Travel Photography Tips for Budding Adventurers
Looking to improve your pictures during your next trip? Here's my top travel photography tips for beginners.
Travel photography has always been one of the most pleasurable parts of my job. Getting paid to explore the world and capture places that the average person would only dream of seeing is a real privilege. It's during lockdown that I have truly realised just what a privilege it is as none of us can travel, anywhere! At the moment, a trip to the local supermarket feels like a mini adventure, an escape from my inner sanctum and the sights I have seen in just my local area will stick with me forever. Living in London you are used to being surrounded by people everywhere. But to walk down the once bustling streets of South London and not see a soul, is a humbling experience. Its something I felt I had to document, so I have been keeping myself busy by shooting what I see and sharing things on Instagram. If you are interested in travel photography tips, my first would be now that lockdown has been eased get out there and capture what is going on - because hopefully this won't be repeated!
During my photography career I have been able to visit some amazing places around Europe but also further afield to countries like India, Jamaica and Egypt - always with a camera in hand. Capturing the sunset over the river in India was incredible, chatting to locals in a bar in Jamaica was special and seeing the beautiful scenery along the Rhine in Germany was breathtaking. Being able to photograph and document all these trips means that today I can look back and relive these experiences. This is something I would like to share with my travel photography tips. A rough guide for someone who wants to upgrade slightly from their rough iPhone pics.
So if you have recently discovered during lockdown tidying that Wow, I own a camera or you have recently treated yourself to a new piece of kit here's my advice on how to plan and take great travel photography on your next trip.
Travel Photography Tips to Take Your Snaps to the Next Level
Wake Up Early, Stay Out Late
The early bird gets the worm. I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase. Well, it’s also very true for travel photography. Light is the most important ingredient for great photography — and soft, warm, morning light creates amazing images.
Waking up early also means you’ll have to deal with fewer tourists and other photographers. Want an amazing postcard shot of a famous landmark like the Taj Mahal? Just get there early right when it opens and you’ll pretty much have the place to yourself!
Sunrise isn’t the only time to catch good light. Sunsets are also great. The hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset are nicknamed “golden hours” because of their soft, warm tones and eye-pleasing shadows. “Blue hour”, is the hour after sunset (or before sunrise) when the sky is still blue, but city lights are turned on.
In comparison, shooting photos at noon on a bright sunny day is probably the absolute worst time for travel photography! In fact sometimes I’ll just take a nap during the middle of the day, so I have more energy for early morning and evening photography missions when the light is best.
Pre-Trip Location Scouting
Read travel guidebooks about your destination. Scour the internet for articles and blog posts to help give you ideas for photos. Talk to friends who have been there. Reach out to other photographers. Become more knowledgeable about which images will capture the essence of the place your visiting.
Some of my favourite tools for travel photography research are Instagram and Google Image Search. I use them to learn where iconic locations are. Actual postcard racks are also a great tool for helping to create a “shot list”.
Once I know the names of potential photo locations, I’ll do more research. Which time of day has the best light? How difficult is it to reach certain vantage points? What time does an attraction open, and when will tourist traffic be low? What will the weather be like?
Wandering around with no plans has its place, but being well-prepared with research beforehand saves time so you can fully commit to producing amazing travel photography once you’re there, and maximize your time.
Talk To People Before Asking
Photographing local people in a foreign country is tough for many photographers. What if they don’t understand you? What if they say no? Will they get offended? It took me a couple of years to get comfortable shooting portraits of locals, and even now I still get a bit nervous.
But I’ve learned the key is to talk to people first. Say hello. Ask for directions. Buy a souvenir. Compliment them on something. Chat for a few minutes BEFORE asking for a photo. It’s far less invasive this way and also a more enriching experience.
Always ask permission for close-ups too. Spend 15 minutes learning how to say “can I make a photograph” or “can I take your portrait” in the local language before you arrive. People really appreciate the effort, and it’s a great way to make a new friend!
