South America: Travel photography tips

Heading to South America? Learn how to capture your trip like a professional with our travel photography tips.

By Jennifer Davidson
Published 9 Nov 2016, 13:06 GMT, Updated 19 Jul 2021, 17:04 BST
San Cristobal island, Galapagos

San Cristobal island, Galapagos

Photograph by GETTY IMAGES

1. Landscape
On San Cristobal Island in the Galápagos, a circular polarising filter helped to deepen the blues of the water and sky. The rocks on the left side of the frame provide an anchor for the composition. As the hi-energy waves came, a fast shutter speed (1/1600 sec) was needed to freeze the spray in the air. Continuous shooting mode allowed me to capture differing degrees of splash.

2. Wildlife
When photographing wildlife, look for a unique behaviour or interaction between multiple animals. To make these images more powerful, I often photograph at the animals' eye level. Overcast days can also be great for photographing wildlife because distracting shadows are minimised and colours are more saturated — it's that quality of light that makes these Sally Lightfoot crabs scurrying on black lava on Santiago Island in the Galápagos so striking. Look for curves and lines to use in your composition. The graceful curvature of this rock leads the eye through the frame and nicely frames the two crabs. Paying attention to where the rock came into the frame, particularly in the lower left corner, I created this simple composition using a telephoto lens so as not to frighten the skittish crabs. Because much of the frame is dark lava, this image was underexposed by 2/3 stop to bring out the true colours.

3. Portrait
When photographing people, their first instinct is to pose — but if you're patient you can find a relaxed moment, like I caught with this young boy in Saraguro, Ecuador. Using manual exposure, the camera was set for the light, so when he paused, distracted by his hands, all I had to do was compose and take the picture. I quickly moved to where he was fully framed by the dark of the doorway, but it was a fleeting moment; he smiled as soon as he heard the shutter.

4. Street scene
Public art, like this mural in Cartagena's Getsemaní neighbourhood, can make for a striking background. Include an extra element with the mural to create a story. Frame up a composition that leaves room for your subject to enter — a car, kids on a bike, or a colourfully dressed woman. As this woman approached, so perfectly matched with the artwork, I knew she was the accent I'd been waiting for.

5. Market
Markets are typically bustling, which can be difficult to manage in an image. Not interfering waith business is also important. Gualaceo, Ecuador is known for its delicious tortillas de maiz, and this booth was popular with locals. Thankfully, it was next to a stairwell and by moving up the steps, I found a different perspective that was outside the very congested space. This angle helped to isolate the crucial parts of the image from the background chaos.

Published in the South America 2016 guide, distributed with the October 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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