7 Travel Photography Tips for Improving Your Photos
Looking to improve your travel photography? We’ve spent years shooting photos from destinations around the world. Here are our favorite travel photography tips for beginners.
Travel photography is like a time machine, freezing memories from a journey that you can look back on and enjoy for years. Plus, it can help others find new inspiration. Every travel destination has its own look, culture, history, people, feelings, landscapes, and stories.
Learning how to capture these subjects through photos helps convey the spirit of a place to others, giving them a glimpse of what it might be like to venture there.
1. Wake Up Early, Stay Out Late
The early bird gets the worm. I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase. Well, it’s also very true for travel photography. Light is the most important ingredient for great photography — and soft, warm, morning light creates amazing images.
Waking up early also means you’ll have to deal with fewer tourists and other photographers. Want an epic postcard shot of a famous landmark like the ruins of Chichen Itza or the Taj Mahal? Just get there early right when it opens and you’ll pretty much have the place to yourself!
Sunrise isn’t the only time to catch good light. Sunsets are also great. The hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset are nicknamed “golden hours” because of their soft, warm tones and eye-pleasing shadows. “Blue hour”, is the hour after sunset (or before sunrise) when the sky is still blue, but city lights are turned on.
In comparison, shooting photos at noon on a bright sunny day is probably the absolute worst time for travel photography! In fact, sometimes just take a nap during the middle of the day so you have more energy for early morning and evening photography missions when the light is best.
2. Pre-Trip Location Scouting
Read travel guidebooks about your destination. Scour the internet for articles and blog posts to help give you ideas for photos. Talk to friends who have been there. Reach out to other photographers. Become more knowledgeable about which images will capture the essence of a place.
Once you know the names of potential photo locations, I’ll do more research. Which time of day has the best light? How difficult is it to reach certain vantage points? What time does an attraction open, and when will tourist traffic be low? What will the weather be like?
Wandering around with no plans has its place, but being well prepared with research beforehand saves time so you can fully commit to producing amazing travel photography once you’re there, and maximize your time.
3. Rule of Thirds In Photography
One of the most basic and classic of photography tips, understanding the Rule of Thirds will help you create more balanced compositions. Imagine breaking an image down into thirds horizontally and vertically, so it’s split into different sections.
The goal is to place important parts of the photo into those sections and help frame the overall image in a way that’s pleasing to the eye.
For example, placing a person along the left grid line rather than directly in the center. Or keeping your horizon on the bottom third, rather than splitting the image in half. Remember to keep that horizon straight too!
Composing using the Rule of Thirds is easily done by turning on your camera’s “grid” feature, which displays a rule of thirds grid directly on your LCD screen specifically for this purpose.
Now, before you compose a travel photo, you should be asking yourself: What are the key points of interest in this shot? Where should I intentionally place them on the grid? Paying attention to these details will improve the look of your images.
4. Make Travel Photography A Priority
Attempting to take quick snapshots as you rush from one location to another will leave you with the same boring photos everyone else has. Make sure you plan “photography time” into your travel schedule. Good travel photography requires a solid time commitment on your part.
If you’re traveling with friends who aren’t into photography, it can be difficult to find the time necessary to create amazing images. You need to break off on your own for a few hours to make photography your priority. I often prefer to travel alone or with other dedicated photographers for this reason.
Good luck trying to explain to a non-photographer that you’d like to wait around for an extra 30 minutes until the clouds look better. It doesn’t go over well. For organized tours, try waking up early to wander alone for a few hours, getting photos before the tour starts.
Even better, splurge on a rental car for a travel photography road trip. This allows you to control when and where you stop for photos. There’s nothing worse than being stuck on a bus while passing an epic photo opportunity, powerless to stop and capture it!
5. Patience Is Everything
Photography is about really seeing what’s in front of you. Not just with your eyes, but with your heart & mind too. This requires dedicated time and attention. Slow down and make a conscious effort at becoming aware of your surroundings before pressing the shutter.
Pay attention to details. Are the clouds in an eye-pleasing spot? If not, will they look better in 15 minutes? Sit at a photogenic street corner and wait for a photogenic subject to pass by. Then wait some more, because you might get an even better shot. Or not. But if you don’t have the patience to try, you might miss a fantastic photo opportunity!
When shooting the Northern Lights in Iceland, I spent all night camping in the cold at a perfect location, simply waiting for the magical aurora borealis to appear. When it finally did, I waited a few hours more to capture the brightest possible colors.
Good photography takes time. Are you willing to spend a few hours waiting for the perfect shot? Because that’s what professionals do. The more patience you have, the better your travel photography will turn out in the long run.
6. Get Lost On Purpose
Ok. You’ve visited all the popular photography sites and captured your own version of a destination’s postcard photos. Now what? It’s time to go exploring and get off the beaten tourist path. It’s time to get lost on purpose.
If you want to get images no one else has, you need to wander more. The best way to do this is on foot — without knowing exactly where you’re going. Grab a business card from your hotel so you can catch a taxi back if needed, then just pick a direction and start walking.
Bring your camera, and head out into the unknown.
Check with locals to make sure you’re not heading somewhere dangerous, but make a point get lost. Wander down alleys, to the top of a mountain, and around the next bend.
In many places, locals tend to avoid tourist spots. So if you want to capture the true nature of a destination and its people, you’ll need to get away from the crowd and go exploring on your own.
7: Be Nice & Have Fun!
We’ve seen many travel photographers who take their photography VERY seriously. You probably know the type, usually semi-professionals blocking off famous photography locations with a wall of tripods, ignoring closed off areas, yelling at anyone who gets in their frame.
Try to remember that we’re all sharing these spaces with each other, and we have to learn to get along. Be kind to other photographers, practice patience and common sense. Try not to be the person that ruins everyone else’s photo, but treat other photographers the way you would want to be treated!