Some people will say no. Some will ask for money (I sometimes pay, but that’s up to you). It’s not the end of the world. Thank them for their time, smile, and move on to someone else and try again. Actually the more you get rejected, the easier it gets to ask!
Rule Of Thirds In Photography
One of the most basic and classic of travel photography tips, understanding the Rule of Thirds will help you create more balanced compositions. Imagine breaking an image down into thirds horizontally and vertically, so it’s split into different sections.
The goal is to place important parts of the photo into those sections and help frame the overall image in a way that’s pleasing to the eye.
For example, placing a person along the left grid line rather than directly in the centre. Or keeping your horizon on the bottom third, rather than splitting the image in half. Remember to keep that horizon straight too!
Composing using the Rule of Thirds is easily done by turning on your camera’s “grid” feature, which displays a rule of thirds grid directly on your LCD screen specifically for this purpose.
Now, before you compose a travel photo, you should be asking yourself: What are the key points of interest in this shot? Where should I intentionally place them on the grid? Paying attention to these details will improve the look of your images.
Pack A Lightweight Travel Tripod
A tripod allows you to set your camera position and keep it there. With the camera fixed, you can then take your time arranging the perfect composition.
You can also adjust exposure settings, focus points, and really spend time paying attention to the image you want to create. Or use advanced techniques like HDR, focus stacking, and panoramas.
Tripods give you the ability to shoot much slower shutter speeds (waterfalls, low-light, stars, etc) without worrying about hand-held camera shake. You can keep your ISO low (for less sensor noise) and use smaller apertures, so more of the image is in focus.
You’ll have greater creative control over your camera’s manual settings when using a tripod. This doesn’t mean you have to lug a tripod around with you absolutely everywhere. I don’t.
But for tack sharp landscapes, low-light photography, self-portraits, flowing water shots, and sunsets/sunrises, a travel tripod makes a huge difference.
Experiment With Composition
You can almost always come up with a better photo composition after some experimentation. Take that first shot standing up straight, but then try laying on the ground for a low angle. Maybe climb up something (safe) nearby and shoot from a higher angle.
Along with different angles, try shooting from different distances too. Start with a wide shot, then a mid-range version, and finally, get up-close and personal. Never be satisfied with your first idea for an image!
Try to include powerful foreground, mid ground, and background elements too. If your subject is a mountain range — find a flower, river, animal, or interesting rock to include in the foreground. This gives images a 3-dimensional feel and helps convey scale, drawing a viewer’s eye into the rest of the photo.
Focal compression is another great compositional tactic in travel photography. Compression is when a photographer uses a zoom lens to trick the eye into thinking objects are closer than they really are.
Make Travel Photography A Priority
Attempting to take quick snapshots as you rush from one location to another will leave you with the same boring photos everyone else has. Make sure you plan “photography time” into your travel schedule. Good travel photography requires a solid time commitment on your part.
If you’re travelling with friends who aren’t into photography, it can be difficult to find the time necessary to create amazing images. You need to break off on your own for a few hours to make photography your priority. I often prefer to travel alone or with other dedicated photographers for this reason. Good luck trying to explain to a non-photographer that you’d like to wait around for an extra 30 minutes until the clouds look better! It doesn’t go over well.
For organized tours, try waking up early to wander alone for a few hours, getting photos before the tour starts. Even better, splurge on a rental car for a travel photography road trip. This allows you to control when and where you stop for photos. There’s nothing worse than being stuck on a bus while passing an epic photo opportunity, powerless to stop and capture it!
Patience Is Everything
Slow down and make a conscious effort at becoming aware of your surroundings before pressing the shutter. Pay attention to details. Are the clouds in an eye-pleasing spot? If not, will they look better in 15 minutes? Sit at a photogenic street corner and wait for a photogenic subject to pass by. Then wait some more, because you might get an even better shot. Or not. But if you don’t have the patience to try, you might miss a fantastic photo opportunity!
Good photography takes time. Are you willing to spend a few hours waiting for the perfect shot? Because that’s what professionals do. The more patience you have, the better your travel photography will turn out in the long run.
