If you’re anything like me, you know that travel isn’t just about the destinations—it’s about the stories we collect along the way. And what better way to immortalize those stories than through photography? One of my favorite ways to draw inspiration is by looking at what others have captured so here’s some travel photography tips that will elevate your next adventure and inspire others too.
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We’ve all had those “I wish I was there” moments from sunsets over the Caribbean or a mountaintop. Photos are like personal time capsules that help us relive those moments even when the memories have started to fade.
One of the beauties of photography is that it can make us pause and truly soak in our surroundings. When we take the time to look deeply at the intricate details of a Neo-Gothic palace or the kaleidoscope of colors in a foreign market, we are suddenly seeing the world with fresh eyes.
How many times have you been asked to take a photo by a stranger? Do you readily do so or shy away? I’m always happy to take photos of travelers and tourists as I pass by. Sometimes, I see people decline to help and I’m happy to jump in and snap that photo in their place. I always try to take at least 3 shots from different angles and distances so they have something memorable from that moment.
Photography transcends language barriers. We don’t have to speak the same language in order to recognize the request for a photo. We can connect in the joy of that scene, in that moment.
Once the photography bug catches you, you start looking at everything as a potential shot. Beauty steps out at you in new ways, suddenly, the light filtering through the trees looks different than before. Your travels will never look the same again.
There are so many ranges of styles and moods within photography that you’ll start to see it as a truly open canvas. Every moment you capture is like brushstrokes on that canvas that exude your full personality and perspective. You can play with moody landscapes or thrive in vibrant street scenes. And somewhere, someone else will connect to it all.
I used to be reluctant to upload my images on social media because some people mistake it for a humble brag. It is, however, a creative manifestation of your memories as well as motivation for someone else’s journey. It could be just the push someone needs to face their fears, overcome another challenge in their life, or do something they thought was impossible.
For those of us that live and breathe to travel, photography is another layer of excitement that provides a gallery of memories. And all creatives know that we continue to work on our crafts as there’s always more to learn and room for improvement.
So, grab your camera and join me as we dive into mastering the art of travel photography. It’s time to capture your world with one incredible shot at a time.
Travel Photography Gear Essentials
We need something to take pictures with, right? But guess what, the most expensive camera is not a necessity. Let’s look at the essentials and I’ll tell you what’s in my travel bag.
Cameras: DSLR vs. Mirrorless vs. Smartphone
DSLR: The Professional’s Choice
- Pros: Versatile lens options, excellent image quality, and manual controls for creative freedom.
- Cons: Bulky and can be expensive.
- Best For: Serious photographers who want full control over settings and are willing to invest in various lenses.
When I first started taking my photography a bit more seriously, I bought a DSLR. The Nikon D5600 It felt similar to my old 35MM, still bulky but it also meant learning a lot more in order to use it well. Honestly, night photos and motion still give me trouble but with practice all things get better.
Mirrorless: The Compact Powerhouse
- Pros: Nearly as powerful as a DSLR but much lighter and more compact.
- Cons: Battery life can be shorter, and lens options may be more limited.
- Best For: Travelers who want a balance between quality and portability.
I really wanted to see what a mirrorless would be like but was not willing to invest in another camera just yet when I suddenly won the Canon EOS M200 mirrorless. The transition was very smooth.
It has many automatic features that can tempt you to always use it in AUTO mode but that might not always work for truly brilliant shots. As a traveler with kids, I don’t always have time for the truly brilliant shots either so it’s the best of both worlds.
However, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve showed up ready to take amazing photos only to find that the battery is almost dead and I’ve forgotten my backup battery. Word to the wise, carry more batteries than you think you’ll need and charge every night, most importantly when traveling.
Smartphone: The Everyday Hero
- Pros: Always with you, quick to draw and shoot, and improving in quality every year.
- Cons: Limited manual controls and not as versatile as dedicated cameras.
- Best For: Casual photographers, spontaneous shots, and those who prioritize convenience.
