Tips for Taking Photos Abroad


When studying abroad, everyone becomes a photographer. We want our friends and family back home to see the beautiful sights we are seeing in our host country. Just taking pictures of everything you see will not only leave you with a thousand photos to thumb through, it will also keep you from living in the moment. I have created three tips for myself that help in capturing better photos while still letting me be present in my environment and with the people around me. Try them out and see if it works for your photos!

1. Look at the Smaller Picture

Since arriving in South Africa, I have been on a few game drives where I have encountered a LOT of awe-inspiring animals. The Big Five never fail to impress even the most experienced bush visitor. The second you come across an animal, everyone whips out their cameras and smartphones and starts snapping away. The question I ask myself is, how does taking a picture of this animal set it apart from the pictures I have taken of the same animals in the zoo back home? Yes, this animal is living in the wild (or semi-wild) and is going about its natural routine, but how are you capturing that vibe?

My advice is to look for the small details. Look at how the animal is interacting with the environment. Is there a bird perched on one of the buffalo’s head? What is that scurrying through the bush? Look at the bird gazing out across the waterhole. So many little details can make a picture stand out in more ways than capturing the entire herd of buffalo all looking at the tourists with funny contraptions in their hands. Or the thousands of kudu you will encounter that give you the same quizzical expression. The little designs of nature will get you a unique perspective and you will find yourself taking less photos because you are more interested in finding the best shot rather than any shot.

A small interaction between a water buffalo and a bird. The smaller details can make a big difference!

2. Photograph Interactions

Animals aside, my next tip is directed more toward people. Think about all the photos you have seen on Facebook of study abroad. Thought of some? I bet most of the pictures you remember have to do with buildings, mountains, oceans, and food. Don’t get me wrong, these themes make for great photos! But if you are looking for more of a connection with your audience, find the interactions among the locals, your friends, university life, and much more! Nothing makes people feel more drawn to something than a sense of belonging.

Capturing that moment when your friends are all around the table conversing with one another or when they are all walking along the beach can set a picture apart from just another photo of the ocean. People love to see how life goes on half-way across the world. It makes people feel connected to the world when they see that people who live a totally different life from them still experience the same things that make us all human.

When it comes down to it, love of our community, friends, and family can bring the world together and what better theme to capture for your photos? Not only will you have great pictures, you will have more to look back on when your study abroad program is over and your new best friends are spread out across the globe.

3. Change Your Perspective

My friends and I recently went on a road trip via the Garden Route with our final destination as Cape Town. When in Cape Town, you stop at one of the 7 Wonders of the World, Table Mountain. Everything from the ride up the mountain to getting to the top is breathtaking. You have the classic views of the very populated city sprawled out below Table Mountain and if you have ever been to the top, it is quite shocking how big the city is. This view is beautiful and so many great photos can be taken on this side of the mountain.

That leads me to my third and final tip. EVERYONE takes pictures of that side of Table Mountain. All the pictures I had seen from others who had visited portrayed the same scene of the city sitting below the mountain. When I made my way to the other side of Table Mountain, there was this whole other perspective I had never seen and it was inspiring! So to conclude, always look for new perspectives. Your photos will be set apart from other touristic pictures if you take the time to find the hidden gem.

The beautiful view of Table Mountain from the other side of the mountain. Always go where everyone else doesn’t run to!

To summarize my tips on how to take better photos abroad, taking the time to find what makes the environment, architecture, people (etc.) a truly magnificent stamp in time can set you apart from other study abroad pictures. You will also find yourself interested in getting quality photos rather than worrying about the quantity. This will free you from the need to take pictures of absolutely everything and will give you more time to live in the moment and share this once-in-a-lifetime experience with your friends.

Kirsten Jones is a student at the Bowling Green State Univerity and is an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying abroad with ISA in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

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