Shoot Travel Photos In Manual Mode
You’d think that modern cameras are smart enough to take incredible pictures on their own, in AUTO mode. Well, that’s just not the case. While they do a pretty good job, if you want truly stunning images, you need to learn how to manually control your camera’s settings yourself.
If you’re new to photography, you may not realize all the camera settings that need to be adjusted. These include ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. If you want the best images possible, you need to know the relationship between them, and how to adjust these settings on your own. To do this, switch your camera’s dial into Manual Mode. This camera mode gives you much more control of the look of your images in different situations. By manually adjusting aperture you’ll have more control over the depth of field in your image.
By manually controlling shutter speed, you’ll be able to capture motion in more creative ways. By manually controlling ISO, you’ll be able to reduce the noise of your images and deal with tricky lighting situations. Here’s a good free online tutorial about Manual Mode for you to practice with in the garden at home during lockdown.
Always Bring A Camera
There is a saying in photography that “the best camera is the one you have with you”. Be ready for anything, and always carry some kind of travel camera around, because luck plays a pretty key role in travel photography.
The difference between an amateur photographer and a pro is that the pro is planning in advance for this luck, ready to take advantage of these special serendipitous moments that will happen from time to time. You never know what kind of incredible photo opportunity might present itself while you’re traveling. Maybe while out walking you happen to stumble upon a brilliant pink sunset, a rare animal, or an aforementioned bar in Jamaica that just had to be visted and captured!
Keep your camera on you, charged up, and ready for action at all times.
Get Lost On Purpose
So you’ve visited all the popular photography sites and captured your own version of a destination’s postcard photos. Now what? It’s time to go exploring and get off the beaten tourist path. It’s time to get lost on purpose - travel photography tips 101!
If you want to get images no one else has, you need to wander more. The best way to do this is on foot — without knowing exactly where you’re going. Grab a business card from your hotel so you can catch a taxi back if needed, then just pick a direction and start walking. Bring your camera, and head out into the unknown. Check with locals to make sure you’re not heading somewhere dangerous, but make a point to get lost. Wander down alleys, to the top of a mountain, and around the next bend. In many places, locals tend to avoid tourist spots. So if you want to capture the true nature of a destination and its people, you’ll need to get away from the crowd and go exploring on your own.
Don’t Obsess Over Camera Equipment
Camera equipment can be really expensive and I can guarantee an upgrade won’t improve your photography skills. Why? Because the gear you use is not what makes a great photographer. Just like the type of brush a painter uses doesn’t make them a great painter. It’s knowledge, experience, and creativity that makes a great photographer.
Professional photographers use expensive gear because it allows them to produce a greater range of images. For example, extremely low light star photography. Or fast-action wildlife photography. Or because they want to sell large fine-art prints.
Instead of buying new equipment, spend time learning how to use your current camera’s settings. It’s a far better investment, and cheaper too!
Never Stop Learning
Enroll in some online photography tutorials. Go out and practice on a regular basis. This is how you get better – not because you have the latest gear or use popular Instagram filters.
Even though I’ve been earning money with my photography for many years, there’s always something new to learn and ways to improve my craft.
Think you know everything about landscapes? Then go out and challenge yourself shooting portraits of strangers. Stalk animals like a hunter for a taste of how difficult wildlife photography is. Stay up late experimenting with long-exposures of the solar system. You’ll become a more skilled and resourceful travel photographer when you take the time to learn new techniques and from other genres of photography.
To end my travel photography tips I would say have fun and practice. Don't stress if your photos don't look perfect straight away, the more you apply yourself to the craft, the more you'll be impressed with what you've produced. This is a golden time to learn these skills while we're locked inside, plan a trip for next year and by that time you'll have all the tools you need to get your shots in National Geographic!
At the moment I am planning my shoots for next year and if you would like me to capture travel photography for you please check out some of my past pictures here and get in touch using the contact info in the footer below.