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Before I became a travel writer, I always avoided people while on a trip.

In fact, it has always been my travel quest to find the hidden attractions, the trails least traveled, and the most remote beaches. But then I became a travel writer and discovered that I actually need people—not only in my stories, but also in my photos.

Usually, when you pull out your camera at a scenic spot, people scurry to get out of the shot. They look at you a little oddly when you ask them to step back in and “act natural.” I’ve learned to drop that last part, because there’s nothing that makes a person pose for a photograph faster than telling them to “act natural.” 

The idea of capturing complete strangers in travel photos is relatively new to me. Like most of us, I grew up in the “stand-in-front-of-something-pretty-and-smile” school of photography. In contrast, journalism school taught me the following tricks to take natural photos…

Tip #1: News outlets don’t want posed shots; they want photos of people doing things. 

One time I was covering a government official’s visit to the Southern California town where I worked. Because there wasn’t a photographer available, I dutifully snapped pictures between scribbling down quotes in my notebook. When I got back to the newsroom I had a decent story, but the only thing Mr. Secretary was doing in my photos was growing a microphone out of his chin. Which leads to…

Tip #2: Make sure there isn’t an obstruction between you and the focal point of your photograph. 

I learned from my mistakes during my 20-odd years in the news business and felt confident I could take photos to go with my “Around Colorado” column when The Denver Post hired me three and-a-half years ago. Apparently there was more to learn.

After searching through my vacation pics for one without my daughters being prominently featured, my editor mentioned…

Tip #3: Don’t show the faces of children and identify them in photos. 

Why? Well, because there are a lot of weirdos out there, and let’s just leave it at that. 

As a result of Rule #3, if you Google “Chryss Cada daughters,” you will be treated to a collection of photos of the back of my girls’ heads partaking in a wide variety of outdoor pursuits, including hiking, skiing, fishing, tubing and canoeing. 

But that’s not to say you shouldn’t have people and their faces in your photos; in fact, the opposite is true. 

Tip #4: Always have people in your photos. 

Another travel editor taught me this one. I would turn in scenic shots of a bison herd, a mountain vista or the sunset reflected in a lake, pleased that I had captured such a beautiful moment. 

My editor didn’t share my sense of accomplishment. “Where are the people?” she would ask, time after time. 

So now I seek out my fellow human beings, not only to give scale to my photos, but to help my readers connect to the place pictured. 

The good news is, you don’t need a crowd to make your travel photos pop — just the handful of folks you can usually find at a hidden attraction, a least-traveled trail or a remote beach.

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[Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can fund your travels and make an extra income with photography, travel writing, blogging, and more in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.  Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Five Fun Ways To Get Paid To TravelA Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]

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