Flip open the pages of a travel magazine and you’ll find yourself transported into a tropical oasis. Attractive photographs of palm trees, turquoise waters, and a woman relaxing on a hammock pop from the pages. The photos are beautiful and stunning, but slowly they all start to look the same. The same bright colors and photogenic compositions become clichés.
Today we’re going to break away from the typical style of tropical location photography. Creating distinctive images of tropical places is about having a fresh perspective, putting your own spin on common techniques, and doing the opposite of what’s expected.
Tone It Down
Most images we see of tropical places are captured to emphasize the vibrant setting. They’re bold, striking, and colorful. Although these images are stunning, they can seem overdone. If you’ve see one amazing shot of a tropical beach then you’ve seen them all, right?
That is unless you take creative control as a photographer. Change things up by toning down your images. Keep the composition as simple as you can. When you feel the need to include all the beauty into one frame, just remember that sometimes less is more. Being selective about your composition will direct more interest to a main subject.
Look around your tropical location. What is one thing that stands out to you? If it’s the water, focus on just capturing that. It could even just be a piece of it – such as a small wave breaking on the shore. Minimalism isn’t something you see a lot of in tropical location photography, so keeping your subject matter and composition simple is a great way to convey a different perspective of a familiar place.
Intensify with Lomography
On the other side of the spectrum, why not increase the intensity of your images? If you’re not familiar with Lomography, here’s a brief description: Over-saturated, over-exposed, tilted, and blurry. Definitely not what you’d expect to see in a travel magazine! But that’s what makes it such a good technique for getting unique images of tropical places. It’s an over-emphasis of the beauty of your location.
Lomography has a history of being an exciting, kind of free-spirited way to take pictures. Austrian students who came across the LOMO LC-A camera a decade after it was developed by the Russians (who improved the initial Japanese design because “every respectable Communist should have a LOMO KOMPAKT AUTOMAT of their own”) had unconventional ways of shooting with their new-style cameras.
It was about shooting from the hip, from above and through their legs. With film, you don’t exactly know what you’re going to get. And a favorite thing to do in Lomography was to cross-process the film, meaning develop your film using chemicals meant for a different type of film. The results make for a very different type of image.
Get a Lomo camera to play with. Being a bit rebellious will make typical, boring photos of tropical trees and beaches suddenly exciting. The results of Lomography can be odd and striking, and never fails to be an engaging way to make great photos. Remember, go against the grain of what’s ordinary and you’re sure to be pleased by the results.
Tell A Story
It’s easy to feel lazy in the tropical heat. But that means you’re not being perceptive to the photographic opportunities around you. The best thing you can do to combat this is to think like a photojournalist on assignment. Always be alert and look for the images to capture that tell a story, not just depict a pretty place.
Think about the overall style of the set of photos you’re creating. When you fly home, how do you want your images to come together? Combining a range of techniques and compositions is a good way to show a timeline of events.
Wide shots establish a setting. Close ups get viewers deeper into the feel of a place. And portraits are the essential human element. The list could go on. The point is to tell a story using different points of view. Notice how comic books use a similar technique. Each frame is from a different perspective in order to keep the story moving along. We need to see expressions and different angles to stay engaged.
Photo by eric molina
It’s more interesting when a unique or beautiful setting can convey a story. There’s more for the viewer to imagine.
Choose Black and White for Striking Images
Bold, bright colors are what’s expected when it comes to photos of tropical places. Making your images black-and-white causes surprise and make for unique images. And if you’re shooting when it’s raining or stormy, black and white just might be the best technique to apply.
Most of us can forget that storm clouds, lightning, and rain are very common in the tropics. What we typically see of these places is the perfect blue-sky situation. Conveying the dramatic weather of a tropical place adds a different take to the same old scene.
Photo by Marissa Stmiste
Black and white has a way of simplifying images to more basic shapes and tones. It eliminates the impact of color, while adding a different kind of drama on its own. The contrast between black and white and a tropical place creates a sense of relief from all the bright noise.
Get an Interesting Aerial Perspective
An aerial perspective always makes the viewer’s eyes widen. Tropical places are some of the best locations for shooting an aerial view. Just remember to make something different of it.
