Travel PhotographyTips & Ideas: The Complete Guide
Have you ever wanted to take better vacation pictures? Or learn the best travel photography tips and tricks from experienced travel photographers to help capture these unforgettable moments from a once-in-a-lifetime trip across the world?
…well then, you need to check out this complete travel photography guide. Packed full of ideas and unique tips from the experienced words of the iPhotography Tutors. We’ll teach you how to take stunning travel photography and create memorable images to fill your travel albums.
Introducing Travel Photography
Who wouldn’t want to pack up their belongings and travel the world with their camera?
Well whether it’s a long weekend, 2 weeks in the sun or a gap year that you’re planning. There’s always an opportunity to create some stunning and iconic photographs to add color to your travels.
You may be travelling to the big city, a quiet cove away from the world or rarely ventured villages in distant forests. Either way, we are here to help you with packing for that journey. So you can return home with stories that will filter down the generations. We are going to look at how you and your trusty camera can return home with wondrous images that will make your friends and family green with jealousy!
Research Your Trip
If you’ve already chosen your destination then you need to know what’s on offer in terms of travel photography opportunities. So researching your trip is vital to do before you jet off. The internet is a fabulous source of information to be able to look up your destination and check out the monuments, landmarks and scenery that’s on offer.
Web sites such as Google Earth, 500px and Flickr allow users to type in a specific location and it will display (hopefully) an array of images taken by other photographers in these locations to give you a sense of the atmosphere to expect.
Travel Photography Tips – Make a list of landmarks you’d love to visit but make sure its manageable to visit all of them during your trip – after all, it is supposed to be a vacation!
Keep that list in your camera bag so you’ll never forget it, it will come in use during your trip. But if you prefer the more rugged approach. Ditch the list and mark your landmarks on a local map instead. Make the journey feel more like an exploration – you’ll feel like Indiana Jones on his next adventure!
If you’d rather let the landscape inspire you and you don’t want to be beholden to a list. Just keep your map nearby so you don’t get lost.
Tips for Packing Your Travel Photography Gear
If you haven’t already got a suitable camera bag, then you’ll find the choice is between a backpack or messenger-style bag. It’s a personal preference at the end of the day but here’s a little comparison we created to give you a bit more insight:
Comfortable on the back and doesn’t unbalance your center of gravity
Takes longer to access
Can carry more items
Ideal for longer trips
Possible to attach tripod with external straps
Allows quick access to your camera and lenses
If heavy, can shift your weight on to one shoulder, destabilizing you while shooting
Can leave indents in your shoulder
Better for shorter trips
Compact designs can stop you looking like a tourist
Travel Photography Tips – Whatever you choose, just make sure it’s comfy, practical and waterproof.
But bear in mind you’ll already be packing clothes, footwear and other travel accessories for your trip. You may have limited room for your camera kit which may force you to pack light. This isn’t a bad thing though. Depending on your destination you don’t want to be carrying around 15lb of equipment in 30-degree heat.
So, take only what you need – but what do you need? Well let’s take a look at the obvious, and maybe not-so-obvious items. You could put in your travel photography bag;
Obviously! But what type? Any camera will do for travel photography; compacts, bridge, mirrorless or SLRs are fine, as we believe a great photograph is made by a great photographer, not the camera.
Another obvious one but if you have detachable lenses, then just pack a wide lens and a prime lens around 50mm if possible. These lenses will give you choices for what you include in your shots and they are also ideal for a couple of different subject matters that we could encounter. If you’ve got a compact camera with a zoom lens that should do the job too.
All dependent on where you go, if the sun is a lot stronger and brighter than you’re used to then purchasing a simple ND (Neutral Density) filter will help you darken the daylight further when you’ve closed your aperture as much as possible.
Most cameras come boxed with a generic manufacturers neck strap, they do the job fine, or you can upgrade to customized ones. Either way, it’s handy to have a neck or a sling strap to give quick access to your camera for when a special moment arises.
Extra Batteries & Memory Cards
Being away from home it’s important not to forget your charger too, and the correct AC adaptor if you’re in another country.
This is optional, but it’s always good to have the choice of a little extra light when you may need it most, as relying on your cameras built-in flash may not always give you the best results. Don’t forget extra batteries either!
In the interest of travelling light, we wouldn’t suggest packing a full-size tripod in your travel bag, but you can pick up smaller lightweight tripods which are great for dramatic low angles of landmarks and buildings.
Use your smartphone to download some offline apps of your destination. You may not have a phone signal where you are going, and the roaming charges can be expensive, but having a phone and compass on your map is a great space saver.
