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How to take amazing travel photos

By Ashley Strickland, Special to CNN
  • Think of your camera as a travel companion, one to share every second of your adventure with
  • Move around your subject and change your perspective to compose captivating images
  • Shooting a location at dusk can create a "magic light" effect in your photo

Editor's note: This report is part of a series about storytelling and reporting skills called iReport Boot Camp.

(CNN) -- Capture the photo not taken on your next vacation, and you're guaranteed to make a memory. Like a bottle of "Dandelion Wine," it is an image that encapsulates your escape in a single frame. It can become a point of pride on the wall, or an image you look to when a case of the Mondays threatens to overwhelm.

So often, the camera becomes an afterthought in the suitcase. Think of it as a traveling companion, one to share every second of your adventure with. From the most exotic location to your favorite escape in the next town over, the world is full of photographic potential. And I promise you, "every, every inch" of it has not been photographed.

Don't take pictures; make pictures

The most common mistake people make with travel photography is going for the obvious catch. Monuments and identifying landmarks are celebrities in the travel photography world. If you want to take a photo of them, make it unique. Take pleasure in knowing you crafted the image. This may feel like stepping outside of the bounds of your point-and- shoot camera, but no matter what kind you're using, you can make memorable images.

Shoot outside the lines

Amateur travel photography doesn't have to be predictable. Rather than taking a head-on shot of that fascinating skyscraper, challenge yourself a bit. Never place your subject in the center of the frame, and avoid having the horizon line slice through the middle of the image. Placing the subject just to the left or right, much like having your horizon line ride low or high in the frame, makes for a more pleasing and less static image. To achieve this Zen in the art of photography, you'll need to move around, but it pays off.

Change your perspective

Have you ever just stopped and looked up to see what's above you? You might be surprised. Why not try this trick with your eye to the viewfinder? Looking up or shooting down with your camera can compose an entirely new image of an otherwise postcard-esque shot, and it will make the photo your own creation. Amid your moving around, don't forget another equally important rule: Fill your frame. Avoid unnecessary space or, in a complete twist, give your subject space to breathe. Wide-open skies and landscapes can provide a nice contrast to a colorful landmark or personality.

Compose captivating images

Sometimes, the most unique features of a new location are just that: features and facets you wouldn't find anywhere else. These serve to identify where you are -- just like a tourist trap, but infinitely more engaging to shoot. Look for themes and shoot around them. Lines, shapes, forms, textures, patterns and colors make up the list of compelling photo ingredients. You can also frame images within another frame, whether it be a natural formation or shooting through a fence to provide a unique border around what you want to show. A good example of this is the rule of thirds, like an image of the sun setting over the beach as the tide rolls in. The sun is your subject, but the tide and horizon line provide details that make for an engaging, active image. Looking for these components can also create a series or focus for your travel photography. Aim to capture your entire experience in a photo sequence. Do you like shooting different letters of the alphabet on old signs, or hunting down native flowers? Make the experience a treasure hunt for yourself.

What to watch out for

You're moving around to experience new perspectives and looking for intriguing details, and it's easy to skip the photo basics on your quest to see creatively. Although it plays second fiddle to the subject, minding your background is still an important step. Whether it blurs nicely or stands out in stark contrast, keep an eye on what's appearing in the backdrop. A loud, brightly colored sign or a garbage truck passing by may seem obvious, but you don't always notice them right away. They may not appear until you're home, going through your photos. And while it's important to place your horizon anywhere but the center of the frame (with a few exceptions), keep an eye on making that line a straight one. Nothing upsets the balance of a beautiful travel photo more than a crooked horizon.

Keep a weather eye open

For practical and aesthetic reasons, it doesn't hurt to check the weather and time of day before you plan a photo odyssey. Dark clouds rolling in above the church you wanted to photograph may make for a nice, moody image, instead of a sunny one taken on a brighter day. Also, keep in mind that photographers wait for light. Early morning produces a beautiful, soft light before the harsh sun takes over for most of the day. Later, the day relinquishes itself to the golden light of dusk. This is the time of day many photographers call "magic light." Depending on where you are, this 10-minute window is the best time to make an extraordinary image of an otherwise average location. Silhouettes form, unseen details shine, and colors pop and glow.

Patience pays off

Perhaps the most important rule to respect when pursuing travel photography is patience. It may be difficult if you've planned a trip that adheres to a strict itinerary, but if I've learned anything from my experiences with travel (and sports) photography, it's waiting for moments. You can quickly snap that image now, but if you waited five more minutes, would the seagull that sweeps over the ocean at sunset make for a soul-stirring silhouette that you'll always be proud of? It's possible, and a chance you'll have to take. Allow the sun to set another inch or two, wait for a group of people to walk by the slatted fence you're shooting, or return to that landmark at dusk, during magic light. I guarantee it will be worth it.

You don't have to travel to an exotic location; just make a memorable image by capturing what matters most to you.