These 20 must-read travel photography tips will ensure you take plenty of beautiful, professional-looking photos on your next vacation!
Taking great travel photos is an art that can only be honed with patience and practice. Great photos combine knowledge of composition, preparation, and an understanding of your camera, but by far the most effective elements in taking eye-catching images are creativity and putting your personality into your art.
Having been a professional travel photographer for over a decade, I’ve been in a million situations where I’ve had to draw on technical, personal, and logistical photography knowledge. Over the years, I’ve learned that a photographer’s style is constantly evolving and that sharpening skills take time and experience.
Drawing on my experience as a photographer, these are 20 travel photography tips you need to know!
20 Travel Photography Tips You Need to Know
1. Know Your Camera
Knowing the in’s and out’s of your camera and how to properly use it is incredibly important in taking great travel photos. If you have a new camera, I recommend watching some online videos about it, understanding the settings, and doing some low-stakes photoshoots at home before taking it out on the road.
Read more: How to Choose the Best Travel Camera
2. Scout Photo Locations
Figuring out where you want to shoot before you leave home will not only save you time on the road, but it will also be essential in getting you some great shots. To stay organized with this, I always quickly jot down the address of each location, the distance from my hotel, and a quick note about what to expect at each location.
3. Pack Light
Packing light for travel photography means knowing the equipment you’re going to use and making the most of each piece. While it may seem enticing to bring many lens choices and all the gadgets with you, in reality, you’ll probably only use a few key pieces of gear. Not to mention, lugging around extra heavy equipment is never fun.
4. Choose the Right Lenses
Before you leave on your trip, think about the kind of situations in which you’ll be shooting. Will you be taking a lot of landscape shots? Will you need to take detailed shots from afar? Or are you more interested in street photography?
Knowing the style of photos you want to take will be essential in choosing the right lenses for your trip, and will save you from lugging around tons of lenses you’ll never use.
5. Shoot in the Right Mode
While using the icon modes on your camera can seem easy, in reality, shooting on modes such as sports, portraits, landscape, etc. will be limiting to your creativity.
Instead, shoot in modes such as Program (P), Aperture Priority (A), Shutter Priority (S), and Manual (M). Aperture priority mode is probably the most common of the modes among professional travel photographers, with the camera automatically setting the shutter speed, allowing you to just focus on the ISO and f-stop. From there, play around with the modes and see which one is most intuitive to you.
6. Don’t Overbook Yourself
Such as with traveling in general, you don’t want to overbook yourself as a travel photographer. Give yourself extra time in locations where you know you want to get great shots, and always account for lighting fluctuations, weather situations, and the timing of sunrise and sunset.
7. Bring a Tripod and Intervalometer
Traveling with a compact tripod and intervalometer are key components of taking photos with movement, night photography, and getting yourself in the shots. With these tools, you’ll be able to control the frame as well as how often and how many shots are taken without touching or moving your camera.
8. Get Up Before Sunrise
Sunrise is my favorite time of day for photography. Waking up early will give you great light and you’ll likely have your chosen location more or less to yourself. Just remember, if you’re not a morning person, be sure to give yourself lots of time to get up and out the door.
9. Plan Your Dinners Around Sunset
While generally a more busy time for photography than sunrise, I recommend planning your dinners around sunset — this will give you some beautiful shots with excellent lighting.
Look up when the golden hour will be in your location, and have your photography spot picked out and ready ahead of time. If you’re worried about crowds being in your photos, then research some off-the-radar locations.
10. Think Outside the Box
Just because you’ve done your research about the best photo locations in your destination doesn’t mean you have to stick to the photo styles you see online. Be creative with your photos, shoot from unique vantage points, and experiment with depth of field and lighting.
11. Be Considerate of Locals and Private Property
Before you go on any travel shoots, think about how your presence and photography ideas will affect locals and their property. If a shooting location you’re interested in is on private property, always ask permission before you begin, and while it may be legal to take photos of people on the street if you want a specific shot of a person, it’s best to ask them first.
For the most part, I’ve found locals to be very welcoming and helpful in allowing me to take photos on their property, and asking beforehand shows respect.
Read more: The Best Cameras for Hiking and Backpacking
12. Back-Up Your Photos
Having a system to back-up and file your photos is super important. Personally, I back up my photos every single night after I’m done shooting for the day. I make separate folders on my computer for each of my trips and then back them up on an external hard drive.
You don’t want to risk an entire trip’s worth of photos just because of a corrupt card or a damaged hard drive.
13. Experiment with Different Angles
One of the easiest things you can do to create interesting images is to experiment with angles. Most photos are taken from eye level, but either getting high up or low down are quick ways to make your photos more interesting. To do this, find unique vantage points from which to take photos — get down on the ground and shoot from there, use a drone to shoot from above, and find and use guiding lines to draw the viewer’s eye.
14. Allow for Spontaneity
Planning out your travel photography locations in advance is a great way to ensure some great shots, but leaving room for spontaneous adventures and photos will keep your photography fun and unique.
A tip that goes hand-in-hand with not overbooking yourself, experimenting with your photography and keeping your schedule and shots spontaneous will make taking photos fun, and your trip stress-free.
15. Learn How to Edit
If you want to take your photos to the next level and make them look professional, then learning how to properly edit will be a game-changer.
There are many programs out there to edit photos with, but no matter which one you use you will, at the very least, want to make sure your horizon lines are straight, your colors and exposure are balanced, and that you assess your composition.
16. Choose Hotels Based on Location
As mentioned earlier, before every trip I make note of the addresses of each of the top photography locations I want to visit, and then I map out where each of them is. The easiest way to hit up all these places in the shortest amount of time is to choose a centrally-located hotel based on these locations.
17. Get Local Tips
While doing research to find the best photography spots beforehand is a great idea, asking the locals while you’re in your destination will give you a perspective that you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. Locals often know the best photography spots in their hometown and they can give you tips on how to avoid the crowds.
18. Compose Your Shot
While there are no hard and fast rules for how you should be composing your photos, keeping in mind a few key elements will take your photography to the next level. A few ideas to consider are to follow the rule of thirds, give your photo a focal point of interest, consider symmetry, create foreground interest, and use guiding lines.
19. Add a Human Element
Whether you love to include yourself in your shots or take photos of other people in the area, adding a human element will keep your photos personal and relatable.
Not to mention, getting home and realizing you don’t have any photos of you on your trip can be a huge disappointment!
20. Be Patient
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat and waited for the weather to clear, crowds to disperse, and for conditions to get just right. Remember that sometimes the best shots take time and that it’s always worth wait.