Travel photography has become an essential part of any trip and any vacation. We all want to capture those special moments of our travels, keep them for later, and share them with our family and friends…
But how often do you find yourself in the situation where you feel that your travel pictures just don’t do justice to all the amazing things you saw and experienced?
With ever-improving technology, it’s now easier to take good travel photos without much effort than ever before. However, by preparing well and applying a few simple tricks, you can easily transform your travel photography from good to great! And no, you don’t need a professional camera or any special knowledge for that.
So if you looking for travel photography tips to improve your vacation pictures, this guide should help you do just that. In this article, we share some simple photography tips, but also some important travel tricks. These tips will not only take your travel photography to the next level but will also help you have a more unique travel experience. Find out!
How this article is structured. First, you’ll find general tips for travel photography, followed by simple photography tips that will help you take better pictures without much effort. Further, you’ll find some useful practical tips and things to consider when preparing for your trip. Take a look!
These are our best travel photography tips:
1. Get to Know Your Camera
First, let me make one thing clear. You do not necessarily need expensive camera gear in order to take really nice pictures. Smartphones and entry-level point-and-shoot digital cameras like this one offer excellent quality. Quality that’s more than good enough for a family album, social media stories, or a print to hang on the wall.
However, no matter what kind of camera or smartphone you use for travel photography, it’s always useful to take some time and familiarize yourself with it. After all, you don’t want to miss some unique photo opportunities because of the time it takes you to set up your camera.
Each device has somewhat different settings and a big range of possibilities. Even if you use just a few of those settings once in a while, you’ll improve your photography skills and get better pictures.
Here you can find our hand-picked selection of some really good cameras for travel for all budgets sold on Amazon.
2. Do Some Research for Trip-Specific Photography Tips
Now that I told you that you don’t need any special gear, I also have to add that some types of travel photography might indeed require some special equipment or knowledge.
For example, if you are visiting Nordic countries in winter, you’ll probably want to learn the basics of the Northern Lights photography. You may want to research if there are any special aurora photography apps for your phone. However – if you want some decent pictures – you’ll definitely need a good tripod and a somewhat better camera with manual settings for this type of travel photography.
This is also the case for a trip where you are planning to take pictures of wildlife. Often, your smartphone and cheaper cameras will just not be sufficient for really good pictures. So if you are planning a safari in Africa, you may want to research what kind of cameras and lenses you need for wildlife photography.
3. Experiment with Camera Settings
Don’t be afraid to exit the ‘auto’ mode of your camera and experiment with the settings. Even something as simple as switching off or forcing the flash, can make a huge difference already.
If you are using a smartphone, you probably just use the standard photo and video settings. But if you look a bit deeper, you’ll see that there are other options as well.
Most smartphones also have panorama mode (great for wide panoramas in the mountains or cityscapes), selective focus mode (nice for portraits), or even one for food or night photography. Usually, there’s also a ‘pro’ mode where you can play with different white balance settings, etc.
If you have a DSLR camera, you may want to learn just a little bit about white balance, ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. Change the white balance and your pictures taken on a grey rainy day will become warmer. Change the shutter speed and you have a silky waterfall. Change the ISO sensitivity and you’ll be able to take pictures in low light without the flash…
4. Look for Different Angles
Standing in front of a landmark you visit, you suddenly realize everyone around you is holding cameras and smartphones, taking the exact same pictures… Sounds familiar?
Do you want your travel pictures to be different? It’s easier than you think! All you have to do is simply use your legs.
Sit down, kneel down, even lie down if necessary. Or try to climb somewhat higher. Get closer to your subject or move further away. Go left, go right, go behind… You get the picture. Literally – you get a better, more unique picture just by changing the angle.
5. Try Different Compositions
One of the easiest ways to improve your photography skills is by learning how to make a good composition. Sometimes by simply recomposing your shot just a bit differently, you get a picture that tells a more powerful story.
Most people take pictures with the subject right in the middle. And while sometimes it can result in a beautiful shot, more often you get an ordinary image. Often, you can really bring your pictures to life by simply moving your subject away from the center.