Don’t forget the other essentials such as the local currency if you’re going abroad. It’s always good to have a few notes and coins in your pocket for later on……we’ll explain shortly.
Travel Photography Tips – Don’t go anywhere without insurance! Make sure your camera and lenses are covered for theft, loss and accidental damage wherever you go. Provide your insurers with your camera’s make, model and serial number in case you need to make a claim (fingers crossed you won’t have to, but that’s what insurance is for).
Learn to be a Local
During your journey, read a travel guide about your destination. It doesn’t just keep you excited but can also help you understand the local activities and what customs to expect. Learning to be a local at your destination will help you access some of the non-popular sites that other tourists won’t see.
Pick up a phrase book or download a translation app. Learning the lingo is a great way into finding these hidden gems. Memorize just a few simple phrases like ‘hello’, ‘have a nice day’, ‘thank you’ . Just as importantly ‘would you mind if I take your picture?’ – this one will come in useful later on!
If you’ve got the budget, some exotic destinations have personal local guides to help you navigate your way around. Like the Sherpas of the Himalayas, they will show you the best routes to landmarks. They may tell you when the quiet times are to visit. It’s best to agree on a price in advance to avoid the awkward haggling afterwards.
Find a good café or bar that the locals seem to populate if you want to find out more about the area. Bartenders and waiters are fountains of local information so slide them a generous tip for the exchange of useful information.
Try to Blend In
It’s also a good idea to dress appropriately so you don’t look like an obvious tourist.
The archetypal ‘I LOVE MIAMI’ or ‘AMSTERDAM 2018’ t-shirts are a sure sign you’re from abroad which could result in a number of things;
1. Hopefully this will never happen wherever you travel, but unfortunately, pickpockets exist. Most operate in big cities and popular tourist destinations as they see tourists as easy prey.
Keep valuable items close and backs zipped up when you aren’t using them.
Money belts that are concealed under your clothing are great deterrents.
2. It’s not cheap to go to far off destinations, so if you look like a tourist who’s spent a lot of money to get to there. You could potentially be a target for overcharging.
Services like taxi’s, bars and cafes who don’t advertise prices have been known in some destinations to have a ‘local price’ and a ‘tourist price’ resulting in higher charges.
3. If you look like an ‘outsider’ then capturing regular candid photographers of locals going about their daily business could be a lot harder if their eyes are all fixed on the odd one out.
So try don’t dress too formal, keep your wardrobe casual and worn to look like you belong there.
So, going incognito and blending in with the local style is a good way to start.
Don’t buy brand new vacation clothes for the occasion, the more worn and lived-in your travel wardrobe can be, the better. Use old hats and sunglasses to mask your appearance too.
Travel Photography Tips – Some professional travel photographers who are going to spend a long time in hotter climates use artificial sunbeds and fake tans to change their skin tone, so they already look more local when they get there.
Only you will know how much time to dedicate to your travel photography while you are away. There’s no problem with snoozing in until noon and slowly enjoying the common tourist spots to see the local landmarks.
But if you are a photographer who really wants to use this trip to capture some unusual and beautiful travel photographs. You need to be prepared to force yourself against your natural will if you are on vacation.
Learn what the local sunrise time is and put a reminder on your phone to give yourself enough time to get to a great vantage point overlooking a lake, beach or quaint village. These are the kind of shots that the common tourist will miss if they aren’t prepared to get up early.
Travel Photography Tips – See if you can find lodgings close to the center of town or at least away from the normal tourist hotels to really experience the local atmosphere.
Talking to the locals, in their own language, will make them appreciate your efforts to learn about them and their cultures. Building up this trust and appreciation can lead to finding great new areas to take photographs that aren’t on any map or tour guide.
It’s this extra motivation that will separate you from them and make your travel images more impressive and special. Unfortunately, we can’t provide you with the motivation itself. That part has to come from you, but trust us when we say, it’s worth it.
Composing your Travel Photography
It’s easy to use the widest focal length you’ve got and squeeze in every little aspect into the shot. But stop and think about your subject for a while. Think back to when you did your research;
- What did this landmark look like in the travel books?
- Was there a common spot that photographers used in your research?
- What angle was used most often?
If you really want to make some special travel photographs, then it’s going against the grain that is going to make your images unique. Knowing the typical approach prepares you to do something different.
The composition doesn’t have to be a straight-on wide frame photograph of the whole scene, get creative and use some Dutch Tilts on your subject to present it in a more contemporary manner. Tilts are not everyone’s cup of tea, but it can make landmarks look more dramatic and different to the typical picture-postcard look.