Look for interesting patterns of the reef or islands. Include a foreground of clouds for more interest. Perhaps fly in the golden hours, as during midday the light will be flat and wash out a lot of the depth you could achieve.
It may be tricky to find the ideal shot – especially traveling in the air. But keep your eyes open and get creative. For example, look at the image below. At first glance it doesn’t even look like an aerial. More like an underwater scene or abstract pattern.
The deep blue color and lack of horizon helps to create an illusion of something different than what it really is. Be mindful about how you angle your camera for the most distinct results. The difference between great photos and snapshots is how you go about taking the photo.
Photo by Easa Shamih
To get started with aerial photography, there are a few essential things to note; camera shake, reflections, and lens choice.
Planes bring along turbulence, which will make it tricky to get a sharp image. Brace yourself against the window where you’re sitting and be sure to set a fast shutter speed. This will help eliminate some of the shake and otherwise blurry images.
Shooting through windows is also a difficulty that comes along with the ride. But, it’s not an issue that can’t be overcome. Put a UV filter on the front of your lens to reduce the reflections on the window. You’ll also notice that focusing gets frustrating as well. So for this, switch your lens to manual focus. Get as close as you can to the window (the UV filter also acts as a protective shield) and compose your shots.
Photo by Willem van der Horst
Lens choice is important when shooting the tropics from above. Which lens you choose really depends on what you want to achieve. A wide angle lens is great for including the wing of the plane as a additional interest, while a telephoto zoom lens will allow you to get in tight on the tropical setting. This may be better if you want to experiment with a wider range of focal lengths during your flight.
Spend Time in the Water
The ocean life of a tropical place is a fascinating subject to explore. Start with a mask and snorkel near the surface. From here you could shoot a shallow reef or even capture the perspective looking back at the tropical shore. Frame the water in the shot to create an interesting foreground.
Photo by Steve Dunleavy
Also, you don’t need an underwater kit and a scuba license to get great water shots. Staying above the surface is a fantastic way to get up close and personal with the tropical ocean water. Have a person be the subject of your water shots. Nothing says tropical like someone enjoying the warm ocean water and waves.
Get creative by having them do things like swim towards the camera, flip their hair, goof around, or anything you can think of that will make your images unique.
Focus on the Culture
Photo by dying regime
Focus on the actions and expressions of people. What can your camera capture about the personality of people in a tropical place? Talk to them and listen to their stories. Then think about how you can photograph them to best capture the story you heard.
Look for the elements that make that person a part of that culture. Are they wearing any particular jewelry or dress? What about the tools or things they’re using? And the places they live?
All of these factors go into account when photographing people of a different culture than your own. It’s important to look for not only the commonalities of that culture, but also the individual choices of attire, role, and hobby as aspects to include in your photography.
Capture the Sunset like No One Else
We all have a fascination with sunsets. I can’t help but take a picture of a stunning sunset, even if it’s just with my phone. In the tropics, incredible sunsets happen every day. But does that mean you’re stuck capturing the same thing over and over?
No. The cliché sunset shot doesn’t need to occur. When the sun sets, and you see a group of people with their cameras out, just walk away. Go somewhere with a different vantage point.
Take a look at this image below of Diamond Head on Oahu, Hawaii. Now this is an angle you don’t normally see of the famous volcano. Usually the city of Honolulu is framed in the foreground and Diamond Head is behind. That way the city and the beach are also included in the shot.
But so often is this same perspective done, that all images look the same. No matter where you are in the world, there are spots that everyone gravitates towards and then there are places off the beaten path. I suggest you leave the path.
It’s important to plan your sunset shots early. Know where the sun will set and find your location beforehand. You can also point your camera in a different direction than where the sun is going down. Capture closeups of trees or buildings with the golden light being cast upon them. It’s still a sunset shot, just not like you would expect.
Over to You!
Next time you jet off to a tropical location, think about how to create images that aren’t what you’d see in travel brochures. Do the opposite of what’s cliché. Tell a story with depth and think outside the box.
Do you have any unique images of tropical locations? Share with us in the comments below!