Travel photography tips

Sweet vacation memories and bucket-list travel locations drive us to want to preserve our memories. We want photos that depict where we went and how we felt about being there as well. So how do you take travel photos of your vacation that tell the whole story, both aesthetically and emotionally?

We’re here to help! Here’s a checklist and travel photography ideas and tips for getting a collection of vacation photos that do just that.

Before you go on your trip

#1: Plan your travel photos project

If you know what you want to do with your vacation photos when you get home, you’ll know which shots you’ll need to finish the project. Do you want to make a travel book? A gallery wall? A family calendar? Deciding on your project is the first step.

Consider the types of photos you want to take. If you’re going to make a travel book, you likely want a variety of images—landscapes, wildlife, portraits, architecture, underwater. If you are planning a gallery wall, you may want to coordinate photos for a cohesive look. For a family calendar, you will want to include a lot of portraits of your family members.

Whatever the purpose, planning your project and the photos needed will help set you up for success. Of course, lighting, time of day, weather, traffic, and local activity will all affect your shots, so you’ll need to take them into account.

#2: Research your destination

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. When it comes to travel photography, we think that means taking inspiration from others. Once you know your project and what types of photos you need, research photographers who have shot in your destination before. See how they captured the light, the landscapes, the people.

Do an image search or look at Instagram locations to see which shots inspire you. Read travel and photography blogs to uncover top places to visit and take photos. Talk with other photographers who have been to your travel destination. This will help you get travel photography tips and advice from others’ experiences.

#3: Scout your location

Once you have an idea of the types of photos you want to take, research the locations, local culture, and events happening. For location research, look up different vantage points available, the best times of day for lighting, and the weather forecast. Check up-to-date hours your locations will be open and if they have any photography restrictions.

You might have high hopes of getting a specific photo but then find you need to plan ahead because of local regulations. Better to be safe than sorry!

If you want to take photos of local people or events, do some research on the culture so you can be respectful. In some cultures, it’s considered rude to take pictures without permission—or even illegal. In others, it may be completely acceptable. Doing a little research will help ensure you don’t unintentionally offend anyone or break any rules or norms.

Whatever you want to photograph, you should plan ahead and make proper arrangements or adjustments if needed. Doing this research will save you time and help you plan your trip so you capture the best photos for your project while being respectful of the people and places you’re visiting.

#4: Practice your camera technique

Vacation is not the time to figure out your camera settings. Know which settings work for you, when to use them, and how to do them fast before you go. There’s nothing like having the perfect moment in front of you and missing the photograph because you’re messing with your camera setting.

Whether you are a novice or an experienced photographer, it’s always important to know your camera well. Practice taking photos with different camera settings and in varying locations and surroundings, especially if you have a new camera. Settings can vary from camera to camera, so spend time getting acquainted with yours in various situations before the big moments.

For inspiration, check out this post for tips on taking better photos.

#5: Bring backup equipment

You never know when a piece of equipment will fail on you. Batteries die, cards fill up, and straps break. Be prepared for the worst by bringing backup equipment on your trip. This could be an extra battery, memory card, or even a whole extra camera if you have one.

We’d suggest traveling with extra camera batteries (and always check they’re charged!) and bringing a battery pack for your phone so it doesn’t die before sunset. Remember that cold weather can drain your batteries faster than in average temperatures, so you’ll want to plan extra carefully for any Arctic trips (or vacations that feel like them).

Also, make sure to bring extra memory cards with you. Even if you download your pictures to your computer every day, you may end up taking more pictures than planned. Carrying multiple memory cards in your camera case can enable you to take all the photos your heart desires.

Bringing backup items is especially important if you’re traveling to a remote area where supplies may be hard to find. In more populated locales, even if you feel you have enough extra batteries and memory cards, it can be helpful to research local camera stores ahead of time in case something goes wrong with your camera.

#6: Backup your photos

It’s always a good idea to back up your photos just in case your devices are lost or stolen. Or, if you are taking a large number of images, downloading them every night onto your computer will help you start every day with a fresh memory card.

