Travel Photography Tips: The Rules of Composition

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Because I’m not a pro photographer (I just love taking photos of my travels), I’ve learned that there are different key strengths you can have when capturing a moment on your travels. The types of skills that don’t involve going to school and obtaining a degree in photography. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to be able to shoot like the pros and admire their work, but I just know that I don’t have the time to commit to doing so! And so I find other ways to make my travel photography special and memorable! Here are some rules I follow (and don’t follow) on composition:

brooke bled slovenia

You may have already noticed that the cover image isn’t just because it shows me taking a photo, but it also shows the first point there is to make about composition:

#1 A Picture Tells a Thousand Words

There are many ways in which one could capture Lake Bled in Slovenia (pictured above). The typical “taken from a vantage point” I am shooting on my camera is one way, but to really tell a story of whats happening here (i.e. a photo of someone taking a photo) tells more of a story than the initial photo itself. When thinking about how you will compose your photos, think about what story it tells before any other considerations. Those are the photos people love and respond well to, because they can imagine themselves there in that moment, rather than just seeing the place itself.

Emma in Paris - Photographed by: Brooke Saward

#2 Avoid the Middle

So the story goes, it is important in photography to avoid the middle as it shows a static, boring image. The “rule of thirds” has always been the rule to go by in photographic terms, whereby you break the photo up into imaginary lines both horizontally and vertically and aim to put your subject in one of those boxes.

Brooke Saward World of Wanderlust in Prague

#3 Use the Middle

Now I know this completely contradicts the previous rule, but times are changin’ my friend! “Rule of thirds” photos are typically great, but this rule is a little stale if you ask me (my instagram might as well be a poster girl for using the middle to frame photos). If the background tells an interesting enough story, the subject can get away with a centre framing and while it might initially appear that this is the “focus” of the image, you’ll soon realise that it is quite the contrary! A subject in the middle can often draw focus to its’ surrounds because it is just so confronting that you’re forced to see the bigger picture.

Brooke Saward in Paris

#4 Fill the Frame

When you’re shooting an object from afar, particularly a well-know object like the Eiffel Tower, it can be quite bland to simply shoot the object with a lot of sky in the background and leaves little to the imagination. Instead, consider how you can “fill” the frame – i.e. the picture above or by shooting the Eiffel Tower from below on an angle, from behind some fresh blooms with them as the focus, etc.

brooke saward

#5 Put Things Into Perspective

This is a great rule to follow when photographing landscape shots, as well as large buildings or complexes that are impossible to show their size without putting it into perspective by putting a subject or object in the frame. When shooting these types of photos solo, I usually find a nearby ledge to prop my camera on and run into the frame, almost always facing away from the camera so as to show off the destination around me, not just another ‘tourist snap’ of me smiling saying “I WAS HERE” (though if that’s your thing, you go Glen Coco)!

journey brooke

#6 Work Those Angles

I always (always, always, always) get asked how I take my travel photos if I travel solo. Spoiler: I place my camera on a gorillapod, tripod, on a ledge or on the ground and prop it up with a stick or rock (yes really!) But it isn’t always a hindrance, as you often find yourself getting crafty and creative in order to get a cool shot and try things you wouldn’t normally give a try. By placing my camera on the ground for the above image, I’ve changed the scene entirely.


#7 Let The Background Tell the Story

When taking portrait photos, a great composition photo is to allow the background to tell the story, rather than the subject itself.

28 gates

#8 Break The Rules

Rule #8: NEVER. STOP. TRYING. NEW. THINGS. This above photo was a total fluke and I was really chuffed with the end result as it just shows a complete different way of viewing a picnic. I chose to blend the idea of a “flat lay” blogger-style photograph with a typical travel photo and this was the end result! For this photo I had a helping hand!


What camera do you use?

An Olympus PEN E-PL7 for day to day and OM-D Mark II for more thoughtful shots.

What lenses do you use?

 Nearly always a 14-42mm on my Olympus PEN and a fisheye on my OMD. I also have a few long range and wide angle lenses that I use for landscape photography, but typically only travel with the first two in order to travel light.

What camera settings do you use? 

