Travel photography is one of the most popular photography genres. It makes sense because you can make money and have fun at the same time. Who wouldn’t love a job where you travel to exotic locations and do something you would do anyway–take pictures? But, there are some things you need to know if you’re thinking of jumping into this very competitive genre.
So, for those newbies out there, we’ve put together useful tips for becoming a travel photographer, that cover everything from how you can practice to finding those perfect locations so you can capture that stunning image. Without further ado, here are 19 travel photography tips to get you started:
1. Know your camera
This tip may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t bother to check out the various settings on their camera. It might help to watch videos online about how to use your camera, but you should also experiment with it.
Take photos of the same object or scene using different settings so that you can see exactly how the settings change the image. That way when you take it out on the road, you know how to get the images you want and don’t have to fiddle with it while the perfect light you wanted disappears.
2. Practice, practice, and then practice some more
If you’re thinking of going into travel photography professionally, you’ve got to practice. There’s a lot of competition out there and you need to be on your game to be in the game! That means practice, practice, and practice, but how? It’s actually pretty easy.
Think of the town you live in. If someone came to you and wanted to know the best places to go and the most beautiful, photographic locations, where would you take them? Where do you go with friends when they are visiting?
Those are the places you can go to practice your photography skills. It doesn’t matter if they’re gorgeous landscape photography opportunities or vivid street photography opportunities, both are relevant to travel photography and will provide you an opportunity to practice. Take pictures and experiment with your camera, various lighting techniques, and different angles. That will prepare you for shooting on the road.
3. Scout out locations
When you have a place you want to go, scout out locations where you will want to shoot. Do searches on social media and the internet to see what the usual images of that area look like, and then, try to think of ways you could do it differently.
Perhaps, you could take photographs from a different angle or at a different time of the day. How can you get a photograph that will set you apart from the masses? It might be as simple as taking pictures from the left instead of the right like everyone else, or it could be a different perspective, like looking down and seeing a reflection of the image you want in the water of a fountain.
Doing a little scouting will also help you to organize yourself, and it can help you plan where you should stay so you can be closest to each location. Furthermore, if you’re thinking about the shots you hope to get, that will help you choose the right equipment.
4. Choose the right equipment
You’re going to be travelling, so you’ll need to think carefully about what you should bring. You want to bring enough equipment, but you also want to pack light. At a minimum, you’ll need the following:
- Camera body
- Batteries and extra batteries
- Charging cords
- Memory cards and extra memory cards
- A camera bag to carry everything
The kind of camera and lens you’ll want depends on what kind of shots you are thinking about taking. But, in general, you’ll probably want a good, versatile lens like the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Standard Zoom Lens. It’s good for capturing the action, it’s good in low light, and it can be manually overridden. Another good lens is the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM. Most photographers say it’s an essential lens, and it’s more affordable.
As for your tripod, it should be small and lightweight, so you can carry it anywhere you go, whether it be up a mountain or down a long trail.
Extra batteries, memory cards, and charging cords are essential. You might think you won’t fill up that memory card, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you do. Also, you might promise yourself you’ll faithfully charge your batteries every night, but trust me–bring extra batteries. Of course, you don’t want to forget the cords you need to charge everything!
An extra tip here–most camera setups, battery chargers, and computers are dual voltage for countries that are on 220 as opposed to 110, but you might want to bring a universal plug. You just plug your conventional US plug (one wide prong and one narrow prong) into this and then you can plug into any outlet. It’s lightweight and worth the effort to bring just in case.
Finally, the bag is essential. Having a bag that can accommodate camera equipment is a must for professionals. It can help you organize yourself and provide a convenient way to carry your equipment.
5. Pack light and choose appropriate clothing
You’ll likely be traipsing all over different types of locations with variable terrain, and perhaps, in variable types of weather. So, bring appropriate clothing, but don’t over pack. One good rule of thumb that experienced travellers will tell you is pack what you think you’ll need and then reduce that by half. And, be sure to bring good walking shoes!