Backing up your photos on the cloud will give you the peace of mind that all the hard work you put into taking those photos won’t be lost. There are many options for backing up your photos. Some top cloud storage services are Google Drive, One Drive, Dropbox, and iCloud. Depending on the devices you use and your needs, one option may be a better fit for you than another.

#7: Insure your gear

No one wants to think about their gear being lost, stolen, or broken. But insuring your equipment can give you the comfort you need to truly enjoy your trip, knowing that you are covered financially if something does happen to your gear.

Many homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policies will cover gear while you are away from home. Check with your insurance company or look into separate insurance if it’s lost or stolen.

Keep your camera secure, whether in your possession or left at a hotel or hostel. When taking your camera with you, carry it in an inconspicuous bag to avoid drawing attention to it. Ensure you always lock or secure your bag with latches to your person, so it doesn’t wander off. And when you’re not using it, store it in your hotel or hostel safe. Always keep your camera near you during travel instead of in a checked bag like any valuable item.

Keeping your valuable camera equipment by your side will allow you to better protect it from getting damaged or stolen.

Knowing your camera gear

#8: Avoid the flash

Proper lighting can make or break a photograph. While a pop of flash can be helpful in some situations, using it all the time can create an unflattering, harsh light. We know from experience, which is why understanding photography lighting techniques is so important.

Natural light is almost always the best option for taking pictures. Take advantage of early morning or late afternoon light, also known as the golden hour. This is when the sun is lower in the sky and creates a softer, more flattering light.

When natural light isn’t available, artificial light may be your only option. If you find yourself indoors or in low light and can’t avoid using flash, try bouncing the flash off a nearby wall or ceiling to diffuse the light and create a softer effect.

#9: Keep your lens clean

Having a clean lens can make or break a photograph. This is especially true if you rely on the phone camera you use all day long. A quick wipe of your lens before taking a picture can mean the difference between a blurry, grainy mess and a crisp, clear image.

And no, using your shirt sleeve is not a good way to clean your lens. If you want to take proper care of your camera, you should carry essential cleaning equipment. A pro-level cleaning kit will include a dust blower, lens brush, lens cloths, and proper lens cleaner. That’s because dust, sand, and other debris can scratch a camera lens. So be sure to blow or brush away any debris before wiping down a camera lens. Use a clean cloth specially made for camera lenses or clean tissue (or a clean, soft T-shirt) to ensure you don’t transfer other dirt.

To ensure you don’t capture smudges, wipe the front and back lens clean throughout the day. Keeping a clean camera lens will help you get the clearest pictures possible.

#10: Edit on the go

Editing your photos doesn’t have to wait until you get home from your trip. Thanks to the power of smartphone apps, you can now edit on the go. This can be a great way to save time and ensure your photos are ready to share as soon as you get home.

There are many different photo editing apps like Snapseed, Camera+, or Adobe Lightroom Mobile. Have these installed and get familiar with them before you go on your vacation, and process photos while you’re waiting around as you travel.

Each night, take a look at your photos taken throughout the day. You will likely have some blurry or too dark or bright images that even editing can’t save. Delete any unusable photos to keep your photo library more manageable.

Then go through your good photos and edit them using mobile or desktop software. Apps and other software help you crop images, adjust white balance and contrast, alter color saturation, or sharpen images with the touch of a button. This will allow you to create your final project faster when you return home and save a lot of time when you’re archiving your shots from the trip!

#11: Go panoramic for landscape photography

For sweeping landscapes or cityscapes, a panoramic photo is hard to beat. Capturing a wide vista in one frame can help give a sense of the scale of the scene and really show off the beauty of your surroundings. They also look incredible in gutter-free, layflat photo books.

Panoramic images capture a scene from a series of overlapping photos. Most digital cameras have a panorama mode that stitches together multiple photos into one seamless image. If your camera doesn’t have this feature, you can also use photo editing software to create a panorama from a series of separate photos. Just be sure that the individual images are well-aligned before stitching them together.

