftop bar.

Zeroing in on one building or piece of architecture can give definition to an urban shot. Perhaps you’re drawn to the clean lines of a modernist building or a quirky window in an old church. Northern European cruises are ideal for discovering a wealth of diverse architecture.

Food

To be honest, it took me a while to take a good food shot. We tend to visit restaurants in the evening, and they typically have low mood lighting – perfect for atmosphere, terrible for photography. Nothing makes a delicious dish look less appetising than dark, yellowy light. A flash isn’t helpful here, either – it’s way too harsh.

Counteract this by taking your food pictures in the day, or by grabbing a table by the window. Choose light, airy cafes or restaurants with a good amount of natural light. 

The best tip I ever got regarding food photography was to give the plate dimension. We all love those typical blogger shots taken from above, but the reality is unless you're well practiced, have plenty of space and a flip-out screen, you're going to be that person who takes photos of their food until it gets cold. I find a skewed angle at a level height much more achievable and interesting. You give the plate more depth and showcase the layers that make up the dish. You'll also avoid your shadow looming across the plate!

Close-ups work best for food shots, so I like to use my 45mm lens. It brings the foreground into sharp focus with incredible clarity, while blurring out the rest. Keep in mind that the 45mm has no zoom, so you do have to be a little further away from the plate than you’d think. The result is that the colours pop, and the food ends up looking delicious. Bon appétit.

People

Want to mix up your portraits and selfies? Position the person off-centre. This is one of the quickest ways to make your photo look modern and fresh, not to mention less posed. You’ll probably have heard of the rule of thirds which is effective for balancing a photo, and that principle applies well here. Place your subject at one of the outer points to draw the eye, and the overall effect looks more natural and a lot less cheesy. You have the bonus of a pretty background being in the shot, too.

Alternatively, switch up the old "me standing in front of something" formula by framing the person – archways and doorways work well and also add a focal point and depth to your picture. If all else fails, switch up your poses – jump, point, dance, anything! Arty photos of you with your back turned are effective and on-trend in the blogger world right now, too.

If I want to take a close-up portrait of someone, I again use my 45mm lens, which picks out the foreground and blurs the rest. It’s the best way to get a clear, crisp portrait with no distractions in the background. Again, natural light is best, and for the optimum headshot, shoot from the chest or shoulders upwards.

Sometimes, the best people pictures are the candid ones that tell the story of the moment. Make use of props, and you can end up with something really unique.

Animals

The main challenge with photographing animals is getting them to stay still! You may want to increase the shutter speed on your camera to reduce a blurring effect (although sometimes I quite like this – it’s true to life and conveys energy in your picture). 

If it's safe, you want to be as close as you can be to the animal. This way, you can capture its unique features. In the below picture, I was focused on getting the unusual shape of the goat’s eye and his intelligent gaze. To get up close and personal with some of the world’s rarest animals, choose one of Celebrity Cruises' Galapagos itineraries.

On the other hand, distance can sometimes be a good thing. This picture I took at a refuge in Wyoming is effective because of the mystery surrounding the elk – the mist and snow create atmosphere, with the emptiness meaning that the eye is drawn to the last third of the photo. Colour and contrast are also important here – the elk’s dark fur and antlers really stand out against the light background. 

If it’s your pet that you’re trying to capture, concentrate on their character. You could try shooting while they're running or playing, when they've done something mischievous, or set it in their favourite sleeping spot. You ideally want them looking at the camera, so keep treats at hand!

A Note on Editing:

Once you’ve got that perfect shot you obviously want it to be the best it possibly can be, so you might choose to edit it.

I’ve gone through all kinds of editing phases – from not editing at all to going completely overboard with settings and presets. I think the ideal is a happy medium, depending on your picture and what you're using it for. For Instagram, VSCO filters work well – but this can compromise the quality of the photo. For pictures I want to print or use on my blog, I’ll do the minimal amount of editing – usually cropping and straightening, followed by a little bit of brightening and sharpening (I use Adobe Lightroom). At the end of the day, you don’t want to change too much, so that your picture remains a true representation of your amazing memories.