You also want to think about what you should wear if you’re putting yourself in the photographs. It’s probably best to avoid clothing with writing on it as well as colors that are either too bright or too subdued. You want it to be just right, Goldilocks! You want to think about what kinds of images of you are appropriate for your portfolio.
6. Wake up early and stay up late
The best light for photography is in the morning and evening, and the worst is midday. So, in this case, the early bird really does get the worm! Early morning is also the best time to get photographs of tourist sites–without all the tourists. If you arrive early enough, you’re likely to have the place all to yourself.
At the other end of the day, sunset also produces beautiful colors for stunning images. You should check ahead of time when the golden hour is at your location. And, you should have your photography spot already picked out.
7. Ask the locals where to go
A great tip for beginner travel photographers is to ask the locals where to go for great adventures and photographs. They likely will have many suggestions that did not show up on an internet search, and these can be the best places to go. Most of them are happy that you’re wanting their opinion and more than willing to help.
If you’re travelling to an area where they speak a different language, take the time to learn a bit of their language, particularly how to ask where to go to get great photographs (and of course, where is the bathroom). Even if you botch their language, they will usually appreciate the effort and return the favor with great suggestions.
8. Shoot in burst mode
This will help, of course, if you’re shooting something that’s moving, like animals. It can help you capture that spectacular whale breaching shot or birds in flight, but it’s also a good idea in general because it results in several images to choose from.
It’s also a particularly helpful tip when you’re handing your camera to someone else to get a shot of you. You’ll have several images to pick from, so you can pick the one where everyone’s eyes are open and everyone’s smiling.
9. Have patience
Perhaps one of the most appropriate travel photography tips for beginners is to be patient. This is particularly true when you’re at that crowded tourist site. You might have to wait 15 minutes or more for the shot you’re trying to take to be just perfect–maybe that means clear of people or maybe it’s the lighting or perhaps it’s for something to occur, like the sunset.
Whatever it is, plan to be able to take your time and be patient. Patience will reward you with the most compelling images. After all, you don’t want the same shots that everyone else is getting, and even if you tell yourself you’ll come back again, you might not. So, just wait until the shot is perfect.
10. Be prepared for the weather
Don’t be afraid to shoot in variable weather conditions! Inclement weather can make for some great photographs. Clouds can act like a natural light diffuser and allow you to get great shots even at midday. They can also create a more moody feel to the images. There’s a number of rain photography or snow photography ideas. Here are just a few:
- Take some macro shots of flowers with rain drops on them, or some other surface with rain drops;
- Get a street shot of the reflective, wet streets and people with various colors of umbrellas;
- Take a blurred shot through a rain-streaked window;
- Get a peaceful shot of rain drops falling on a pond;
- Get a woodlands shot with snow gently falling.
One thing you will want to do if you’re out in inclement weather is to protect your gear. Rain covers are a must, and if the weather is cold, you’ll want to keep memory cards and batteries warm.
11. Be flexible and willing to explore
Sometimes, the best places for adventure and great photographs are not on the map. Be willing to get off the beaten path and explore different locations around your destination. You never know when you might run into a quaint, picturesque village that will reward with you compelling and beautiful images. This is true as well for areas within a location. Check out different restaurants or shops that are located off the main route. These can result in excellent people pictures too.
12. Think outside the box
Play around with your composition. Try putting the main subject in the middle, off to one side or the other, up a bit, or down a bit–get different perspectives! You can choose the best of the images, but by being willing to try different compositions and angles, you increase your chances of getting that stunning shot. Sometimes, you might even get down on the ground and shoot up! It could be worth your while.
13. Don’t forget the details
It’s easy to get caught up in photographing the big things–the cathedrals, the sweeping landscape scenery, or the elephant in the middle or your campsite! But, don’t forget the details.
Get a shot of the architectural features that make up the cathedral, shoot some macro shots of the flowers in that landscape, or get a closeup of the elephant’s eye (use a zoom lens here). This helps you weave the shots together to better tell a visual story.
14. Try using a polarizer
A polarizer works best on sunny days. Sometimes the bright light can wash out the colors, such as the blue of the sky or the turquoise waters of a mountain lake. A polarizer helps to bring those colors out. And, you can find relatively inexpensive polarizers that will work just fine. They’re also small and lightweight, which makes them an excellent travel accessory.