Look for opportunities to use reflections to showcase iconic subjects. Water fountains and decorative ponds are great sources of reflection. Especially at night when it may be quieter and the water calm, so you can capture some abstract shapes.
If your destination sits on a river bank, then try travelling across to the other shore and photograph the whole landscape. It’s also a great time to try out some long exposure shots. Transform that incoming tide to a serene and eerie silky surface in the foreground of your photograph.
Big glass windows and mirrored surfaces are also ideal. They are ways of incorporating scenery in a non-direct way too, making you look less like a tourist, and more like an artist.
Don’t forget to rummage through your bag for that mini tripod and use to get dramatic low angled perspectives on your subjects. They are normally only a few inches high, so it’ll look like you are shooting straight off the floor which isn’t a common perspective for anyone -except worms!
Look at Every Angle
Travel Photography Tips – Use your camera’s tilting LCD screen, if you have one, to save your precious back and knees from lying on the floor constantly. Or if you have a Wi-Fi function (and a good connection) then hook up a compatible smartphone to your camera to act as a remote screen from which to shoot from.
If you find yourself standing on the edge of a breath-taking landscape and you want to photograph everything you see but physically can’t (at least not in one shot) then try using a panorama mode on your camera. It works by constantly assessing the scene as you physically pan the camera across the landscape.
The camera creates a picture from the scene resulting in a very wide but narrow panoramic cropped landscape. On your camera’s LCD screen, it may be hard to appreciate but wait until you get it home and upload it to your computer. But fear not, if you don’t have a panorama mode then do it the old school way. Turn your camera to portrait/vertical orientation and take several shots of the landscape as you pan across the landscape from your position.
This builds up numerous shots of the landscape which you’ll need to composite together in post-production. The trick to success is making sure you overlap part of one shot in the next. Otherwise you’ll have bits of the landscape missing.
Whichever type of angles you decide to try out then make sure you’ve got a solid composition by adhering your frame to the rule of thirds unless you’re using a different approach.
The rule of thirds grid is built into a lot of camera menu systems, so you can have it appear on your LCD screen while taking your shot, making it impossible to create an unbalanced photograph.
Remember to use the power points (where the lines intersect) to frame your subject for maximum effect.
Your Fellow Travelers
If you’re going away with friends or family then use them as points of interest in your composition too but make it fun and enjoyable. Remember, they’ve come for a relaxing vacation, even if you haven’t!
If you don’t feel comfortable about talking to the locals or unsure on your language skills. Ask your fellow travelers to step in to the frame to make your scene look more relatable.
If they aren’t dressed like a tourist either then it’ll make your shot look more organic. It’s good to use contrasting colors to the landscape so they do stand out visually at least.
Ask them to walk ahead of you and have a look around, hang back with your camera. Capture them walking through archways, shop doors, alleyways or over bridges to create a story of the traveler. Having people in your shots makes your travel photographs more relatable and adds emotion to the scene.
If you position yourself so that your friend is in the path of any sunlight then you by using a small aperture (high f-number). You can transform them in a shadowy figure transforming the scene from being personal to more artistic.
Let the action in front of you unfold naturally and try not to ‘direct’ the scene. Keep yourself looking for any photographic opportunities at different angles and vantage points.
Shooting in the late afternoon / early evening when the sun is starting to set can bath towns, villages and cities in a golden hour glow when the buildings are awash with orange and yellow.
Taking Pictures of Strangers
But if you feel a little more confident and comfortable with your surroundings, approaching some interesting local characters and individuals and asking to take their portrait is a fantastic way of building the story of your travel.
You’ll need to know the correct translation to ask firstly, and don’t be offended or pushy if they say no – put yourself in their shoes, they may be shy or busy.
Travel Photography Tips – Without causing offence and as a thank you for their time it could be a polite idea to pay your subject a nominal amount beforehand – that way you don’t end up haggling afterwards.
If they agree, then try to keep the shot simple, decide whether it’s a formal portrait of them looking at the camera. Or if you want them to carry on what they were doing so you make it look more natural and candid. You don’t want to be interrupting their day for too long. You’ll need to work fast, so decide on what you want to shoot before you approach them.
Use natural lighting to keep the shot genuine and not too contrived, it’s also worthwhile including some of the surrounding background to add some flavor to the shot. Give an impression of the location by using a wider lens and a small aperture. Start around f/11 to retain the detail and texture in the shot.
You should really try your best to avoid any type of flash in these instances. Partly because built-in flashes can be unflattering but they will also make your scene look artificial and contrived.
The whole point of photographing people in their surroundings is that the shot tells a natural story so use sunlight where possible.
