9 essential travel photography tips for any photographer
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Download the “9 essential photography tips for any photographer” for FREE!
If you are a member of our Subscriber Club you can download “9 essential photography tips for any photographer” as a designed PDF here. Not a member of our Subscriber Club yet? It is easy and free to join. Just click on the button below. In addition to full access to our free travel book and recipe library, you will receive a monthly newsletter full of travel inspiration from award-winning travel writers and photographers.
Check out our travel photo tips series
Our Most Recent Travel Stories
When the CDC gave the green light to fully vaccinated travelers to begin hitting the road and flying again, the announcement generated numerous questions about travel preparation, planning and COVID protection. This checklist for vaccinated travelers is how to start planning your next trip.
The Hilton Palm Springs Resort is an ideal place to stay if you want to be within walking distance of The Vineyard Shopping Center, the Palm Springs Art Museum, and downtown Palm Springs.
Every two years, Desert X coordinates an outdoor art exhibit like none other. Huge, thought-provoking art statements dot the desert and cities around Greater Palm Springs in Coachella Valley, complementing all the other outdoor art in the area.