Travel photography has been my passion for a long time and an integral part of our business. The thing that I find so different about taking travel photos in comparison to other forms of photography is that you are often presented with the less than ideal conditions.
Maybe you find yourself at the Eiffel tower at mid-day when the light is the harshest or something great happens just as the light is fading and you are not prepared for that particular situation.
Check out our Travel Photography Gear Guide
Taking travel photos in the moment can also be challenging because things tend to happen in the blink of an eye. Like seeing a pig strapped to the back of a motorcycle that goes whizzing by in Vietnam. Man I wish I had my camera out for that one! It is about freezing a moment in time. And sometimes you just don’t have the time to get the perfect settings on your camera.
5 Simple Steps to Better Travel Photos
Well fear not my friend, all is not lost. By learning a few post processing techniques you can turn “Nay to Yay” and get the best out of your travel photos.
I have found that by following the 5 these easy steps with Adobe Lightroom, you can make almost any image stand out. I use these steps in some way, shape or form on all of my images.
One thing to remember is that you should always shoot in RAW format. All of these edits are possible because I am woking with the most versatile image format that captures the most information. If you edit JPEG images in the same way you will find that it will actually be destructive to the image.
1. Adjust your Camera Profile
The first thing I do after importing my images is to select image I want to edit and open it in the Develop Module of Lightroom (simply press the D key on your keyboard). Then scroll down until you see the Lens Corrections tab. Open that up and select Enable Profile Corrections. I do this because it corrects various optical issues that are commonly found with most lenses like vignetting and distortion. That way you are starting out with a corrected image. Check out the images below for a before and after to see the effect.
2. Basic Panel: Adjusting Tone and Presence
This is where you can make a huge impact on the way your travel photos look. I like to say, “This is what makes your image pop.” I love being able to open up the image here and use as much information as possible.
You know when you look at that image and say, “Yeah that looks ok but I want to make it better?” This is the step where you see the huge difference.
In the image below it was sunrise which is one of the best times to shoot but also one of the most challenging. As the sun peeked over the horizon and lit the top of the mountains it made for a pretty scene but the camera couldn't balance the extremes of the lights and the shadows. The sky was bright but the foreground was almost in complete shadow. I knew I would have to use Lightroom to balance the scene and get it back to what my eye actually saw that day.
Photo before Post Processing
So after applying my lens corrections, I scrolled up to the basic panel and in order to balance the extremes in the photo, I first start by setting my black and white point with the “Whites” and “Blacks” sliders. I like to use these first as I like to expand my image as much as I can without clipping the highlights and the shadows. Keep an eye on your histogram while doing this. Then I move on to adjusting the highlights and shadows. By decreasing the highlights and increasing the shadows it started to look a little more how it had actually looked that morning. So as you can see you really have a lot of latitude to bring back the shadows and highlights.
Tip: Keep an eye on your histogram so you don’t “clip” the highlights or shadows by going too far left or too far right. You want to keep the histogram within the edges. See photo.
After adjusting the tone of the image I wanted to give it a bit of clarity which adds a little sharpness and contrast. For those images that you feel need a little punch the “Clarity slider” is the one for you. Just don't overdo it.
Clarity is located in the basic panel underneath Presence.
Then finally while still in the Presence box of the basic panel, I wanted to add a little vibrance to enhance the colour. So it is more in line with what I saw while I was standing there. I almost always add a little vibrance to all my images.
Photo after Basic Panel Editing
3. Tone Curve Panel
Often I look at an image after I have completed the Basic Panel adjustments and think that it needs a little something more. There just seems to be something missing. Well if you find yourself thinking this as well, then the tone curve panel is the answer. It gives you control over different parts of the image based on a linear approach. I know it looks a little intimidating but once you use it a few times you will get the hang of it.
Using the S Curve
The best way to use the tone curve to add some contrast is to use the “S” curve technique. To do this, drag the lower third of the curve down a bit and the upper third of the curve slightly upwards. In essence what this does is darken the shadows a little bit and lighten the bright parts of the image thus adding some contrast or ”punch” to the image. You can also use the sliders under the curve to achieve the same effect.
Just be careful not to drag the points too far. This tool is powerful and when used properly can really add to the final image.
4. HSL/Colour/B&W Panel
One of the things that I love about Lightroom it the control it gives you. Especially in the HSL/Colour/B&W Panel. Not only can you individually adjust the saturation of particular colours you can also adjust the brightness of each colour and the hue separately. In this image, it allowed me to control the greens without affecting the whole image. It's perfect for a quick fix and getting this shot to look just like it was when I took it.
5. Details Panel
Now it is time to put the final touches on the image before showing it to the world. Most images need some sort of sharpening out of the camera. Lightroom provides an easy to use tool to do just that.
Note: This will not make soft or out of focus images sharp or in focus. It simply improves on the sharpness already captured by the camera and lens.
I usually sharpen most of my images in Photoshop for the ultimate in control but it is really time consuming. I have found that the Details panel in Lightroom can be really effective and really fast if it is used properly.
Sharpening can be subtle so I recommend zooming into 100% view (Just press Z on your keyboard) to see the image changes.
In the sharpening section I only really move 2 sliders – the amount and the masking. I have found that leaving the other two at the default setting works for 99% of my images.
I start with the amount slider which often ends up between 40 and 70 percent. Remember that the more sharpness you apply the more possibility of noise in the image so find a happy medium. After you have the amount set I move to the masking slider.
Here is where the magic happens. If you hold down the option key while moving the slider you will see the image appear as below.
What this represents is the areas that will be sharpened (in white) and the areas that will not have any sharpening applied (in black). This gives you great control. As we usually do not want to sharpen things like sky and water I keep moving the slider to the right until these are completely black. That way I only sharpen the parts of the image that I want to.