I’m not joking when I call the smartphone the Superman of cameras. It’s always in your pocket anyway and can be just what you need to take inconspicuous photos quickly. Depending on the location, it is sometimes all I bring with me to capture photos.
Lenses: Wide-angle, Telephoto, Prime
- What it is: Lenses with a short focal length, usually between 10-24mm.
- Best For: Capturing expansive landscapes, architecture, and large group photos.
While there are plenty of high-end, wide-angle lenses out there, I’ve found a budget friendly alternative that does a nice job – the MC HD 0.43x wide angle lens. It’s a great option for those of us that want to capture a sweeping landscape or cityscape for less.
Another great option is the Vivitar 52mm 0.43X Professional Wide Angle Lens with Macro. The bonus macro feature can help you accomplish some beautiful close up shots as well.
- What it is: Lenses with a long focal length, starting at 70mm and going up.
- Best For: Wildlife photography, sports, and capturing distant subjects.
A good telephoto lens is the envy of wildlife photography enthusiasts and anyone wanting to secure “up close shots” from a distance. For this, I turn to my Canon Zoom EF 75-300mm lens. If you use a mirrorless like me, you’re wondering how to use that lens. You can use it with a mount adapter like the EF-EOS M adapter. It works beautifully, allowing me to still take detailed shots from afar.
For those occasions when space and weight are a concern, I’ve found the Vivitar HD 4 MC AF High Def 2.2x Telephoto Converter to be a fantastic alternative. It’s compact, lightweight, and offers a little extra reach when you need it.
- What it is: Lenses with a fixed focal length, known for their sharpness and quality.
- Best For: Portraits, low-light conditions, and when you want a shallow depth of field.
While I don’t personally carry a dedicated prime lens, they are popular favorites by many photographers for their optical quality and low-light capabilities. If you’re looking to specialize in portraits or enjoy shooting in varied lighting conditions, a prime lens could be a worthy investment.
Accessories: Tripods, Filters, Memory Cards
Why You Need One: For long-exposure shots, time-lapses, and stable video recording.
There are so many different types of tripods that you can get and in many price ranges. You may even find that you have acquired 2 or 3 before you know it. The best one is the one that matches your needs, whether it’s for your cell phone, DSLR, or to take videos.
If you’re a smartphone user who loves capturing videos, consider a 2-in-1 solution like a gimbal-tripod combo. I personally use the DJI Osmo Mobile 5, which serves me well for both photography and videography. The newer DJI Osmo Mobile 6 offers additional features like improved stabilization and tracking capabilities, but the 5 still holds its own and is my go-to for its versatility.
For DSLR users, my kit came with a content creator package that includes a tripod grip with a detachable Bluetooth remote, making it incredibly convenient for capturing both photos and videos.
Why You Need Them: Sometimes, you need to manage light, reduce glare, and add creative effects in situations where you can’t control the timing of natural light.
I use the Vivitar Multi-Coated Filter Kit, which includes three types of filters: UV Protective, CPL (Circular Polarizing), and FLD (Fluorescent). Let’s break down what each one does:
UV Protective Filter: Think of this as sunscreen for your lens. It protects against harmful UV rays that can affect your image quality. Plus, it offers an extra layer of protection for your lens against scratches and dust.
CPL (Circular Polarizing) Filter: Ever notice how sometimes the sky looks washed out in photos, or reflections in water and windows distract from the subject? A CPL filter helps you control that. It deepens the blue sky and reduces glare and reflections, making your outdoor shots pop.
FLD (Fluorescent) Filter: Photography indoors under fluorescent lighting can have an unnatural greenish or bluish hue. An FLD filter corrects this, balancing out the color and making your indoor shots look more natural.
The trick to all of these is remembering to use them when you’re on the go.
Why You Need Them: High-resolution photos and videos can eat up storage quickly.
I’ve tried various memory cards, and here’s a quick comparison of the ones I frequently use:
SAMSUNG EVO 256GB microSDXC: This card offers a generous amount of storage, making it ideal for long trips where you’ll be taking lots of high-resolution photos and videos. It’s also quite speedy, ensuring that you won’t miss a moment waiting for your card to write data.