15. Be considerate
Don’t trespass on someone’s property–ask permission, and offer to share some of those pictures with the landowner.
Don’t take pictures of people without their permission either. Obviously, if you’re taking a picture of a busy city street, you won’t be asking everyone’s permission, but if you’re taking a picture of a shop owner on that street, you should ask if it’s okay.
It’s helpful if you talk to the person first about other things–maybe ask them directions, or for advice on where to eat, or maybe buy something from their shop. This breaks the ice. Sometimes they will ask for money to take their picture. It’s up to you whether to give them any or not, but if you decline, do so politely.
16. Clean your lens
This sounds funny, but often you don’t even know there’s some dirt on your lens until you go to process the photos. So, be sure to clean your lens before you head out in the morning, and often throughout the day. You don’t want a dirt spot on every image!
17. Back up your photos
This tip bears repeating–back up your photos! It’s so easy to lose your memory card or to damage the card. So, each evening, no matter how tired you are, take the time to download your photos and back them up on an external hard drive or you can also use a free cloud storage platform. You might not be back soon, and you don’t want to lose those great shots you worked so hard to get.
18. Keep your camera accessible
Even if you’re out on an excursion where you don’t expect to use it much, always have your camera handy. You never know when something might come up (like that breaching whale), so be sure that you have it accessible and ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Always make sure your batteries are charged, and you’ve got a memory card with plenty of storage available. It also helps to have a bag where you can get it out quickly to capture the moment.
19. Carry at least a 50mm prime (35mm for APS-C shooters)
A 50mm prime (35mm for APS-C shooters) is a must have. A prime lens, apart from the fact that these are extremely sharp, does one thing; and that is they allow you to get a shot in an instant. With no zoom ring you have less reason to dabble around with camera control; that evidently leaves more time in hand to shoot.
20. Learn How to Pre-focus
Pre-focusing is a technique wherein you focus on a spot in the frame in advance, anticipating the movement of the subject. This technique allows you to frame the shot in advance and then wait in anticipation for the subject to arrive so that you can press the shutter release. One of the pre-requisites for great people and street photography is to use the camera as discreetly as possible.
One of the greatest exponents of street photography Henri Cartier-Bresson used to paint the shiny metallic parts of his Leica black and practically hid in a corner to capture the most natural poses you would see in images from the street.
21. Put your camera down once in a while
These beginner travel photography tips are designed to help you take better photographs, but it’s also important to remember why you got into travel photography in the first place. You want to go to exotic, beautiful locations and take memorable images, but you should also remember to look with your eyes at the beauty and wonder around you. Don’t forget to just be present in the moment once in a while.
If you’re successful in this genre, you’ll be travelling around the world, and you should appreciate the importance of that every now and again.
Travel photography is an exciting, fun genre. It affords you the opportunity to combine your love of travelling with your passion for taking beautiful photographs. But, it can be challenging, especially for the beginner. These tips for travel photography should help you to get started or improve your images.
If you think ahead and plan where to go, what kinds of shots you want to get, and the equipment you’ll need to get the shots you want, you’ll reduce your stress and help ensure you have what you need when the time comes.
You also have to prepare yourself by packing the right clothes; something comfortable and appropriate for the times when you’re in the picture. Additionally, you want to wake up early and stay up late to get those moments when the light is just right and/or when you’re all alone.
You’ll also want to consult with the locals on where they recommend you should go. Those secret little hideaways can be real gems for the photographer. Don’t forget to be polite to the locals by always asking permission to come on their property or take their picture.
Remember to be flexible and play with different perspectives. And, don’t forget the basics, like cleaning your lens, keeping your camera accessible, and backing up your images. Finally, remember to take a moment to look around and appreciate how lucky you are to be doing what you love.
Would you like to learn more? Here are a few recommended courses:
- Travel Photography: The Complete Guide
- Travel Photography: The Essential Guide
- Travel Photography for Beginners: Take EPIC Travel Photos
- Travel Photography: Take Beautiful Photos on Your Adventures