I would love to say I use manual all the time and know the ropes, but I’m still learning! For quick photos, I use automatic settings or select “brighter” a notch or two on my Olympus PEN, particularly for blog photography like flat lays.

What editing software do you use? 

I use only iPhoto or “Photos” on my Macbook to tweak a few things like exposure or saturation.

How do you transfer your photos for instagram uploads? 

My cameras come with the software (downloadable app) to transfer directly from my camera to my phone. If I edit photos in post production, I transfer using the cloud by Apple.


If you have any more questions you’d like to see answered in a future blog post on travel photography please leave a comment below! 

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    December 30, 2015 at 9:20 am

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    Emma Watson
    December 21, 2015 at 6:21 pm

    Great photos and great tips as always!!!

    December 11, 2015 at 7:59 pm

    These Travel photography for your composition should we your rules i scarifies.

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    November 28, 2015 at 10:38 pm

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    November 25, 2015 at 10:21 pm

    Awesome tips are here, i loved it a lot…

    November 20, 2015 at 6:05 pm

    The Travel photography rules composition among on that’s your processing theme are adjustment rules responsive.

    Andrea Petersen
    October 29, 2015 at 9:40 pm

    Thank you so much for this helpful post!!! I also have the Olympis EPL7 and would LOVE if you could tell me where this ‘brighter’ setting you speak of is located? Thanks! Lots of love, Andrea xxx

    • Brooke Saward
      October 30, 2015 at 10:56 am

      You just click ‘ok’ (the centre round button) when you go to take a photo, then click okay again and you can click up on the brightness 🙂 one of my fave features! xx

    Katie Nearpass Pace
    October 28, 2015 at 10:22 pm

    I’m so excited to try some of these ideas when I go to Berlin this weekend! I’m also learning and also don’t have the time or money to take a course on photography at this time, so posts like these are so helpful. Thanks and rock on, babygirl!! x Katie

    Kerjan | Backpack Babe
    October 7, 2015 at 4:12 pm

    Such great tips!! I love following the rule of thirds. Also, another important thing is time of day / lighting! I absolutely love golden hour for that beautiful glow 🙂 your pictures are always so beautiful, Brooke!

    October 3, 2015 at 6:17 am

    Great tips. I love that your photos are real and not touched up to look 100% perfect. Your angles are appealing and your way of explaining your tricks inspires me to shoot more.

    September 30, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    Thanks for sharing Brooke! I love your blog and yours photos, despite what you say, are definitely professional looking!

    • Brooke Saward
      October 3, 2015 at 2:08 am

      aww thanks Anisha! 🙂

    September 30, 2015 at 12:35 pm

    I love all the tips, I need to remember them next time I’m taking a photo. The one advice I love is “let the background tell the story”

    September 26, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    I’m trying to get in the habit of thinking out the box and trying something new so I can’t wait to give a few of these a try especially #4!

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    September 24, 2015 at 12:58 am

    Love hearing your perspectives on a great photo!

    Samira Allion
    September 23, 2015 at 2:13 am

    Beautiful Pictures. I am the same I have a camera and love taking pictures but I don’t want it to be a profession. Next time I am out I am trying some of these tips out 🙂

    Rebecca Hansen
    September 20, 2015 at 2:55 pm

    Hey Brooke! I was wondering two things… First, do you ever worry about people snatching your camera up when you leave it somewhere and then move and face away while it takes the photo? And also, what is the app that lets you transfer your photos from your camera to your phone? Thanks! xx

    • Brooke Saward
      October 3, 2015 at 2:10 am

      Hasn’t happened to me yet but I’m always pretty careful on the scenarios I choose when taking solo travel photos! Definitely wouldn’t advise you do it in a crowded place!! 🙂 Try visiting popular monuments early or late in the day when there are less crowds! xx

    September 20, 2015 at 11:03 am

    Love new ideas for photos for the blog and social media! On my first trip overseas I missed so many opportunities for creating great memories as I mostly took selfies… Argh boring lol Will have to look into the olympus also… Ive got the Canon 5D Mark 2, but its heavy as hell!

    EmilyAnne (Eat All Over The World)
    September 20, 2015 at 7:37 am

    Love all the advice. Thanks!