PNY 128GB Elite-X Class 10 U3 V30 SDXC: This card is a solid performer with fast write speeds, thanks to its U3 V30 classification. It’s great for shooting 4K video and high-speed photography. With 128GB, it offers a good balance between storage capacity and speed.
SanDisk 200GB Ultra microSDXC UHS-I with Adapter: This card provides a lot of storage and comes with an adapter, making it versatile for use in different devices. While it may not be as fast as the others, it’s reliable and offers ample space for lots of photos and videos.
Each of these cards has its own strengths and weaknesses, so the best one for you will depend on your specific needs—whether that’s maximum storage, speed, or versatility.
What’s Normally in My Bag
The contents of my camera bag can vary dramatically depending on several factors: who’s joining me on the adventure, our destination, and what kind of shots I intend to capture.
Daily Outings: For a casual day exploring local attractions, I often opt for the simplicity of my smartphone, the Google Pixel 7 Pro. Let’s be honest, lugging around a full camera bag isn’t always practical when you’re just out for a leisurely stroll.
Extended Travels: On the flip side, when I’m jet-setting across continents or embarking on a multi-week journey—say, exploring the rich landscapes and cultures of Europe—I pack my bag to the brim with photographic essentials.
Tripods: While I own a standard tripod, it’s usually the first item I leave behind in favor of my two compact tripods. They’re incredibly versatile and adjust well in many settings with creative positioning.
Batteries, Filters, and Memory Cards: These are non-negotiables. You never want to find yourself in the perfect moment only to realize you’re out of storage or power. I always pack extras to ensure I’m covered.
Dedicated Camera Bag: Last but not least, a specialized camera bag is crucial. It’s not just about organization; it’s about protecting your investment. These bags are designed to cushion and secure your gear, giving you peace of mind as you traverse cobblestone streets or navigate through crowded markets.
Composition is the basis of your photographic masterpiece. Let’s talk about the first techniques to work on that all the pros swear by.
Rule of Thirds
What it is: Imagine your image is divided into nine equal segments by two vertical and two horizontal lines. The rule of thirds says that you should position the most important elements along these lines, or at the points where they intersect.
Why: It creates balance and directs the viewer’s eye.
Rule of Thirds Tricks for Smartphone Photography
- Activate Grid Lines: Most smartphones have an option to display grid lines on the camera screen. Turn this feature on to make it easier to align your subject with the Rule of Thirds grid.
- Off-Center Your Subject: Rather than placing your subject smack dab in the middle, try positioning it along one of the vertical lines. This creates a more dynamic, interesting composition.
- Horizon Placement: When capturing landscapes, align the horizon with one of the horizontal grid lines. Placing it in the middle can make the photo feel split and unbalanced.
- Use Negative Space: The areas between your subject and the grid lines serve as negative space. Use this space creatively to make your subject stand out.
- Tap to Focus: On a smartphone, you can tap on the screen to focus on your subject. Use it to ensure that the subject, which you’ve ideally placed at an intersection of grid lines, is in sharp focus.
- Experiment with Angles: Don’t just shoot from eye level. Try different angles and perspectives to make your composition more intriguing. The grid lines will still help you maintain balance in the shot.
Remember, rules are bendable. Once you’re comfortable with the Rule of Thirds, play with it to find your own unique style. After all, the best photos come from thinking outside the box—or grid!
What it is: Using natural or architectural lines to guide the viewer’s eye towards the subject.
Why: It creates a visual journey from one part of the image to another.
Leading Lines Tricks for Captivating Photography
- Spot Natural Lines: Look for natural lines in your environment. This could be a road, a trail, a row of trees, or even a stream. Use these lines to guide the viewer’s eye toward your subject.
- Architectural Elements: Buildings offer great leading lines. Think staircases, doorways, and windows. Use these elements to frame your subject or guide the viewer’s eye through the scene.