Using this manual method may help you get consistent exposure across the series of images. For the most stable image, use a tripod. And ensure you have the right lens for your subject and distance. A wide-angle lens is ideal for landscapes, while a telephoto lens can be better for cityscapes.

#12: Know when to use auto mode

Yes, all the photo tutorials tell you to learn how to shoot in your camera’s manual mode. But you also want to enjoy your vacation without lots of camera fiddling. Today’s cameras are so sophisticated that their auto modes can often give you great results with very little input from you. If you’re a photography novice (or even a pro!), auto photos do a pretty good job when you’re on the go.

For the best results in auto mode, take a look at your camera’s scene modes. These are specific settings for different shooting scenarios such as sports, landscapes, portraits, or low-light conditions. Many cameras also have a “smart auto” mode that automatically adjusts the settings based on what it detects in the scene.

If you’re shooting in low light, don’t forget to steady your camera. Use a tripod, or brace yourself against a wall or other solid object. A little extra stability will help prevent blurry photos.

#13: But don’t be afraid to shoot in manual mode

While auto mode is excellent for quick shooting on the go, you’ll get more creative control—and often better results—by switching to manual mode. This is especially true in difficult lighting situations such as sunset or sunrise or when you want to blur the background of a photo to make your subject stand out.

Nearly all professional photographers shoot in manual mode. This is because it provides so many more options to capture the natural beauty of a scene when used correctly. Auto mode uses standard settings for a variety of settings, but they can’t account for all variations of light, distance, and motion.

As you’re learning your camera, you should get comfortable playing with shutter speed, ISO, and aperture. Adjusting the shutter speed will help you best capture still or motion photos so they aren’t blurry. Changing ISO settings will allow you to correct for different lighting situations and produce better quality photos. And adjusting the aperture will allow you more control over the depth of field in your image.

Shooting your travel photographs

#14: Shoot a variety of subjects

Your travel photos will be more interesting—and tell a richer story—if you mix up your subject matter. (Remember that work we did in step one?) In addition to the standard scenic shots, look for opportunities to photograph people, animals, and everyday objects.

For people photography, aim to capture both posed and candid shots. Posed shots can be great for family portraits or groups of friends, while candid shots can help you capture the spirit of a place.

Animals are often one of the most popular subjects for travel photographers. When shooting animals, be respectful and give them space. If you’re using a telephoto lens, zoom in so you don’t disturb them. And if you can, try to capture them in their natural habitat rather than in a zoo or sanctuary. Just remember to follow local rules.

Everyday objects can also make for great travel photos. Look for opportunities to photograph local food, weather, local color, architecture, and street art. These types of photos can help you really capture the flavor of a place.

Since you already planned your project in step one, you know what you’re going to use your photos for. Have fun with it and get creative!

#15: Shoot a variety of formats

In addition to taking photos of a variety of subjects, you’ll also want to use a variety of formats. Shoot a mixture of horizontal, vertical, and square photos of your subjects so you have many to play with for later layouts.

You’ll also want to experiment with close-ups, wide shots, and detailed shots. This will give you a variety of options when choosing which photos to use later on.

When creating a photo book, often the best layouts include various sizes and orientations. Taking both portrait and landscape photos of the same image can give you more options when putting together your photo project.

#16: Rule of thirds

If you’re this deep in a photo blog, we bet you already know about the rule of thirds. But since it’s so important, we’ll dig in as a refresher.

The rule of thirds breaks an image into nine sections—three vertically and three horizontally—with four gridlines that cross. Following this rule, you should place key elements along those gridlines to produce a balanced composition.

For example, when taking a sunrise photo, you’ll want to place the horizon on either the top or bottom gridline instead of right in the middle. Or, if you’re shooting a building, place one side of the building along either the left or right gridline.

Most cameras have a grid feature to make it easy to follow the rule of thirds. The grids display right on your screen so you can properly place your photo for the best balance.