Discover Their Story
The aim of your photography should be to make it look as close to how you saw it through the viewfinder. But if you prefer to get a little closer to your subject and really capture those beautifully deep textured portraits that you may see in National Geographic magazines, then you’ll need a different lens.
We would suggest somewhere between a focal length of between 50-85mm will do the job. This won’t distort the shape of your subject’s face.
Keep the camera in vertical/portrait orientation to make it more of documentary-style finish. Let them react how they want, directing their expression takes away from what you loved about their character originally.
Try to capture what drew you to them in the first place. If you have managed to get to grips with the local dialect then try and create a conversation with your subject. It’ll help them relax a little more and grow to trust you more. You could ask them about their lives, their family or their job for starters and go from there.
Once you’ve approached one stranger, you’ll find it easier to approach others and it starts to make you more experienced and confident in new places. This is a huge hurdle a lot of new travel photographers experience. The more conversations that you start with locals then easier you will find it to start with others you need.
You will find a lot stick to the tourist’s routes to begin with – which isn’t a bad thing if you want to find your feet with travel photography.
Travel Photography Tips – If you meet a very affable local then there’s no rules against taking a cheeky selfie of you and them for your scrapbook memories.
Tell a Story
Travelling to new destinations is not solely about the people that live there though. There are other ways to capture the charm, character and culture of different communities by taking detail photographs of items that explain their lives.
Using a longer lens or a macro (close up) mode will help you take photographs of smaller objects. Think of shop trinkets, road signs, architecture, fauna, food, flags and other traditional delicacies.
These shots act as great fillers and help tell the story of your trip. They’ll give you talking points to friends and family when you show them your travel photography album.
Night Time Travel Photography
When the sun sets, and the ambient light becomes your only source of illumination, it is a great opportunity to capture a different side of your travels that others may not see if they are partying or enjoying the hotel entertainment.
Take with you that little tripod, as you’ll need to use a slower shutter speed to get the exposure spot on. Shoot from elevated points overlooking towns, villages, beachy coves and other landscapes to give a better sense of scale and drama.
Travel Photography Tips – Use the Night mode on your camera if you can’t manually change the shutter speed, but make sure the flash is turned off.
If you are in more rural surroundings, then try to capture some of the starry night sky to act as a backdrop against your foreground scene. It will be harder to see the stars if you are in the middle of a city or large town. So getting out in to the countryside will give you the best travel photography opportunities.
Travel Photography Tips – Use the daytime hours to scout out locations to shoot at night.
Professional Travel Photography Tips
We believe sharing is caring here at iPhotography™. So we thought, on top of all the great information we’ve laid out, it would be a great time to share with you some of the secret trips that professional travel photographers use while on their trips to make their jobs a lot easier.
If your camera has a GPS function then switch it on during your travels, that way, when you get home you can exactly pinpoint the location of each of your shots. You can use this to mark on a ‘map of travels’ or better describe the location if you are sharing it amongst friends and family. Using the GPS function can eat into your battery life, so use it only when you need to.
Talk to People
We’ve already discussed taking portraits of locals on your travels, but it’s polite to stop and talk further (provided you can follow the lingo) and find out about their community; what do they love? Where do all the locals go to relax? Are there any stories or tales about the community? It’s amazing how much more information you’ll potentially learn.
You may only have a few days at your destination and you may have lots of landmarks in your travel plan, but it’s worth remembering to be patient and dedicate a little time to each location before moving on. Think about the Northern Lights, they won’t automatically appear because you’ve travelled to Iceland at the right time of year. You may need to make a second visit on a different day if the conditions aren’t great – otherwise, you’ll end up with an average photograph, and not a great one.
Though patience can pay off, it’s not worth obsessing so much to get the ‘perfect shot‘ as it may never happen. Take the stress off your shoulders if you think you need to get the best shot of a landscape in a 2-hour window. The weather conditions may not be ideal, and you may not be able to revisit the location, so just take what you can get and move on – that’s life. Don’t make your passion a chore!
You’ll probably know the basics of photographic compensation, so we won’t get bogged down in all the technicalities, but while you are travelling look for naturally occurring leading lines to make your photographs more engaging and dramatic. Rural footpaths up a hillside or the sandy shores of the beach can make your shots look more powerful and interesting.
Keep it Clean
If you find yourself in coastal locations then it’s common for incoming winds to blow sand and debris inland which can play havoc with your lens. Keeping a little lint-free cloth in your pocket is a quick way to wipe any blemishes on the front of your lens. Always wipe in circular motions to make sure you don’t leave any streaks.