You may have heard of the famous rule of thirds. Divide your picture frame into 3 imaginary lines and 3 columns and place the subject at the intersection of those lines. Take a look at the sleeping koala picture to see what I mean.
Shooting landscapes? Put your horizon at either top or bottom third of the photo. Also, use natural lines, such as a forest path or a twist in the road to help guide the viewer through your photograph.
Taking pictures of people or animals? Try to also place your subject in such a way that they are looking towards your picture and not away from it.
6. Explore Deeper
Some of the best travel pictures are not those that are taken right in front of the famous landmarks. For more authentic travel photography, try to get just a bit off the beaten path.
If you are walking around the city, don’t stick to a plan or try to follow the map exactly. If you see an interesting side street or an alley, turn in and check it out. If you are road-tripping and stumble upon some interesting roadside attractions or local events, stop and check it out…
Also, ask locals or other tourists for some cool spots and hidden gems. You’ll be surprised at how many incredible locations are not mentioned in any travel guides. Don’t be afraid to talk to people and ask for some tips.
We have had some amazing travel experiences just because we talked to people. And even if it doesn’t always lead to the best photo spots, you might find delicious local food, quirky shops, or some interesting street art.
7. Include People or Objects
Another easy way to improve your travel photography is by including people or objects in your pictures. Not only do you get better and more unique photos, but they also tell a story.
Look around for something or someone you can include in your picture to give it a different feeling or perspective.
Think of people (locals, kids, really old people – don’t forget to ask for permission!), animals, flowers, tree branches, road signs… For a more personal perspective, try including your own arms or legs, etc.
Even just including a few wildflowers in your composition can make your landscape pictures stand out. You can also frame your images using tree branches and leaves. You can show the size of a building or a tree by including people or cars in that same image.
There are so many ways to be creative; often you only have to look around with different eyes!
8. Look for Colors
When traveling, always keep an eye out for bold, vivid colors. Pictures with strong colors are often more powerful and bring the place back to life in your photos.
It can be anything from colorful buildings (focus on details like walls, doors), to cars, buses, bikes, or scooters. But also local markets and traditional clothing often give you a chance to take some unique colorful travel pictures.
TIP: If you are traveling to a place that isn’t really known for being colorful, wear some bright clothing yourself. A bright jacket can make all your gloomy vacation pictures so much more special.
9. Look for Details
For more interesting travel pictures, try to look for some interesting details everywhere you travel. It can be something local, something unique to that place, or maybe a special detail in the architecture of a building.
Also, get close, really close to your subject. Very often, details tell a stronger story than the whole!
Sometimes you get frustrated because you can’t fit the whole building into a picture. Or you are at a colorful lively market, but your pictures don’t portray any of that special atmosphere… Remember that often less is more and concentrate on a few details rather than trying to capture everything.
10. Have Your Camera Ready
Some of our best travel pictures are often taken unexpectedly, without any planning. It’s especially so with trips that involve wildlife. You just never know when you’ll get to see animals or what they’ll do, so you should always have your camera at hand and ready to take a picture.
Of course, pictures that you take unexpectedly will often not be perfect in composition, or maybe even a bit blurry. You can often solve it with some post-editing afterwards. But at least you got the shot!
Another example of the importance of having your camera ready is when you’re taking a picture of something that you only do once and it moves fast (like in our picture on the fun zip-line experience in Switzerland – see below). You have to be ready to take a picture and it helps if you put your camera in the continuous shooting mode. That way, you can take lots of pictures in just a few seconds, and afterwards keep the best ones.
11. Do Something Fun
It’s impossible to get spontaneous pictures of the whole family if you don’t have a photographer following you around the whole day. So if you want to take some fun vacation pictures, the best way to go about it is to actually do something fun.
If you are taking pictures of your kids or your travel companions, simply ask them to do something and actually pose for a picture.
We all want candid shots, but they hardly ever happen, especially when you want to get several people in the same picture. But if you make an effort, you can easily take some really nice vacation pictures of you and your family.
12. Be Patient & Take Your Time
Travel photography is what you make of it. You can just take a picture and move on, but for the best pictures, you need to take your time and be patient.
