Travel Photography Tips for Beginners
Looking for a guide on how to do travel photography or tips for better travel photography? You’re in the right place! Here are 17 travel photography tips to help you take better travel photography photos. Any aspiring travel photographer would love to be the next Trey Ratcliff or Steve McCurry but let’s face it, who has the aptitude or dedication for that? This list of travel photography tips is just a few things you can do to nip up your photography. The intention being to make it easier, quicker and more fun to produce better pictures. But if you’re just starting out and looking for travel photography tips for beginners, I’m sure you’ll find something of use!
If you improve your photography skills through these travel photography tips, I’m confident it will change the way you see the world when you travel because you will be looking for better angles and more interesting details. It will make you notice the small things and improve your attention to detail. It certainly did for me. I now notice the finer details everywhere I travel, which has really helped build my appreciation for the world around me. If you want to know a little more about me and my photography background, scroll to the bottom and take a look. So, without further ado, here is my list of travel photography tips to help you take amazing photos!
17 Useful Travel Photography Tips to Take Better Photos
1 | Keep Your Camera Out
This is why this is number one on my travel photography tips…When you are travelling, you can’t take any pictures when your camera is in your bag. The only time mine is usually away is when I’m passing through Customs! You just never know what you are going to see! Not only that, but it also gives me a little extra space for other stuff in my bag.
2 | Understand How Your Camera Works
Number two of my travel photography tips is to understand how your camera works. Once you understand how your camera works, you know what you need to do to achieve what you want to. Do you want shallow depth of field or do you want to freeze the action? Understanding how your camera works doesn’t mean shooting in manual.
It means understanding that focal length, distance to subject and aperture have an effect on depth of field or understanding that ISO is the sensor’s sensitivity to light but it also creates noisy pictures the higher you go and that shutter speeds can be used to freeze action or create movement, such as light trails of vehicles or dancing street performers. When you understand the relationship between these, you will be able to achieve what you are trying to do through judgment, not luck. This leads me onto…
3 | Shoot an Auto Mode
This sounds contradictory to the above but hear me out. We pay a lot of money for cameras and equipment. Someone once told me my “high-end DSLR was like a Ferrari and it should be used like it was intended.” It’s full of technology, so let it do the work, after all, you’ve paid for it. Shooting manual because you think it makes you a better photographer is, in my opinion, madness. There is a place for manual, but it’s not in my everyday travel world.
Combine auto modes with mirrorless technology and photography becomes effortless. Less effort, more fun, no? Understand how your camera works and how each mode operates, such as understanding that aperture priority will let you pick the aperture and it will pick the shutter speed (and ISO, if you have auto ISO set). Let the camera do the work for you, not the other way around.
4 | Travel Light
I learnt this on my very first foreign solo weekend break to Paris. I took a full DSLR kit. Coupled with Converse All-Stars and walking miles and miles every day, I can tell you that was a bad decision! My feet have never been in such pain. The kit alone weighed almost 1/6th of me! When you travel, take what you know you need, not what you think you need. Over the years I have become very efficient in what I carry when I travel.
I used to have the mentality of better to be looking at it than looking for it but that never really served me well because I have to carry everything myself, which isn’t always fun. I’m small and don’t like heavy stuff. So, I figured out what I used the most and ditched what I didn’t use as much. Take the leap – you won’t regret it.
I’ve seen photographers with their kit fully laden with endless amounts of batteries, memory cards, filters, lenses…do they think they are actually going to use all this stuff? I rarely take a battery charger with me now. A few batteries, my core kit is all I pack. I don’t even carry spare cards. I have two in the camera and that’s it. When was the last time one failed? I’ve never had a card fail me in ten years as a photographer. That’s not to say it won’t one day but I am willing to take the risk, based on experience, and I can’t regret a decision based on that.
Now we’ve got some basics out of the way, we can focus on the travel photography tips that will actually make your pictures more interesting.
5 | Do Your Research
Number 5 of my travel photography tips is to do your research. This will help you maximise your time by knowing where you want to go and what you want to shoot while you travel. We all know of ‘tourist hotspots’ and the same goes for places that are photogenic. Search Google or Instagram and I’m sure you’ll see patterns emerging on what’s worth photographing wherever you’re travelling to. This is something I do before and during travel – you never know what you’ll find. Don’t just rely on this research though. Stick to the #10 on your travels to find those hidden gems…
6 | Learn Some Compositional Techniques
What is composition? When related to photography, by definition it means “…arrangement of parts of a picture etc.” The absolute number 1 rule you need to learn is to fill the frame. This is probably the most common problem I see. What are you trying to photograph and is the other stuff in the frame relevant? Sometimes, negative space is useful and aids composition, but a lot of the time it’s because the photographer doesn’t know what to do with the subject or what should really be in the frame.