Backup, Backup, Backup
If you’ve taken your laptop and storage drives with you then, of course, backup your photographs as often as possible while you are travelling. If not then make sure one of your first jobs when arriving home is to transfer all of your photographs from your memory cards to your hard drives. It’s worth making sure your memory card isn’t in your camera when you’re travelling home. It’s been known that major camera faults can corrupt the memory cards inside them if they get damaged. Therefore, keep your cards separate when you don’t need them.
Travel Photography Tips – Ideally backup up photographs to your computer/laptop AND to an external hard drive, just in case you ever have an issue with one of your devices. You can never backup enough times.
There are lots of different types of portable hard drives on the accessories market, with new ones being announced regularly. If you don’t have one already then look out for the respected and reliable brands such as WD (Western Digital) and LaCie. They will be similar in price but will vary in their capacities from 250gb up to 4tb. Pick the largest capacity hard drive within your budget so you can use it for future travels.
Travel Photography Tips – Portable Hard drives with USB 3.0 connections can handle faster file transfers than USB 2.0, but you need to make sure that your computer/laptop has a USB 3.0 port as well.
Check how many files are on your memory card before you upload them, so you’ll know if any get lost during the transfer. It may take a while for all your travel photographs to backup, especially if you’ve shot in RAW format, but it’s worthwhile in the long run.
Editing your Travel Photographs
You can skip this part if you are purist and don’t believe in letting editing software touch your photographs, but before you do, we understand that some photographers think that editing your travel photographs is ‘cheating’. But the reality is that photographers have been manipulating their images ever since photography was invented.
Think of developing film in a darkroom, which uses water, chemicals and light to change the exposure and contrast of an image. The results were never exactly the same as what the photographer saw through the viewfinder. It was always a slightly edited version of the truth.
But what type of aspects should we look at when we edit? Well that’s dependent on each image. But we’ve compiled a little list of areas you should consider when editing your travel photographs to help you along.
Contrast the Sky
It’s always a tricky aspect to get accurate, there can be lots of haze and glare around which can make a skyscape look muted and flat. You may need to increase the contrast of the sky to make it look more vivid and exciting.
Increase the Dynamic Range
Dramatic landscape shots can sometimes lose the detail and texture that you saw through the viewfinder if you had to use wider apertures due to the light conditions. Increase the dynamic range or the clarity setting as it may be called in programs like Lightroom and it will add more detail to the scene – don’t push it too far though otherwise, it’ll lose quality.
Avoid Monochrome Overload
Don’t make all your portrait shots black and white just for dramatic effect, yes it may help concentrate your viewers on the emotion of the subject, but colors can do that too, if you pay attention. Happy and vibrant subjects in your photographs look more energized in color and brightly colored traditional clothing can look very muted and suppressed in black and white. We’re not saying avoid monochrome entirely, but make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.
Remove Distracting Elements
Using functions like Content Aware and the Patch Tool in Photoshop to remove little items that distract your eye in the picture. It may be some pieces of rubbish or graffiti that takes away from the atmosphere of your scene. If the distraction is towards the edge of your frame, then you could otherwise use the Crop Tool.
Level the Horizon
One of the biggest mistakes that amateur travel photographers make is not getting the horizon straight on a landscape. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t get it straight in camera, as you can level it up afterwards. We’ve actually written a really handy article totally dedicated to getting your horizons perfect, click here to read more.
This will give your photographs a definite style and feel, but that can be a good thing if you visited a very quaint Tuscan village in Italy and you want to keep the feel of its vintage looks and traditional culture. Opaque white color filters over the top of your picture can make photos look retro but may be more in keeping with the feel of the destination. You can purchase filter presets, ideal for travel photography if you edit in Adobe Lightroom.
Remember When to Put the Camera Down
But at the end of the day, there is one thing to keep in the back of your mind when exploring the world and taking photographs. There is a balance to be struck between taking hundreds of photographs of your travels and also remembering why you went there in the first place.
If you aren’t a professional travel photographer being paid to visit these destinations, then it’s most likely you are combining your photography with a vacation. So remember that it’s a vacation first and foremost away from your everyday life.
Especially if you are travelling with family then you don’t want to isolate your loved ones while you venture out with your camera. Discuss with them beforehand places you want to go and get them involved so you are still spending precious time with them.
Ultimately, the decision is yours, but remember vacations are an opportunity to relax, recoup and breathe. Of course, capturing some stunning scenery is a great bi-product of a well-planned trip but you don’t want to come home from a holiday and feel tired.
So, wherever you travel across the world we hope this guide and travel photography tips has helped you understand how to make the most of your travel photography when you go on that long weekend or once in a lifetime holiday to distant shores.
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