Often, you don’t have much time when we travel, and you find yourself running from one place to the other. But even if you slow down just a little bit, even if you wait just a few moments, you might be able to take a much better picture.
It might mean waiting for the perfect light or for another person to move away from your composition, but it usually pays off.
13. Just Take That Picture!
Sometimes, you see a beautiful place, but you have no time to stop for a picture, or the light is not perfect, or the weather isn’t ideal, or there are too many clouds… So you swear to do it later or on your way back.
But then the weather changes for even worse, the mist comes up, or something else happens, and you never get a second chance.
This happened several times to us. So now we always take a picture when we see an interesting opportunity. Even if it’s not perfect, at least you got the shot. And if you do come back and the conditions are better indeed, you can always take another picture.
And sometimes, you get some really interesting pictures that way.
14. Travel Light
It’s always so tempting to pack the perfect camera or lens for all the possible situations you might encounter on your trip. But that also means that you’re always carrying so much unnecessary gear. Not only is it expensive to buy and heavy to carry around, but it also limits your flexibility. Not even to mention that expensive camera gear can put you at risk in certain places you visit.
Often, having more photography gear to deal with might actually lead to you missing the best photo opportunities. You may find that you are constantly switching lenses trying to get that perfect shot while your travel companions are simply enjoying the scenery.
So pack wisely, considering what kind of pictures you think you’ll be taking. My personal rule is to never pack more than two lenses for my DSLR camera. If we visit cities, I usually just go with one lens. For nature and wildlife, I pack a good telelens as well. Sometimes, it’s a tough choice which lenses to pack, but you also learn to be more creative that way.
TIP: If you are not a professional or a semi-professional photographer and don’t absolutely need a DSLR camera for your travel photography, simply get a really good point-and-shoot camera with a good optical zoom (something like this). That way you always have the right ‘lens’ with you. There are so many versatile cameras nowadays that offer great quality. So don’t make your trip more stressful than necessary.
15. Pack a Tripod
Now that I told you to travel light, I also have to say that – for some trips – you really should consider packing a good tripod. It can be bulky and heavy to carry around, but it is also unmissable for certain types of photography.
If you are planning to take pictures early in the morning or late in the evening, if you are photographing waterfalls or Northern Lights, a tripod is a must. But even if you simply want to have the whole family in one picture, it’s often useful to have a tripod. And yes, you can also ask other people to take a picture, but we all know how those pictures usually turn out to be…
There are many different kinds of tripods and you should get one that can steadily hold your camera. For the smallest cameras or smartphones, you can use something like a GorillaPod. For heavier DSLR cameras, we recommend Manfrotto tripods – they are available in many different sizes and models.
My experience shows that for travel photography, the more compact and lighter the tripod is, the more you’ll use it. Just make sure that it can hold the camera and the lens that you have.
16. Pack Enough Memory Cards & Extra Batteries
Always, always pack more memory cards than you think you’d need. They are really not that expensive anymore and as the camera quality gets better and picture size larger, you may run out of space on your memory card. So always have a few extra cards.
Also, get memory cards that are fast so that you don’t need to wait for the camera to save a picture before you can take a new one. If you are traveling to places with extremely hot or cold weather, make sure that you have quality memory cards that can work in any conditions.
Always pack at least one back-up battery set (and make sure that it’s charged) and carry it with you. There’s no use in having a set of extra batteries in your hotel room or in the car; they should always be at hand.
If you are using your smartphone for photography, take a power bank and a cable so that you can easily recharge your phone during the day. In any case, a good light and compact power bank is a must for any trip these days!
17. Be Respectful & Be Careful
One of the most important things any traveler should remember is to be respectful. Respect other people, nature, and local rules and regulations. Also, just use common sense and don’t do things that you wouldn’t want others to do to you.
Don’t go trampling wildflowers even if there are no signs asking not to do that. And definitely don’t go past the signs asking you not to – there’s always a reason for that, even if it might not look obvious to you. Don’t go on private property and try to always ask people before taking a picture of them. When in doubt, don’t take the shot.
Also, don’t go jumping at the edge of a cliff just because it looks cool or you saw someone else post crazy pictures like that on Instagram. Too many accidents happen every year because people are trying to get some perfect angle for their picture and misstep too far… No picture is worth it!