There is a ton of information on the internet relating to compositional techniques, so have a Google to see what you can find. In the meantime, here’s a list of some basic techniques to get you started or improve your composition for your travel pictures, with some examples below:
- Rule of thirds
- Leading lines
- Frame in a Frame
7 | The Three ‘C’s
Further to the point above, does it have contrast, is it cute or is it colourful? OK, I’ve made this one up but it’s a sure-fire winner to get a good picture! Hit one of these three in your travel pictures and you’re winning. It doesn’t have to be an animal to be cute, remember. It could be a cute little village or shop front. Look for colour and contrast too – we are naturally interested in them and they help capture our attention.
Contrast also helps us distinguish subjects from one another, so use them to your advantage. Contrast doesn’t have to be the difference between highlights and shadows, either. It can be the contrast of an old building next to a modern one or an old car next to a new car…you get the picture.
8 | Stick Something in the Foreground
#8 of my travel photography tips is my go-to method for adding a little more interest and depth to my pictures. Using the correct aperture can really help the foreground enhance your pictures. Consider foreground, middle ground and background, every time you take a picture. Is the foreground interesting and is the background distracting?
Once you learn to use your camera, you can use its functions to help you. For example, you could shoot at a really wide aperture to help you turn the background blurry to remove tourists, say, or the same aperture to make a bush blurry in the foreground. Using this technique can really help to focus the viewer on your subject.
9 | The Golden and Blue Hours
Consider shooting during the golden and blue hours to enhance your travel photography. They aren’t actually an hour each, of course, they are just given these names. The golden hour is the time before sunset and after sunrise, when the sun is up, hence golden.
The blue hour is the bit after sunset or before sunrise, where the sun is below the horizon. Golden hour can lead to some gorgeous warm tones, but the blue hour is my preference of the two. The tones are often a little more unusual, with rich blues, purples and even some pinks and magentas in the sky. The light is often softer and easier to deal with than the sun which is still blasting rays out before it disappears.
Have a play and don’t forget to wait around for a little bit…you never know what you will get. This one time, at band camp… in Santorini, we watched the sunset at what is undoubtedly one of the world’s most magical sunset spots. But that wasn’t the best bit. The best bit came when the blue hour was in full swing. The light softened, the colours came alive and best of all, everyone else had disappeared!
10 | Walk as Much as Possible
You can’t absorb a place on public transport like you can on foot. Getting around on foot will also help you to get off the beaten track. And don’t worry about getting a little lost…just wander and see what you find. I think you might be surprised by some of the things you find along the way. I suspect most people have access to Google Maps or Apple Maps, so if you’re concerned you might lose mobile signal, get lost, or your roaming charges are expensive, considering downloading the area you’re travelling to your device while you’ve got access to some Wi-Fi. You can find out how to do that with Google Maps HERE.
11 | Work Around Your Subject
Find interesting things or places to photograph while you travel, such as a local market – they are full of interesting things. Once you’ve found your interesting thing, don’t just take one picture, take a few. Look for different angles, viewpoints and perspectives and look for the finer details. You can tell your story by working around a subject and using different shot sizes. By this, I don’t mean the actual size of the picture. In simple terms, I mean shots to establish a scene (establishing shot), followed by medium and close up shots, where you really dig into those finer details.
For more information on shot sizes, click HERE. The link talks about shot sizes in video, but the principles can be applied to your travel photography. Take a cafe, for example. You might want to show the facade because you want to establish where you are. From there, you might then want to show the interior because it’s full of character and gives a little bit more information about the cafe than the exterior does.
Finally, you might want to photograph your coffee and cake because it looks delicious and that’s what you were really there for! In three shots you have told a story about the cool cafe on the corner that had the quirky interior that serves the most awesome Victoria sponge cake on the planet. Get the picture? Pun intended!
12 | Consider It Record Keeping
One of the best bits about my job is that I get to record where I’ve been, what I’ve done, what I’ve seen and who I’ve met…including some historic moments along the way. Treat your travel photography like a form of record keeping. What do you want to remember from your trip? Do you want to remember that delicious cake and coffee you devoured at the town square cafe? Well, photograph it!
Don’t let the keyboard warriors of the internet tell you not to photograph your food. It’s your journey, not theirs. This will also help you pay attention to detail. And what about in the future when you can look back on your travels and see how things have changed or developed or even spark a memory you have forgotten? But…
13 | Know Your Story
Are you taking pictures for your own benefit or to share? What story are you trying to tell with your pictures? Basically, photograph intentionally, not just for the sake of it. Are you trying to record where you’ve been and what you’ve done, or are you trying to show how amazing a place is and why your friends should visit? Consider why you are taking pictures while you travel, what you are taking pictures of and where the pictures will go.
14 | Be Confident
#14 of my travel photography tips is to be confident. One thing I learned early on in my photographic career is that people generally like to engage with a photographer. The camera is often common ground and an ice breaker to talk about. Even if you don’t speak the same language, everyone knows what a camera is, what it does and what you want to achieve by a few finger points and gestures. But have the confidence and respect to approach people and ask them to take their picture – they might even want a copy!
