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Three Essential Photo Tips

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Dan Westergren shares his expertise at a National Geographic photo seminar in Washington, D.C. (Photograph by Leslie Trew Magraw)

In the age of Instagram, everyone’s a photographer. But a few simple tricks still make snapshots actually worth showing off.

Traveler senior photo editor Dan Westergren offers his top three tips for shooting in the field:

1. Understand light. Get going before sunrise; everything photographs better in the first few hours of daylight. If you’re with family, either persuade them to witness the magic of early light, or sneak out of the hotel and bring breakfast back so they can appreciate your early morning disappearances.

2. Turn off the flash. There’s nothing like an ill-considered camera flash for ruining a beautiful scene. Most digital cameras do well enough at high ISO settings that use of the on-camera flash can be reduced or eliminated altogether. Learn how to turn your flash off, and take a few pictures with flash and a few without. Comparing versions side by side can help you determine when the flash helps and when it hurts. As a general rule, switch the camera from the “auto” setting — which seems to trigger the flash to go off most of the time — to “program.”

3. It’s still worth it to carry a “real” camera. Even the least expensive DSLR cameras, which are quite small and lightweight, have much better image quality than most point-and-shoot cameras. For lighter traveling, I recommend a new category of cameras called mirror-less, or EVIL (electronic viewfinder interchangeable lens). Look for micro four-thirds by Olympus and Panasonic or the NEX series by Sony. EVIL cameras have a relatively large sensor (translation: better images) but are smaller than DSLR cameras. As for the iPhone: great for snapshots and social media, but not a replacement camera. Blown up, iPhone photos usually disappoint.

Traveler now offers photography seminars in 14 cities around the U.S.! Get insider tips from Nat Geo experts on every aspect of the art and science of making great pictures. Learn more >>

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