- Use Perspective: Get low or high to change the perspective of the lines. This can make them more dramatic and impactful.
- Frame Your Subject: Use lines to frame the main subject of your photo. This naturally draws the eye to the focal point and can add a creative touch to your composition.
- Converging Lines: These are lines that meet at a point in the distance, like railroad tracks or a long hallway. They create a sense of depth and can make your photo more intriguing.
- Break the Mold: Don’t be afraid to use curved or zigzag lines for a more dynamic composition. While straight lines offer a sense of order, curves and zigzags can add excitement and unpredictability.
Framing and Depth of Field
- What it is: Using elements within the image to frame the subject, and playing with the focus to create a sense of depth.
- Why: It adds layers to the image, making it more visually interesting.
Framing Tricks for Eye-Catching Photos
- Natural Frames: Look for natural elements like trees, archways, or windows to frame your subject. This not only adds interest but also helps isolate your subject from a busy background.
- Man-Made Frames: Doorways, fences, and even people can be effective frames.
- Partial Framing: You don’t always need a complete frame to make an impact. Even partial framing can guide the viewer’s eye and add depth to your composition.
- Play with Light and Shadow: There’s no rule that says a frame is required to be a physical object. You can use light and shadow to create a dynamic frame also.
Depth of Field Tricks for Stunning Photography
- Aperture Settings: If you’re using a camera with manual settings, a lower f-number will give you a shallower depth of field, making your subject stand out in contrast to a blurry background.
- Distance Matters: The closer you are to your subject, the shallower the depth of field will be. Use this to your advantage when you want to isolate your subject.
- Background and Foreground: Pay attention to what’s behind and in front of your subject. A cluttered background can distract, while a simple one can enhance it.
- Smartphone Tips: Most smartphones offer a ‘Portrait Mode’ that simulates a shallow depth of field. It’s a handy feature for achieving a professional look without manual settings.
Quick Tips for On-the-Go Composition
Sometimes, you only have a moment to capture something really extraordinary. But the goal is to immerse yourself in your travels, not just witness them through the lens. So, how do you strike that balance?
Capturing the Essence in a Snap
- Shadow Play: When I’m wandering through gardens or other natural settings, I’m always on the hunt for intriguing shadows. They can add a layer of depth and mystery to an otherwise ordinary scene.
- Natural Frames: Midday visits often mean harsh lighting, which is far from ideal for photography. But conversely, I use this as an opportunity to find natural frames—like archways of trees or floral enclosures—that can add a unique touch to my photos.
- Speed and Agility: When you’re trying to soak up your surroundings, accompanied by kids, you’ve got to move quickly. I’ve mastered the art of quick-draw photography. I take multiple shots from various angles—low, high, you name it—to ensure I’ve captured every possible perspective and then I often have to play catch up as my family has moved on without me.
By using these elements to my advantage, I manage to capture stunning photos without missing out on the experience itself. It’s all about being in the moment, but also preserving it for years to come.
I love people watching, from markets to festivals and public spaces. Photography has the ability to connect us on a very personal level. Capturing the essence of a culture while traveling can be one of the most rewarding experiences. But it is also a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. Because your lens has the power to either tell a story or perpetuate stereotypes, it’s critical to approach cultural photography with awareness and respect.
Tips for Ethical and Impactful Cultural Photography
- Ask for Permission: Always ask for permission before taking photos of people, especially in sensitive or sacred places. A simple gesture can go a long way in showing respect.
- Context is Key: Try to capture the broader scene around your subject. This provides context and tells a more complete story.
- Engage and Learn: Don’t just shoot and leave. Spend time engaging with the community. The more you learn, the more depth and authenticity you can bring to your photos.
- Be Mindful of Symbols: Understand the cultural significance of objects or symbols before including them in your shots. What might be just a “cool backdrop” to you could be a sacred space to others.
- Capture Everyday Moments: Sometimes the most telling cultural insights come from everyday activities rather than staged or touristy scenes. Look for these candid moments.