    September 19, 2015 at 3:03 am

    Great tips! Love how you tell your story through your photos. I’m sometimes nervous about propping my camera up somewhere and running into the shot out of fear someone will grab my camera and run, but I guess you just need to be choosy about where you take shots like that. Keep up the great work!


    September 19, 2015 at 2:40 am

    phenomenal tips! will have to check out the olympus cameras, im pretty glued to my canon haha.


    September 18, 2015 at 11:02 pm

    Very useful tips, especially about story-telling! It is something that I oftentimes overlook in my photos and yet I really shouldn’t! Still learning, though… 😉

    Thanks for this post!

    September 18, 2015 at 11:16 am

    Great tips! I just bought a Canon 2 weeks ago, just the cheaper one. And I really like to dive in photography because I really love taking pictures. I am playing around with it. And hoping to capture great photos like you especially in solo. 🙂 Keep it up!

    Sightseer Pinay
    September 18, 2015 at 8:40 am

    Hi Brookes. I’ve been following you all over social network. Loved your posts, really. ANyway, perhaps you could also include Philippines as part of your Asia destination. 🙂

    I’m currently working on my blog, hope to travel a lot soon like you do.

    September 18, 2015 at 6:30 am

    Nice article, we love to play around with the camera too! Love being travels!

    Elysian Inksmith
    September 18, 2015 at 3:56 am

    Who takes the photos of you?

    Claire @ TallGirlBigWorld
    September 18, 2015 at 3:01 am

    Thanks for the great tips! I really appreciate how helpful, yet simple these are. I’m also learning how to master my jumbo DSLR, and it’s good to know that using the “automatic” setting is okay for beginners 😉 I struggle with remembering the rule of thirds, but you’re right! Sometimes a middle shot is okay too. Lovely post!

    September 18, 2015 at 2:23 am

    Do you ever worry about using a tripod/propping your camera up on something? I always fear that if I do that someone will snatch my camera.

    September 17, 2015 at 11:09 pm

    Awesome tips! I really need to invest in an SLR, I think it makes such a difference

    September 17, 2015 at 10:16 pm

    Useful tips I intend to try. Thank you.

    September 17, 2015 at 9:37 pm

    Absolutely love this Brooke! Your pictures are always on point so we’re definitely learning from he master here 😉

    Love, Kerstin

    Adelaide Haynes
    September 17, 2015 at 8:43 pm

    Great photos and great tips as always!!!
    Definitely can’t wait to shake things up with my photography

    September 17, 2015 at 2:56 pm

    Some great tips. I’m not very creative so really struggle with taking the perfect photo.

    September 17, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    Great post Brooke! Thanks for the tips 🙂

    September 17, 2015 at 11:55 am

    Great post and amazing pictures! Thank you for sharing!

    September 17, 2015 at 11:27 am

    Your blog continues to amaze me. I’m so glad I stumbled upon it a few weeks ago. Love this post. It’s good to know I can take high quality photos without needing extensive knowledge of what I’m doing or even a helping hand sometimes.

    September 17, 2015 at 9:16 am

    such wonderful tips and beautiful photographs!
    Thank you for sharing your ideas.

    E x

    Rachael @ Catch Me if You Can
    September 17, 2015 at 6:29 am

    i love your pictures they look professional to me!! I dont use an editing software right now but Im looking for one that can remove people from images. I have a few pictures from florence that would be absolutely breathtaking if those random people were out of the frame. I love all of these tips thank you so much for sharing! I always wondered how you could capture just yourself when traveling alone.

    September 17, 2015 at 6:07 am

    These are awesome tips! Not to mention your photos are making me so jealous! I love the variety in the photos you take and that each one tells its own story without needing a description. Travel photography is definitely an area I want to improve so I’ll be getting some use out of these tips. Thanks for sharing!

    Blondes & Bagels
    September 17, 2015 at 4:40 am

    SO many amazing tips! I admire your photography skills like no other so thanks so much for the skinny on how you capture such amazing shots! I need to get my hands on a camera with an app that syncs up your photos to your phone…my world would be changed!

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