Tips for Improving Your Photography Skills

by Cass Jenks

Photography on the trails

Photography out on the trails

Our photo competition is open again for submissions all the way through into winter, and it’s the perfect excuse to try your hand at photography. Take your camera out on the trails to immortalize your walk and perhaps earn a voucher or two! These hints and tips may help you frame the perfect picture.

Find your focus

Photography on the trailsIt’s no secret that walking the trails surrounds us in natural beauty. Gorgeous vistas stretch out on every side, tempting the camera lens in every direction. Overwhelmed by all these potential shots and by the sense of envelopment in nature that we often want to capture, it’s easy to start taking photographs of everything – but for a great picture, focus is key.

When setting up a shot, ask yourself this critical question: what is the subject of your photograph?

Which object ahead of you matters most? This could be as straightforward as a bird perched on a stile, or it could be a particular tree there in the distance that provides a sense of scale for the vast hills you want to capture.

Once you know just what your subject is, it’s time to think about framing.

The rule of thirds

One good way to present your subject is to imagine a grid overlaid on the scene you wish to capture.

Photography on the trails Split into three: grid lines guide composition in Suzy West’s submission for the 2014 competition

Place your subject where the grid lines intersect for a well-balanced photograph. In Suzy West’s photo, both the phone box and the flowers are accentuated by these intersections.

Some cameras can be set up to display these lines through the viewfinder – so you can use them as guidelines to keep horizons level and any vertical objects standing straight, too. Try to make sure the horizon is off-centre to avoid cutting your photo in two.

Leave space where the action is heading

If you’re framing, say, a walker on a path, you’ll give the viewer the best sense of where that person is walking to if you leave more space ahead of them than behind. Someone facing or moving in a particular direction will naturally draw the eye in the same way, so take advantage of this to lead the viewer across your photo, rather than off it.

Photography on the trails Facing ahead: Marianne Engelshove’s photo shows rolling green fields opening up ahead of the walker - the perfect scenario, in our experience.

Leading lines

On the subject of directing the viewer’s gaze across the picture, the same can be done with strong lines. Paths, walls and fences are excellent candidates while you’re out on your walking holiday. Don’t discount strong curves in the landscape, either.

Photography on the trails Lines in architecture: Luc Tremblay uses the lines of the rooftops and the road to guide the eye all the way down the road.

Improve the picture quality

Keeping the above in mind for composition, here are a few more tips to help perfect your photograph:

  • Get up close to your subject.
  • Be mindful of distracting oddities - a telephone pole seemingly sprouting from a walker's head, for example.
  • Use your camera's flash to even out shadows and catch all the details.
  • Minimise camera shake by bracing on your knees or a nearby object. Try to hold your camera at two opposite points rather than keeping both hands together to minimise the effect of any shaking in your hands. A tripod is optimal for a static shot, but not exactly well-adapted to long-distance walking, nevermind cycling!
  • Press the shutter slowly and steadily, and don't release it until the photo has been taken - this should reduce the chance of last-second blurring.

Of course, the very best tip is simply this: look at and take lots of photos! Any walking holiday will provide endless opportunity for beautiful photos, and it's always practice that pays off the most.

We look forward to seeing all your entries for this year’s photo competition.

Cass J, writer at Contours Holidays, rides a mountain bike down a hill.

Cass Jenks

Marketing and Strategy Consultant

Writer, editor and Google-wrangler at Contours Holidays, Cass spends each weekend on the trails, walking the dog or plummeting downhill along Wales’ best mountain biking tracks.

Read more blogs by Cass Jenks

Originally published 01/05/15

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