When I look back at some of my old travel photos from 15 years ago when I was still shooting film, I realize that many of those photos were shot in haste.
Many have errors that point to the fact that I was not paying attention to some of the basic rules of travel photography.
Some of them were shot in poor light, at the wrong time of the day. Some had poor composition.
To be fair to me many were shot with little time in hand. I did not have enough time to explore and then experiment. I bet many of you are going through that exact phase.
Not knowing how to improve your work or how to make the most of the little time in your hands when traveling.
So, I curated this list of the top travel photography tips. Tips that would have made a difference to my photography if I had them 15 years ago.
What is Travel Photography?
Travel photography is all about capturing photos of the places you travel to. The land, the people, and the culture.
It is also about capturing anything else that may grab your attention.
You can shoot time-lapses, hyper lapses, street photos, cityscapes, landscapes, and anything else. A lot of sub-genre comes under the term travel photography.
What Makes a Good Travel Photographer?
A good travel photographer is someone who makes sense of all the chaos that’s around him. Often a travel photographer has to work in crowded places.
A street market place for example. It is a treasure-trove of photography opportunities but at the same time, it can be extremely crowded.
A travel photographer should be able to walk out with something to be proud of, even in a difficult situation like this.
A travel photographer should also have a good understanding of lighting and how it impacts our photos.
Travel Photography Tips
Without further ado, here are the top travel photography tips we have curated.
1. Be There Before Anyone Else Does
When we see the images of exotic places and iconic monuments around the world, e.g., the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids of Giza, the Taj Mahal, the Colosseum, we get a feeling that when we are there we will get them all to us. And then reality strikes and we are greeted by hundreds (sometimes thousands) of other tourists like us, all jostling for place and all looking for that vantage point to make an image.
The thing is that the images that inspired you took an incredible amount of work to capture.
The photographer must have woken up at 3 AM, walked miles to be the first at the scene, and then take that photo. And on top of that, he/she may have done some clever retouching to the photo to get that completely, to yourself look.
What’s the takeaway? Be there before anyone else does.
2. Choose the Lens You Are Most Comfortable Working With
These days traveling is a lot of hassle. Even without the extra issues that have been made mandatory because of the Covid-19 virus traveling has always been about security checks, baggage claims, baggage weight limits, and insurance.
Not to mention the hassles of walking down an unfamiliar street with too much gear dangling around your neck.
I prefer traveling light. At the most, it is one camera, my preferred lens on my camera, and a second lens in the bag.
The camera bag will have a few odd accessories like ND filters and a small tripod and so on but the heavy gear is three at the most.
Traveling with just a few gears helps my mind to focus on interesting things that I can photograph, rather than having to constantly think about all the gear I am walking with.
So, choose the one lens that you love the most and make it your primary lens, the go-to lens for almost everything you want to shoot.
Usually, for me, that would be a 24-70mm when I am traveling. Your’s may be different. But that’s all right.
My second lens would be the 70-200mm or the 16-35mm depending on where I am headed to and what I am planning to shoot.
3. Use a Tripod When You Can
Pack a small tripod with you. Especially, when you are traveling to places like Iceland, Switzerland, and Argentina.
You don’t have to go overboard with the quality of the material.
A simple carbon fiber-made travel tripod that can support the weight of your camera and lens combo should do.
This tripod shall help you to capture some really cool and really interesting photos on your travels.
You can experiment with long exposures, you can capture time-lapse footage, and do a lot more with a tripod.
Many good brands make reliable travel tripods. Benro, Manfrotto, Joby, Oben are just a few names.
Find a carbon-fiber-made tripod that can fold down to a small size for easy transportation.
Make sure that your tripod comes with a good quality tripod head. There must be a bubble-level indicator to level out the horizon when required.
The tripod head should be well damped out and there should be individual locks for each movement of the head so that the camera does not wobble.
And now for some really important tips.
4. Shoot in RAW
RAW format is for professionals. RAW is needlessly shooting in complicated formats that need you to open with a RAW editor to be able to see and edit to be able to share.
RAW makes no sense because JPEGs are so easy to shoot and share and they look perfect out of the camera.
There are many excuses not to shoot in RAW. None of them make sense because none of them can outweigh the advantages of shooting in RAW.
RAW is a lossless file format that retains all of the data that the camera captures in the first place.
