Cloud Forest in HDR mode
Travel Guides & Tips

6 easy tips and tricks to take photos like a pro

Here’s a PSA: Friends do not take bad photos of their friends. We all have been victimized by that one friend who simply does not know how to reciprocate goodwill with great photography skills.


Raise your hand if this sounds all too familiar — At a beautiful beach, as the sun was setting, you and your friends took turns to get the Insta-famous, dramatic sunset silhouette shot. As the photographer-by-default among your friends, you were the go-to person for every stunning photo in their feed. Naturally, you were the last to having your photo taken. But 1,001 shots later, all you got in return was a photo so bad no Instagram/VSCO filter could salvage it. And the sun was gone for the day.

If it’s any consolation, everyone knows of someone who takes lousy photos, we kid you not. Or are you one yourself? Not to worry, we’re gonna help you solve this First World problem. Follow our Photography 101 guide to start taking the “Nat-Geo kind” of photos you’ve always wanted (and save yourself some serious friendship fallout!) the next time you’re travelling. The good news is, you don’t need even need fancy equipment, your smartphone will do. Make it work like a professional camera for you!


Master the rule of thirds

You may have heard about the rule of thirds, but here’s why putting it into practice is your first step to capturing amazing shots. It is the most basic and fundamental rule of composition to help you frame and compose your shots aesthetically. It works like this: Turn on the grid lines setting in your phone camera. You will see nine rectangular boxes displayed on the screen as you compose your picture. Look for the most important subject in the photo, place it off-center at one of the intersecting points of the grid lines and see the result of a professional-looking photo appear!

An example of the rule of thirds in visual
Credit: @amrlhlm

However, once you’ve mastered this rule, it is time to bend or break it. This composition rule is useful when you are photographing a landscape and you want to emphasize a subject of interest, say, a woman in a boat floating on the sea. But, some images look best with the focal point right in the center of a photo. So, go ahead and experiment to see what works best!


Look for symmetry

You don’t need to be a perfectionist to marvel at a perfectly symmetrical photo, although it certainly saves every perfectionist’s soul. Apart from the aesthetic satisfaction that we get when we see a symmetrical picture, we tend to associate beauty with symmetry as it evokes calmness, harmony and pleasing emotions, such as the photo below.

A symmetrical shot of Hawa Mahal
Credit: @amrlhlm

But, to an untrained eye (and shaky hands), it can be a struggle to achieve balance in the photograph, or even hold your camera straight and steady while you make that composition. Position yourself by standing in the middle of your subject and hold your camera up straight. You may find yourself in some yoga-like, unusual positions not limited to crouching and putting one leg up on a rock while you are trying to perfect that symmetrical shot, but know that it’ll be well worth the effort. This takes quite some time and several tries, you just have to be patient!

Tip: Enable the grid lines mode in your camera. The lines will help you keep everything straight and centered to capture a perfectly symmetrical photo. If all else fails, you can always edit the photo afterwards using the Straighten tool.


Play with natural lighting

So, you’re out for breakfast and want to document the colorful spread, but the photos end up looking ‘blurgh’? Fear not, we’re about to spill the biggest secret behind all those mouthwatering food photos you’ve been seeing on Instagram — natural lighting!

Lighting turns a photo from good to great. But, we don’t mean switching on your camera’s fill-in flash! However good your lighting gear is, nothing lights up your photographs as beautifully as natural lighting! If you are taking portraits, natural lighting is more flattering on your skin tone while soft light, usually during sunrise or sunset, illuminates a beautiful landscape. Use natural lighting to accentuate the colors of an already mouthwatering dish and you’ll have friends’ stomachs growling just by looking at them!

Food photography in natural lighting
Credit: @nadhirahsn

However, we caution against taking photographs using direct sunlight (in the noonday sun) as it tends to be too harsh and intense. Instead, find creative ways to get softer light.

For instance, play with light and shadow in shady places. Despite being away from direct sunlight, there is still adequate light to illuminate your photography subject. Examples of great open shade spots are under the tree, under a bridge or inside a forest. If you’d like an even more subtle light, work with sunlight on an overcast day or use light seeping through the window to let the sunlight softly fall down on your subject.


Focus on one subject

When you take a photo, ask yourself, “What do I want others to see?” The eye works like a camera: It is drawn to an image put into focus within a frame. What makes photography so alluring is the power of a subject to be a visual anchor that holds the viewer’s interest there. That’s why finding the photo’s key visual interest should be your priority before you take the shot.

Tegalallang Bali
Credit: @nadhirahsn

A simple way of creating a visual focal point is to control the depth of field or focus. By blurring the details in the background, the subject becomes the sole, outstanding visual in the photo. Nowadays, smartphones have made things easier with the portrait mode, which easily locks focus on your subject.

Tip: When using smartphone cameras, always tap your screen before snapping the photo to accurately set the camera’s focus and optimize the lighting. How it works: Once the screen is tapped, a circular or rectangular icon appears and the subject inside the icon would be the focus of the shot.


Find a unique perspective

Chances are, the scene you are taking has been snapped a million times before, so how do you make it unique?

Gardens by the Bay from a unique perspective
Credit: @nadhirahsn

Most people tend to shoot straight and from an eye-level perspective, but it gets pretty boring when the angle remains the same. Explore other angles – get your camera (and yourself) down to ground level or even lie down (only if you don’t get trampled by passersby, though!), or tilt the camera slightly. You’ll be surprised by how these little moves can change your perspective.

Experiment: Try snapping your look-up shots with various aspect ratios of the sky and see which one captures a sense of perspective best.


Always use HDR mode

There is this magic mode called the High Dynamic Range (HDR), a built-in function in most mid-range to high-end smartphone cameras, which can really make your photos pop (in every good way!). Why we love it: It draws the details out from the shadows that even some camera sensors may not be able to capture.

Cloud Forest in HDR mode
Credit: @nadhirahsn

Because HDR blends the best of three separate exposures – properly exposed, underexposed and overexposed – into a single photo, it results in a stunning photo with striking details. It’s as close as what the human eye would see in real life!

Got it, people? Step up your photo-taking skills! Time to bring out the camera (and the friend who always takes poor photos) for some awesome photo-taking fun and practice! Ahem, or if all else fails, just put on some filters! 😂

Don’t forget to tag us on your Insta travels. We’d love to see if our tips help create a gorgeous Instagram feed that’ll make your friends go “Wow!” or even better “Wow, I wanna bring her on my next trip!”. Looking for some Insta-worthy destinations? Check out Traveloka’s latest promotions here.

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