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7 Travel Photography Mistakes to Avoid

“Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has turned on the fasten seatbelt sign.” Ahhhh, what a beautiful sound to hear. You’re all packed up, on the plane, ready to head off to a fun destination to photograph your heart out. But, are you ready? I mean, really ready?

Travel photography can bring a world of joy, fun, and excitement… but also a world of stress if you’re not prepared. Whether you’re traveling by air, car, train, boat or rocket ship, here are my 7 top tips on travel photography mistakes and how to avoid them.

1. Checking your camera bag into the hold

If you’re traveling by airplane, the biggest mistake you can make is to check your photography bag. Did your heart start racing by just reading that? Mine did, but I know photographers who have nightmare stories from checking their gear.

You will always want to take your camera bag as your carry on to prevent it from getting lost or damaged along the way. Once you’re all packed up, measure your bag and then look into your airline’s carry-on bag size policy.

Travel Photography landscape

You will also want to make sure that your tripod connects to your bag in some manner, because many airlines consider that a separate carry-on. If you have your gear insured, double check to see if your policy covers your gear for where you are traveling, especially if it is international. 

2. Not bringing spare parts

Most of us know where our local camera shop is in case we need to go grab a quick piece of equipment, but in foreign countries or even different states, a camera shop may be few and far between.

I always recommend bringing a backup of the most important pieces of equipment with you. For me, that’s an extra camera body, a battery charger, tripod plate and, of course, lots of lens cloths.

Read more: What’s in My Bag? A Look at the Kit of a Professional Landscape Photographer

Travel photography canyon

I also recommend bringing two hard drives to back up on while out traveling in case one fails. Finally, don’t forget those allen wrenches, screw drivers, or a good multi tool in case you need to fix anything out in the field. 

3. Skippin the research phase

As fun as it may sound to just spontaneously travel somewhere and figure things out as you go, I definitely recommend doing your research beforehand on things you want to shoot.

Different subjects look better for sunrise than sunset, some areas may be safer than others, some may not be what you think they are at all etc.

Desert tree travel photo

There’s a lot that can be achieved by just taking a few hours to look up locations on Google, Instagram, or Flickr. If you’re feeling really investigative, you can even contact people who have visited the locations you want to see and ask them if they have any advice or tips.

Read more: How to Find Great Locations for Landscape Photography

You can also use apps like The Photographer’s Ephemeris or Photo Pills to help understand how the sunset / sunrise light and night sky may appear within your area.

4. Avoiding the locals

The locals know best – trust me on this one. No matter how much research you have done, there is nothing more beneficial for travel photography than picking the brains of the locals.

They know spots you never even knew would have existed, they can give you permission to private property and, heck, some have even invited me over to dinner after showing me an awesome waterfall hidden in their backyard.

travel photograph of local wild ponies

Now I’m not saying to go knocking on every local’s door, but if you ask around town (especially in local shops), one person may be able to open a door to a spot you never would have been able to see without their help.

Locals also know the weather, the wildlife, the trails, and more – so don’t make the mistake of not chatting it up with them. 

5. Waking up late

I love sleep more than anyone, so if you ask me to wake up early for something then it better be special.

Getting out early for sunrise is key. The coffee hasn’t kicked in yet and you’re moving a bit slower, but if you’re in a popular area then you’ve already beaten the swarms of tourists.

Three bears

If you’re in an extremely popular area for sunrise photography, make sure to get to your location a few hours prior to sunrise to claim a spot.

Locations like Mesa Arch, Maroon Bells, and Tunnel View in the USA can be completely full two hours prior to sunrise. Also, if you’re looking for wildlife, the hours right after sunrise are wonderful… so don’t run off to breakfast too quickly.

Just as you yourself are waking up, so are many of the animals – except they won’t have a Starbucks in hand.

Read more: Where to Photograph Wildlife in North America

6. Not taking the time to scout locations

When you actually physically get to your destination, take some time during not-so-great light to scout for compositions. I always like to have a handful of options for various compositions depending on what kind of light or weather conditions I may have when it comes to shoot time

If you don’t give yourself some time to scout, you’ll find yourself rushing to find a composition and having a chaotic time, rather than a fun one.

Travel photographer photographing rapids

Personally, I like to just take my cell phone with me while I’m scouting. I make sure location services are turned on, and take quick cell phone snaps of areas or compositions that I like. That way I have a waypoint and photo to reference later on. 

7. Forgetting to be a tourist

It’s so great to be able to travel and photograph, but it’s also mentally good to just take in parts of the trip as well. Not everything needs to be about photography. Sure, when the conditions are great, shoot away, but don’t forget to take it in for you as well.

Also, don’t forget to visit the local shops wherever you may be and show them some love. For me, some of my favourite photography memories start with the coffee shop I visited that morning.

Travel photograph of man looking over a lake and mountains

In conclusion

Traveling is definitely such an awesomely rewarding experience and, with a bit of planning, you can enjoy a trip full of stress-free shooting and epic images.

Mike Mezeul II is a travel and landscape photographer based out of Dallas, Texas. He currently spends his days traveling to various countries around the world in hopes of documenting the true beauty of this world. From night skies, sunsets and sunrises, and severe weather, Mike has amassed a portfolio of work that has been published across the world. Whether it’s chasing down a tornado, hiking to the vent of a volcano, battling freezing temperatures above the Arctic Circle to document the aurora borealis, he is determined to do whatever it takes to capture the shot. During his travels, Mike also leads several workshops a year teaching participants how to capture the best photographs possible.

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