15 | Have a Point of Interest or Add a Human
#15 of my travel photography tips is obvious, right? Wrong. Don’t just shoot a landscape or a location, look to add something to it to add some extra interest. Maybe that’s a person standing at the end of a cliff or a house nestled in some trees. It will add some interest, scale or maybe context to what might just be another landscape.
16 | Learn to Edit
Whether you travel with a laptop or just your phone, learn to edit the pictures you’ve taken. Most of the time, pictures need a little enhancement to make them really pop and to bring the best out. You really can take a picture that is good ‘straight out of camera’ AND it can be even better if you know how to enhance it. I’m not talking about sky replacement or photoshopping things in and out – I’m talking about some simple tools to bring your travel pictures to life, like some minor colour adjustments, contrast or even a bit of sharpening.
If you don’t want to lug a laptop around when you travel but have a decent smartphone and a camera with WiFi, you have some pretty powerful apps at your fingertips like Photoshop Express or even Instagram’s own editing tools. You can adjust all sorts of things from cropping to image rotation, to colour adjustment and sharpening and loads of things in-between to stylise your shots. There are even presets in these apps to do the work for you if you don’t fancy having a go yourself. Much like the technology in your camera, use this technology to your benefit!
17 | Have Fun
If you’ve made it to this point, thank you for sticking with me and my travel photography tips. Last but certainly not least on my travel photography tips list is to have fun. If photography isn’t fun, you simply won’t want to do it. Travel photography should be fun, not a chore and should be a way for you to express yourself, explore, and to see and connect with the world around you (most of those are reasons why we travel too, right?!).
You can make travel photography fun in all sorts of ways. That might be by choosing the subjects you photograph, by setting yourself a challenge (like only using your mobile phone or sticking to one lens), practising a new skill or technique you have learned or even playing around in Photoshop after to see what magic you can drum up in the digital art world. Or you may take pleasure in photography by simply just snapping away at anything and everything while you travel… the choice is yours!
Wow…for a list of travel photography tips that was pretty intense! I hope you can make use of some of them!
If You’re After a New Travel Camera…
…go mirrorless. Although not in all cases, mirrorless cameras are often smaller than regular cameras. But that’s only the start of the benefits. YOU CAN SEE WHAT YOU ARE TAKING BEFORE YOU TAKE IT. What could be better than that? It’s like miracle technology in a camera, yet it’s been in our mobile phones for years.
What does it mean? Less faffing, no chimping (checking your pictures after shooting each frame!) and you can get to the end goal quicker by being able to see what you are getting before you even take it. If you are old school and prefer DSLR cameras – ditch that mentality and embrace the future. I use the Fujifilm X Series for all my travel photography, which you can read all about HERE.
A Little About Me…
I joined the Royal Navy ages ago as a submariner. After too many years of not enjoying that, I transferred to the Photographic Specialisation. The navy has their own merry band of photographers known as ‘Phots’ who trawl the Fleet covering media operations to tell the RN’s story. There aren’t many of us, 40 or so, but we all receive professional training at the Defence School of Photography, where we spend 28 weeks learning all there is to know about photography. “The School”, as we call it, is like no other place in the military – it offers unparalleled creativity and breaks down the walls of normal military practices.
A jack of all trades, master of none, is what I consider myself when it comes to photography. You have to be able to turn your hand to all sorts of genres of photography in the navy, not just one. But it requires more than just good camera handling skills to become a good ‘phot’. It takes dedication, a can-do attitude and the ability to reach beyond the basic scope of your job by being helpful and not a hindrance to those who look to you for assistance.
You are required to deliver. Every time. It doesn’t always have to be the best, but it always has to be useable. And that point is key to success, I think – consistency in your delivery. It’s often said “you’re only as good as your last job” but I don’t believe this. You build a reputation on the things I have just mentioned, and that reputation can take a while to build and isn’t lost immediately.
Travel has been a large part of my job and photography has taken me all over the world. These travel photography tips have derived from countless trips overseas in my personal and work lives. I’ve covered anti-piracy and counter-narcotics in the Gulf, Royal Marines exercising in the Arctic Circle, exercises in the jungles of Belize, Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief operations in the Caribbean and I’ve even worked for the Prime Minister at No 10 Downing Street, plus loads of other stuff in between.
And as I type this, I find myself training future Defence photographers at The School, which is a job I have longed for, ever since I started training in 2010. Undoubtedly, travel has been one of the best parts of the job for me and in two years alone I travelled over 300,000 miles! Although my current roles doesn’t involve much travel, Stacey and I travel as much as we can in our spare time to satisfy my appetite for travel photography.
One last thing – I’d love to know what you think about my travel photography tips. Have they been of any benefit to you or do you have some travel photography tips for me? Thoughts in the comments below! Every day is a school day, as they say!
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