Having said that, we also have quite some pictures taken at the places that look quite dangerous. But in our case, it’s more about finding the right angle to make it look more special. We are always extremely careful and we do our best to always stay on paths and never cross the line or a sign asking not to do it.
18. Get up Early & Stay Late
Photography is all about the light, and it’s not a secret that the best times for pictures are at dawn and at dusk. Photographers call this the Golden Hour. So one of the best travel photography tips I can give you is to make an extra effort and get out of bed early in the morning and stay up late.
Not only will you get better pictures this way, but you will also experience some incredible sunsets and sunrises that will make your trip more special!
Another advantage of getting up early is that you can explore even the most popular travel destinations without the crowds. Most tourists never get to their destination before 9-10 AM, so those few hours in the morning will not only help you get better travel pictures but will also make your travel experience so much more unique.
Unfortunately, this is not really the case at sunset at most destinations, because many people love to stay up for sunset. However, you’ll still have more beautiful light and more special colors for your pictures. Also, some destinations that are popular with day-trippers, are very quiet in the evening. So if you can, book accommodation very close-by and stay longer! This brings me to the next two points.
19. Book Your Accommodation Wisely
This might look like a strange tip for travel photography, but the location of your accommodation can have a huge influence on your trip and on the pictures you’ll be able to take.
Spending a night at a popular day trip destination will allow you to explore the place without the crowds of day-trippers. Staying close to a specific landmark might give you unique opportunities to photograph it in a different light and at different times during the day.
Staying inside a national park might mean that you’ll be able to explore it from dawn to dark and even at night. You might be able to photograph incredible skies at night or get to see wildlife just at your doorstep at dawn. Even just booking a room with a nice view can give you chances to take pictures you’d never be able to get otherwise.
So keep this in mind when choosing your accommodation. Some of the most special travel experiences we had during our trips wouldn’t have been possible if we had chosen another accommodation.
Some of those include watching whales from our hotel in Ilulissat, Greenland, or exploring the fairytale castles of San Marino at sunset with hardly anyone else around, or watching wildlife at dusk and in the dark in Etosha National Park in Namibia… And these are just a few examples.
20. Research the Best Photography Spots and Locations
If you want to take some really nice pictures while traveling, it’s helpful to do some research in advance. Once you are on a trip, you hardly ever have the time to scout the best photography locations. It’s very easy to overlook some nice places or special angles when you’re visiting somewhere for the first time.
One of the best ways to research the best locations is by checking images of your destination online. Just type in your destination name on Google Image search, and you’ll see what kind of images come up. You can then try to find their exact location and potentially even mark it in your Google Maps account.
Another good way to find some of the nicest photo spots is by looking on Instagram. However, this also often leads to ‘Instagram tourism’ and everyone taking the exact same pictures of the same ‘instagrammable’ places…
For some places, it might be important to research when the light is best for photography. This usually highly depends on the direction of the sun. Whichs brings us to the last tip…
21. Don’t Forget Why You Travel & Enjoy Your Trip
If you are on vacation, it will be impossible to always be in the right place at the best possible time. Also, the weather will play a role and some unforeseen circumstances. So no matter how much research you do or which camera gear you have, often, you simply won’t be able to get the best pictures.
Remember that those perfect images that you see in the travel brochures were usually taken by professional photographers. Usually, they stay at the same location for at least a few days, scout out the best times and angles, and go back to the same place a few times in order to capture that perfect light and composition.
So unless photography is the main goal of your trip, don’t stress about it. Remember why you travel in the first place and enjoy your vacation instead of trying to get that one perfect shot!
So, these are some of the basic travel photography tips that I wanted to share with you. As you can see, most of them have nothing to do with the camera you have or the settings you use. It’s more about being creative, looking for different angles, doing something fun, or catching the perfect light. It’s also a matter of practice. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.
I truly hope that our tips will help you get better travel pictures. But I also hope that these tips will help you have more special trips and create better memories.
Explore, take your time to look for little details, get off the beaten path, and once in a while splurge for some well-located accommodation. Trust me, it will be worth it!
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