10 Travel Photography Tips for Better Photos

10 tips taking better travel photos

Travel photography is something that almost anyone with a camera has tried. It incorporates anything from holiday snaps, to some of National Geographic’s most well-known photographs. It has a broad definition, including any photograph taken on your travels, which can include landscape, street, wildlife, and portrait shots.

Not to be confused with general street photography, a travel photographer will typically try to capture the culture and feel of a place on camera. Travel photographers provide a valuable window into other countries that not everyone gets to experience.

Here are some travel photography tips that I think will help you to take your pictures to the next level.

1. Chat to the local people

Ever look at travel shots of a local staring straight down the lens? People skills, as well as photographic, are needed here. You’ll need to build up some kind of rapport with your intended subject. Going in all guns blazing won’t help anyone, and your photos will definitely suffer. Learn some local phrases; compliment them. These will go a long way to a more receptive subject and a more natural photograph.

If they ask for money and the opportunity is too good to ignore, I’ll usually pay a small fee. But this can be a controversial subject, and it depends on your opinions and on the individual situation.

If, however, it’s a crowd scene, I try to shoot on the sly and don’t ask for everyone’s permission. Each shot depends purely on the situation and your discretion.

10 tips taking better travel photos

2. Use versatile lenses

The unpredictability and freedom of travel photography lends itself to a multitude of lenses. To avoid missing a moment when constantly switching prime lenses, I tend to lean towards zoom lenses. However, I’m a big fan of low light street photography on my travels, so a prime lens can provide you those wider apertures to avoid super-long exposures and the need for flashguns.

10 tips taking better travel photos

On a recent trip to India, Myanmar, and Thailand, I packed a 10-20mm, fixed 50mm (f/1.8) and a 70-300mm. This gave me the perfect combination of flexibility, ability to shoot in low light, and compact lenses perfect for manoeuvrability whilst travelling.

3. Blend in with your surroundings

There’s nothing worse than someone in the corner of your shot smirking and pointing at your camera. Whilst difficult, try to blend in with the street scene as much as you can to avoid people noticing and potentially ruining the shot. Discrete, small cameras and lenses can help you out here.

I’ve even known photographers to shoot blindly from the hip in some situations, although this can be tricky and requires a certain level of practice and expertise.

10 tips taking better travel photos

4. Take your camera everywhere

You never know what unexpected photographic opportunities may arise. Always remember to take your equipment with you, whatever the excursion. So many of the best travel shots are born from unplanned, unpredictable, one-in-a-million moments.

5. Buy a travel tripod

The words ‘lightweight’ and ‘compact’ aren’t words you’d usually associate with tripods. But if you’re planning on shooting night skies, long exposure seascapes, HDR or motion blur (to name a few), you’ll need a tripod. Travel tripods are a solution to both travel practicalities and photographic compromise.

10 tips taking better travel photos

Top tip: Busy crowds of tourists can ruin an otherwise beautiful shot of a famous landmark. Use a tripod, neutral density filter, and a long exposure to blur crowds with over a 30 seconds exposure. In some images they will even become unnoticeable.

6. Head off the beaten track

Photographing major tourist sites is all well and good, but to get something more “real,” and capture things that haven’t been done again and again, get lost on purpose. Check where you’re going is safe first, and then head out to capture the true essence of the local surroundings. Get lost amongst a maze of alleys or follow a meandering river; who knows what you may find there.

10 tips taking better travel photos

7. Shoot at dawn and dusk

Bathed in the warm glows of evening light or tinged by a blue twilight, scenes often look much more appealing. The light around this time introduces some strong, new colours, and is dim enough to incorporate into a scene without as many contrast issues as the midday sun.

10 tips taking better travel photos

Fortunately, these times are often of peak activity for people all over the world (but not tourists!), and even wildlife too. So, set an early alarm and stay out late to boost your chances of coming home with some exceptional images!

8. Use social media

Use social media platforms to search for shooting locations. Be smart with your keywords and get inspired by approaches people have taken to your destination before. Travellers are generally very friendly people, too, so don’t be shy to message any of your favourite photographers, compliment their work, and ask them for location tips.

9. Experiment with composition

Never be satisfied with your first shot. The beauty of travel photography is your freedom to move and forever try new angles and positions. Often, I like to start my process by employing the rule of thirds. You split the photograph into nine segments, and aim to place your subject on one of the four intersections. This rule is certainly there to be broken, but is usually a safe bet for a pleasing composition.

10 tips taking better travel photos

Think about a story that you can tell in your photograph. One of my favourite concepts in photography is juxtaposition, such as “East meets West,” “rich meets poor,” “man meets nature.” It often invokes a strong message and can be easy to find once you start to look for it.

Lastly, with travel photography being the hectic genre it is, elements in your frame can often slip out of shot. There’s nothing worse than faces being cut in half in the corners of photos. So keep an eye on the edges of your frame, and not just on the subject in the centre.

10. Avoid theft

Depending on the country, vulnerability to crime can be a real problem. Whilst it’s never happened to me, you always hear horror stories amongst the travel community. At the start of your journey, make sure you take your camera bag as your carry on luggage. You can then make sure no-one interferes with your equipment or throws it around.

When photographing at your destination, make sure you check that where you are shooting is safe and not to flaunt your cameras unnecessarily. However, your photography can suffer if your camera isn’t always on hand, so I make sure I have the bare essentials on display and that they are in some way tied to my person. For example, my camera strap is always wrapped tightly around my wrist. It’s not unheard of for thieves to turn up on a motorbike, cut a bag or camera strap, and drive away before you even know what’s happened.

10 tips taking better travel photos

I even go as far as to make my photography day bag look as cheap and undesirable as possible. In the hotel, I’ll transfer some of my equipment from my photography bag to an old scraggy rucksack. I’ll only put in the bare essentials, wrapped in folded up clothes.

Be aware, and don’t be naive. Make sure that you adhere to the typical travel safety advice, with an added awareness whilst you’re looking down the viewfinder.

Have you got any travel photos or tips? Share them in the comments below!

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Sam Rowley is a young wildlife photographer from England. Whilst photographing around the world, Sam spends a lot of time taking pictures of wildlife in and around London. His images have won countless awards, including been featured multiple times in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.

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