- Review and Reflect: Before sharing your photos, take a moment to review them. Do they perpetuate stereotypes or provide a nuanced view of the culture?
The ultimate muse, sweet and sometimes violent Mother Nature. It can be incredibly hard to convey the humbling feelings of standing under the grandeur of a mountain range or the intricate beauty of a single leaf. Here are some of my best tips for capturing nature’s golden beaches and other majestic wonders.
Tips for Capturing Nature’s Majesty
- Golden Hour Glow: The golden hour—shortly after sunrise or before sunset—provides the most flattering light. It adds a warm glow and softer shadows that can elevate your nature shots to the next level.
- Focus on Details: While it’s easy to be swept away by grand landscapes, don’t overlook the subtle nuances. The texture of a leaf, the pattern of a butterfly’s wing, or even the droplets on a flower can create beautiful shots.
- Use a Tripod: For landscape shots, particularly in lower light conditions, a tripod can be invaluable. It allows for slower shutter speeds without the risk of camera shake, capturing more detail and depth.
- Wildlife Ethics: If you’re photographing animals, maintain a respectful distance. Use a telephoto lens to get closer shots without disturbing them.
- Be Patient: Nature photography often requires waiting for the right moment when the light, landscape, and wildlife all align. Patience is key.
- Plan but Be Flexible: While it’s good to have a plan, nature is unpredictable. Prepare to adapt to the conditions and seize unexpected opportunities.
There are many ways to edit, some pros do very little editing while others create surreal worlds through editing. Don’t be afraid to play around with edits to make your photos pop. It’s a way to refine your work and can turn a good photo into a great one.
You can easily edit on your smartphone with many good free and paid apps to use including Lightroom, Photo Editor Pro, PhotoShop Express, or Snapseed.
Here are some of the best ways to improve your photos quickly.
Elevate Your Photos Through Editing
- Simple tweaks like exposure, contrast, and white balance can have a huge impact on the photo.
- Look at your horizon and straighten or crop your photo to improve composition or put more emphasis on your subject. (Consider the Rule of Thirds when cropping.)
- Play with the colors – adjust the hues, saturation, and luminance for change in color and mood.
- Learn how to use masking and make selective edits to change only one area of a photo.
- Clean up your image by removing distractions with retouching tools and erasers.
- Find your favorite filter or preset and while the same filter doesn’t work on every photo, remember to adjust it as needed so your photo style shines through. Save your adjusted style for quick edits in the future.
- Always keep an original copy.
There you have it, my ultimate guide to mastering travel photography. Just remember that the best camera is the one you have with you. The best shot is the one that captures your unique perspective.
Don’t wait till you’re on location to learn how to use a new camera. Use a walk in the park and take time at home to explore and play with your surroundings and build your photography skills before your big trip.
- Master techniques like the Rule of Thirds, Leading Lines, Framing, and Depth of Field to elevate your shots.
- Whether it’s a bustling market in a foreign land or a tranquil mountain landscape, aim to capture the soul of the place.
- Whether you’re shooting with a DSLR, a mirrorless camera, or a smartphone, it’s your skill and vision that will make the photo unique.
- Post-processing is not cheating; it’s an art form that can enhance your photos and help you achieve your vision.
Every morning, you have a new day to go out and capture something interesting or to tell a visual story of your experiences no matter where you are. It’s your world, your lens, and your story.
- My Top 5 Photography Book Recommendations
- National Geographic Photo Basics: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Great Photography
- Understanding Street Photography: An Introduction to Shooting Compelling Images on the Street
- Stunning Digital Photography
- Seeing Silence: The Beauty of the World’s Most Quiet Places
- Digital Photography Complete Course: Learn Everything You Need to Know in 20 Weeks
- BONUS – Read for Free with Kindle Unlimited: Cellphone Photography Mastermind – Take Incredible Photos with iPhone and Android Using The Pro Techniques: Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Great Photography
Find these and more for your travel photo journey on Amazon.
Online Courses to Hone Your Skills