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How to Take Better Travel Photos in New Zealand

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Taking better travel photos for beginners.

New Zealand is a breathtaking country. Even the most resistant to posting photos on Instagram will find themselves snapping away at the majestic mountains, glistening lakes and expansive coastline. But how do you make your photos different from the standard tourist photo that you’ve seen a thousand times? We’ll guide you through the basics that will amp you travel photos in this guide to taking better travel photos in New Zealand.

While you’re here, you might also be interested in 10 Breathtaking Photos of New Zealand and 12 Dramatic Photos Showing Everyday Life in New Zealand.

First things first, ANy photo can be saved

Your photos aren’t going to look mind-blowing as soon as you take them. That comes after you have edited them…

Just because a photo looks a bit too dark or not “colourful” enough doesn’t mean that it can’t be saved! Let’s be honest, every photographer that you follow on Instagram uses photo editing tools to turn Ok shots into amazing shots. You can too! And you don’t necessarily need expensive software like Photoshop to edit your photos. There are free photo-editing apps, computer software and even Instagram does a good job.

Quick fixes to your photos
  • If your photos are too dark: manipulate the “Brightness” and the “Shadows”
  • If your photos are too dull: manipulate the “Saturation” and the “Vibrancy”
  • If your photos are too two-dimensional: manipulate the “Structure”.

Now, let’s move onto taking photos…

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Find a new Angle

The attractions that you are visiting around New Zealand, whether it’s a waterfall, a lookout over a stunning landscape or even the “L&P Bottle” in Paeroa, chances are that you will have seen photos of these attractions before.

Don’t try to copy the photos that you’ve already seen, because, let’s be honest, they’ve been done a thousand times! Fight the urge to hold your phone/camera in front of you to start taking photos and think of a different angle. Could you take this photo lower to the ground looking up at the subject? Could you get a higher vantage point to get a grander view of the place, even if it means holding the camera above your head? Getting a photo from a new angle is a sure-fire way to make your photo stand out from your average tourist pic.

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Get Yourself in the photo

So many people come home realising that they didn’t get themselves in their travel photos or only got a few of your holiday group in the photo but not everyone. Getting yourself in the photo isn’t just for being narcissistic. Travel photos actually look better when there are people in the photos actually experiencing a place!

Now, getting a photo of yourself isn’t always easy. Giving your camera to random tourists at an attraction and asking: “Can you take a photo of me?” often leads to questionable results or just the same photo as everyone else (see New Angles above)!

An easy way to get yourself in a photo, without tripods and selfie sticks, is to assess your surroundings and find an object that you can place your phone/camera on. Use the timer setting on your phone/camera, leaving a 10-second delay so that you can get back into position in time for the photo to take! Better yet, set your camera to take multiple shots so you can try different positions and poses, just in case the first one is terrible. Or skip this entire process by getting one of the latest cameras (see Camera Gear below) which allow you to connect, preview and take photos remotely through a phone app.

The most important thing to note about taking photos of yourself is to not care what people think while you’re taking the photos. Own it, and you’ll come out with some great travel photos!

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Use the Rule of Thirds

This is the most basic rule in photography composition is using the “rule of thirds”. This is splitting your photo into three parts vertically and three parts horizontally. Nowadays, all phones and cameras have the option to bring up a rule of thirds template on the preview screen – yes, that’s what it’s for!

Ways that you can use the rule of thirds to compose your photo is to make sure the subject is in one of the intersecting lines – not in the middle of one of the boxes. This results in the subject of your photo being a bit on the side of the photo, rather than just slapped carelessly in the middle.

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Using leading lines

Another basic photography rule that you can use oh-so-much in New Zealand is “leading lines”. Lines look so good in photos, especially if they lead to a subject.

Use the hiking tracks in New Zealand as a leading line to your friend (or yourself) hiking. Better yet, use a boardwalk as a leading line to a mountain. Swingbridges have a lot of lines you can use. Viewing platforms with railings have a lot of lines you can use. Sailing boats with their ropes, kayak paddles… And the list goes on!

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ANything looks good during sunrise and sunset

Your photos can really stand out if you capture your subject at sunrise or sunset.

The best places to take your sunrise and sunset photos are on the coast. With so much coast in New Zealand, more than 15,000km of it, you won’t find it hard to find a good beach, cliff or even a coastal town. The east coast is the best place to capture the sunrise, while the west coast is the best place to capture the sunset.

Check the sunrise/sunset times and get out there. Don’t underestimate how quickly sunrise/sunset goes. Get to where you want to take photos about 30 minutes early, as the changing colour of the sky on the lead up to sunrise/sunset also makes great photos.

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Get better camera gear

Phones take great photos and for most of us, that’s enough. But if you want to use photos for a blog or print out on a frame for everyone to see, then there’s no doubt that a higher-resolution camera looks so much cleaner and crisper! That’s when you’re going to need a better camera.

DSLR & Mirrorless Cameras

If you want to get creative with your photography, then mirrorless cameras or DSLR cameras have a multitude of settings to add cool effects to your photos, especially when manipulating the shutter speeds to get that “smooth” effect on New Zealand waterfalls, for instance. Or taking photos of the night’s sky as we discuss in How to Photograph Aurora Australis (The Southern Lights).

Check out the Canon EOS Rebel T6 DSLR Camera out!
Check out the Sony Alpha a6000 Mirrorless Digital Camera out!

Action Camera

In New Zealand, there are so many amazing adventure activities where an action camera is the best camera for the job. We’re thinking: surfing, white water rafting, dolphin swimming, bungy jumping and more! What’s more, action cameras like GoPro have a cool fish-eye lens which can capture a vast landscape or an entire scene in a small space – that’s why they are so popular for taking selfies.

Check out the latest GoPro on Amazon.

The best camera accessory for travel

This little tripod is the ultimate travel companion… You know how we were talking about taking travel photos of yourself? Well, a Gorilla Pod allows you to take photos of yourself easily without the use of a big bulky tripod. Its legs wrap around just about anything and the Gorilla Pod itself is small enough to stick in or on the side of your day pack.

Check out the JOBY Gorilla Pod on Amazon.

For more cool camera stuff, see our 21 Travel Gadgets for Your Gap Year in New Zealand.

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