9 essential travel photography tips for any photographer

by Photography

Travel photography. We’re passionate about it. We love capturing engaging images and videos of our travels because travel photos are memories. Looking at them inspires and allows you to relive adventures, special moments or laughs, and to remember sights and experiences. Anyone can snap photos with a smartphone camera or a point-and-shoot. But becoming a good travel photographer takes practice and the need to acquire some knowledge and have a few tools (Just a little to start perhaps, and then more as you progress or become more involved.)

Learning the 9 travel photography tips on this page is a good start. After that, dive into our excellent and ever-growing series of articles covering many aspects of travel photography.

Ready to start taking great travel photos? Let’s go!

Learn to use your camera

It doesn’t matter if you have a smartphone camera or a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera – learn to use the tools you have so when you stumble on that “perfect” photo you aren’t so busy fumbling with dials and knobs that you miss the big moment. And, no, auto or program is not the answer. Read your camera’s manual. Practice at home – a lot (The beauty of digital is the ability to just delete, delete)! Experiment with the settings, and learn what your camera settings do, and don’t do. This is the first and perhaps most important step in becoming a skilled travel photographer.

Learn To Use Your Camera Therese Lake Louise

Understand the rule of thirds

At its most basic, the rule of thirds means as you look at a scene you wish to photograph, you want to see it as divided into nine equal squares (think tic-tac-toe board) with two equally spaced vertical lines and two equally spaced horizonal lines. The rule states that the best or most effective images place the subject or most important parts of the composition along one of the lines or at their intersections. Typically, horizon lines will look best along the bottom third of your image, a primary point of interest (like a person or mountain or building) to the right or left of center.

The rule of thirds is most easily visualized by turning on your grid setting on your smartphone camera or your DSLR. As you compose your photograph, think about what the most important elements and points of interest are in the image you want to capture and where you will place them within the grid. Do not be afraid to move as you look at what is important in the scene you are trying to capture. And don’t be afraid to break the rule as you get more comfortable with the concept since rules are, as they say, made to be broken.

Rule Of Thirds Oberbaumbruecke

One of the most important travel photography tips is learning to use the rule of thirds, then knowing when to break the rules. Here Therese has a perfectly composed night shot of the Oberbaumbruecke in Berlin.

Which brings us to camera angles

A good travel photographer can take a photograph of something that hundreds of others have taken before and make it look amazing, simply by thinking about a different way to look at the scene. Envision how your photo might look if taken from another angle (to the right, or left, higher or even lower). Therese often lies on the ground or squats low to shoot up at a subject, creating a compelling image.

Change your camera angle. Travel photographer gets low for this photo of laughing dog in China.

Sometimes a travel photographer has to get on the ground — literally — as Therese did here at dog’s eve level to capture this photo of a dog that appears to be laughing.

Don’t forget about perspective

An expansive landscape or cityscape can end up looking rather mundane, even flat, unless you add some perspective to the photograph. Adding perspective can help anyone viewing your photo better see the expanse of land and sky or buildings and streets that moved you to snap the pic. This can be in the foreground, far in the distance, or next to a particular object in the photo. Sometimes a travel photographer has to be very patient and wait a bit for the right person (or animal) to appear.

Photo perspective in the Puna Red Rock

The vastness of the Red Rocks in the Puna in northern Argentina is captured perfectly by Therese, using a small white truck leaving a trail of dust to show the scale of the landscape. Flat desert, red rocks and the Andes in the distance.

Know what time it is

The “golden hour” is a favorite time to take photographs for good reason. During the golden hour (defined loosely as about the first and last hour of sunlight in a day) the sun’s position in the sky produces a softer and warmer light and generates longer shadows. Early morning and around sunset, too, are times when a travel photographer can best capture inviting images of a village coming to life or transitioning into evening. On the other hand, midday typically produces flatter and more harsh light or even awkward mixes of shadow and light. But that doesn’t mean you should tuck your camera away. Learn to work with shade, backlighting and filtered light (like in a forest) to still capture compelling images. And try a polarizing filter for middays when light is harsher.

Best Light For Photos Golden Hour Kunming China

This image of a motorcyclist passing in front of a cluttered bookstore in Old Town Kunming, China, was taken with warm evening light that helped make the colors pop and the image appear more vibrant. Longer shadows add depth.

The magic of silhouettes

Silhouettes are a type of shot that can be produced almost any time of the day as long as there is a bright light or background behind the subject. There also needs to be a strong contrast between the background and the subject the travel photographer is trying to shoot. This leaves a darker subject and a brighter background that can, in the right circumstance, be very spectacular.

Therese Silhouette Durnstein

As the sun rose behind Therese taking photos above the town of Dürnstein in Austria, Michael moved below Therese so he was looking back and up into the sun’s light to capture this silhouette in sharp detail.

Become part of what you are photographing

There are times where you will want or need to become an active participant in order to be able to take the photographs you want. Getting right into the middle of the action or moving in to interact closely with people. Therese is very good at engaging a person or people in conversation and laughter while taking photographs of them at the same time.

Travel Photographer Interact Fiji Girl

Therese bonded with a little girl at a pottery-making village in Fiji and, after interacting and developing trust, was able to take this very personal photograph.

Get creative with your photo

Sometimes, the most memorable photo is an image where the photographer was thinking outside of the box – seeing details in a potential photo no one else had. Like shooting a photo of a parade coming toward the camera by lying on the ground and using a fish eye lens (never do anything that would put your safety or others at risk). Or looking down at a scene to provide a unique view giving your image a sense of style and place. Think getting up, getting down, going around the side or even behind.

Travel Photography Get Creative Urban Nation Waiter With Tray

At a grand opening party for Urban Nation in Berlin, Michael wanted a photo of the waiter greeting people with a tray of drinks that was more than a snapshot. So he went upstairs, leaned over the rail, shot downward, and waited until a hand appeared in the frame for some added action.

Edit and process your photos

Photographers used to use darkrooms to process their photos. Now, in the digital age, we use post-processing software like Photoshop or Lightroom. This doesn’t mean you should now feel free to add a different color sky, insert things into a scene that weren’t there (like a rainbow for example), or so over-process and color your image it looks ridiculously fake. Post-processing software is there to fix small details on an image – lighten a shadow, add a highlight, crop out unwanted parts, re-size or, in some cases, remove a distracting sticker on a sign or a shadow. There are easy-to-use but basic photo editing apps for your smartphone camera as well.

Edit And Process Before Doha Souk

Before processing: In a split second this woman passed through an arch in the souk in Doha, Qatar, and Therese grabbed the shot, knowing it just would need a bit of massaging.

Edit And Process After Adjust Doha Souk

After processing: A little contrast, increased exposure, dropped highlights and opened shadows, not to mention a crop, the shot becomes very appealing.


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Michael Hodgson & Therese Iknoian
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Michael Hodgson & Therese Iknoian

Co-Conspirators at HI Travel Tales
Award-winning travel writers, Michael Hodgson and Therese Iknoian, use words, art, video and photography to guide you on their journeys around the world, and inspire you to embark on your own travel adventure soon. They are members of the North American Travel Journalists Association and the Professional Travel Bloggers Association.
Michael Hodgson & Therese Iknoian
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