If you are shooting in JPEG that means the camera’s built-in image processor has already processed it and given you a lighter file that looks perfect but you cannot do anything to it without losing further information.
A JPEG image is pretty much like a fixed length of rope.
A RAW image is an open-ended option. You can do a lot of things with RAW and still it wouldn’t lose information.
For example, you can push the exposure, adjust the shadows to bring out more details, smoothen out the noise, adjust the color temperature, use multiple filters to bring more details out of the sky, and do a lot more all the while the original file remains intact.
5. Shoot at Sunset or Sunrise
The best lights of the day are during sunset and sunrise. At both these times of the day, the light is almost parallel to the surface of the earth.
This light is soft and golden and produces beautiful hues which are great to shoot portrait images in. This light is also great for shooting landscapes and cityscapes.
Sometimes when you are traveling in a group you don’t always get to be at a destination at a time of your choosing.
The best solution is to keep a day or two in your hand when you are not traveling as a part of a fixed itinerary.
Use these two days to revisit some of the best destinations and attempt to photograph them in the best light possible.
6. Change Your Perspective
We as travel photographers are guilty of shooting from the same cliched angles and perspectives.
We need to experiment with the camera angles and change the perspective.
Sometimes shooting from the ground level can add an interesting perspective to an image.
Sometimes aiming the camera up does the same.
If you have the opportunity to take a hot air balloon ride or a glider flight that gives an amazing opportunity to shoot from a higher altitude and experiment with a different angle of view.
7. Put Yourself in the Frame
Many photographers shoot gorgeous landscapes and or cityscape photos.
They make stunning compositions in gorgeous light and use beautiful post-production techniques.
But they forget to keep something in the frame as a point of reference. For example, a small hut, or a lighthouse, or a tree.
Anything that can explain the scale of the scene to someone who is looking at that photo.
This gives them an idea as to the vastness of the scene.
Perhaps you shoot a magnificent mountain range in front of you.
But because there is nothing in the foreground that can give a sense of scale the viewer will be unable to fathom how large that mountain range is.
Sometimes when you don’t find anything handy, you can put yourself in the frame.
Simply focus, meter, and then set your camera on a timer.
Go to the spot that you have marked in advance for yourself and stand while the camera records the photo.
You will notice that nine out of ten times the image will appear a lot more dramatic when you have a point of reference in the frame.
8. Use the Rules of Photography
There are some time-tested photography rules that photographers have been using religiously for generations.
As a matter of fact, before photography, many of these rules have been popular with painters, and some like the Golden Ratio being popular with architectural engineers.
The Rule of Thirds, for example, is one such rule that has been a favorite with photographers for many years.
Though this discussion has limited scope to discuss individual rules I will just briefly explain this one rule.
The Rule of Thirds can be explained by splitting an image into nine square boxes of equal dimensions.
Alternatively, you can think of an image split using two sets of parallel lines running left to right and top to bottom.
Either way, there will be four intersecting points on the image.
Now the Rule of Thirds states that if the main subject of focus is placed on one of these four interesting points the image will be compositionally more attractive.
A viewer’s eyes will be naturally drawn towards these four points.
9. Capture Locals in Your Photos
Not every culture is forthcoming when it comes to posing for a stranger. Sometimes it is best to have a local guide with you when you are planning to capture street portraits.
But if you happen to get the opportunity to shoot street portraits do so. It is a great way to capture the local cultures, their dress, and document interesting faces.
The best approach that I can suggest is to have someone who can guide you with the local customs (best option when you are traveling in the orient, and the Middle East, and South-East Asia.
Even then it is always a nice thing to ask for permission.
When you get the permission try to include the environment in which the person stays or to capture the environment to get a better idea of the person and the culture and his practices.
Travel photography is an exciting genre that assimilates many different sub-genres of photography.
It requires excellent photography skills, understanding of the basics of photography, planning, and people skills.
Hopefully, the above tips will help you to create beautiful travel photos and not commit the same mistakes that I did when I was starting.
Rajib is an avid travel photographer and an overall shutterbug. The first time he ever clicked an image was with an Agfa Click IV back in 1984. A medium format film camera. From that auspicious introduction to photography, he has remained hooked to this art form. He loves to test and review new photography gear. Rajib travels quite a lot, loves driving on Indian roads, playing fetch with his Labrador retriever, and loves photography. And yes, he still proudly owns that Agfa Click IV!