#17: Wake up early, stay out late

Taking pictures at the right time of day can make the difference between a so-so photo and a fantastic shot. Taking travel photos may mean waking up early or staying out late to get the best shots. (It’s vacation, and we bet you want to do that anyway!)

There are several reasons to wake up early. Lighting in the morning is soft and warm and can sometimes add beautiful color to a photo. This light creates stunning photographs you could never capture in the middle of the day.

Another benefit to getting up early to photograph is avoiding large crowds. This is especially true in touristy areas and busy cities. You’ll likely never get a photo of a major attraction like the Colosseum or the Eiffel Tower without a crowd of people in front of them if you go when it’s busy.

Night photos can capture a scene in a very different light—both figuratively and literally. A nighttime image adds different energy and appeal than daytime photos. And when traveling, you might even capture a different culture at night than you do during the day. Or, if you’re looking to capture active nocturnal animals, late-night photo sessions might be your only option.

#18: Get your subjects interacting with the environment

When taking photos of people during your travels, you’ll want to try to capture them interacting with their surroundings. This could be anything from riding a bike through the park to enjoying a meal at a restaurant.

Candid shots like these can help tell the story of your trip and show what it was like to be there. They can also add a sense of scale to your photos, which can be especially helpful when taking pictures of prominent landmarks.

If you’re trying out a more poised group shot, try getting your friends and family in motion, touching and relating to the other things in your frame. Some fun motion photos involve everyone jumping simultaneously on the beach, diving off a cliff, dancing together, or riding a wave on a surfboard. After a vacation, those are the memories you won’t want to forget.

#19: Don’t shoot every photo at eye level

Get new perspectives. It helps avoid cliché shots and gives you something unique and yours. Instead of taking every picture at eye level, think of other angles and heights that offer more variety.

Lying on the ground will give you a more exciting perspective and may allow you to capture more objects in the frame. (You might want to bring a towel to lie on for these photos.) On the other hand, taking an image from the top of a tall building or mountain shooting downward will capture your scene in a whole new way. Be creative to get photographs from a variety of angles and perspectives.

#20: Shoot some clichés

It’s also good to get some safety shots. Take the vacation photos you’ve seen everywhere, take some photos with simple settings, get some easy photos—do this for backup, and then get creative. If something creative doesn’t work, you still have a tried-and-true version of the shot you can use for an album or photo book later.

While taking those photos from unique heights, get some at eye level. Group photos or selfies on the beach, in front of famous landmarks, and even your hotel will always have their place. So, take a variety of photos, even the cliché ones, to capture your whole travel experience.

#21: Patience is key

This goes for so many different aspects of travel photography, from waiting for the perfect moment to capture a photo to having the patience to get comfortable with new surroundings before snapping shots.

You might have to wait for the perfect lighting or for someone to move out of your frame. But sometimes, the wait is worth it when you see the results. If you want the best travel photography, you won’t get it in just a few seconds. You need to be patient to get the best shots.

If you’ve ever seen a spectacular photo on Instagram that wowed you, it likely took some time for the photographer to get that image. Take the time to set your camera settings correctly and wait for the sun to come out again. As we’ve mentioned, taking the necessary time to set up your frame using the rule of thirds is critical.

Nature is beautiful, but what it does is out of our control. If there’s a cloud casting a shadow, you may have to wait for it to pass before taking your photo. And you may even have to spend hours or multiple days at a location to get the photograph just right. Sometimes getting the right shot requires patience and a little extra time.

Conclusion

One difference between travel photography and vacation photography is that travel photography is about the place. Vacation photography is about you—your experience, your friends, your memories, your feelings. It’s fine if the pictures aren’t magazine-perfect; they’re yours.

When you look back on your travel photos or your vacation photos, you’ll want to remember not only where you went but how it felt. These photography tips and ideas will help you get shots that capture the emotions, experiences, and people that made your trip memorable—no matter what your end goal is.

Bon voyage!


Travel Photo Books

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