1. Always have your camera ready.
50% of photography is skill, the other 50% is luck. If luck presents itself, you need to be prepared.
This is especially true when you’re in nature. Wildlife doesn’t sit still for pretty pictures, so have your camera out, turned on, and ready to snap. That’s one of the reasons phone cameras are superior to traditional cameras – they’re always prepared.
2. Keep moving.
If you’re gonna do travel photography, you need to travel. Stay in a place only as long as you need to in order to capture its essence. Make the most of your travels by being in new places as frequently as possible.
Remember, you’re not trying to document a location. You just need a snapshot. Travel photography is about variety, not necessarily depth.
3. Travel light.
You don’t have to be backpacker to be a travel photographer (though that’s an awesome experience). You don’t need to be able to climb mountains with 40 lbs on your back.
Don’t lug around a bunch of gear. Don’t lug around a bunch of non-photography gear either. Everything you need should fit in a day-pack or regular backpack. Look for some equipment made of carbon fiber or other light materials to keep the weight manageable.
Smartphones beat traditional cameras in weight every time.
4. Take original photos.
Also known as “take the path less traveled”, this is all about staying off the beaten path. The world doesn’t need another picture of a person holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Besides, once you get away from the classic photo spots that everyone uses you can find some incredible opportunities. You have room to be creative, try new things, and develop your style. Try to find a shot no one has ever taken before. That’s how you make a name (and memories).
5. Exotic doesn’t have to mean far away.
If you’re taking macro-photography photos of leaves or other nature-y stuff, no one can tell if you’re in Louisiana or Cambodia.
Travel can mean 20 minutes to a nearby forest, a few hours to a national park, or across the world. Practice techniques of travel photography nearby before you make that long, expensive trip abroad.
6. Immerse yourself in the culture.
Once you do go abroad, remember that you’re an outsider… until you ingratiate yourself. Meet the locals, eat their food, take part in their recreation.
If you want to find unique photo ops, this is how you do it. Not as a tourist with a selfie-stick, but by living the life of the locals. You can’t know what photos you should be taking until you have a better understanding of the place and the people.
7. Get to know your subject before taking the shot.
This is not just a courtesy – it’s the best way to capture context.
Anyone can take a picture of an orphan at a bus stop in the rain. Tear-jerking, sure. But how do you even know that kid is an orphan? Maybe they’re waiting for their dad to get back from work?
You need to ask permission anyway. So find out their story while you’re at it. Once you know the truth, you’ll be able to capture a photo with more accurate context (and they’ll appreciate you taking the time).
8. The early bird gets the worm.
You’ve heard it before, but I’ll say it again. Mornings offer the best light for most photos (especially landscapes).
A lot of travel photography takes place on vacation. And, while it might not be very relaxing to wake up at 5:30, it is in your best interest. That warm light enables some of the crispest images you’ll get.
Besides, the glory of golden hour is a feeling worth waking up for.
9. Know your equipment before you go.
You need to practice with your gear before you jet off to some obscure corner of the world. The top of the Himalayas is not the place to be fiddling with that new lens.
Save yourself time and frustration by working out the kinks while you’re still at home. You need to know the capacity of your equipment – what it excels at and things you should avoid.
Here are some recommended phone photography peripherals.
10. Learn post-processing basics.
Anyone who thinks they’re gonna be an au naturale photographer and go far is kidding themselves. All professional photographers use Photoshop (or something similar) to some degree.
To bring your photography to the next level, you’ll need to learn the basics. Even just learning something as simple as adjusting contrast can make a huge difference.
Good photos are taken, great photos are made.
11. Don’t use Auto mode.
Hopefully, if you’re at the point where you want to do travel photography, you’re not still using the Auto setting on your camera.
Honestly, I’m not sure why they include it on high-end cameras. Using manual affords you much more customization, which is ultimately how you get the best picture. Learn about shutter speeds, aperture, and the like if you want to get serious.
This goes for traditional cameras and smartphones. No matter how good your iPhone auto setting is, you could do better with manual
12. Do use the Rule of Thirds.
While this is an elementary concept for photography, it bears repeating. When you find something fascinating, which happens often while traveling, you’ll be tempted to just point and click.
Take another second, though, and set up the photo. Don’t put the subject in the center. That causes the viewer of your photo to only see the subject. Put it on one of the imaginary “thirds” lines, so that your viewer’s eye is drawn to the rest of the photo as well.
13. Get in your own photos!
It’s easy to forget (or omit, if you’re camera shy). You’re traveling! Get proof that these pictures are you, and not stolen from Google images.
Travel photography is the best kind of photography because you’re exploring while you’re practicing your art. It’s an adventure. Make memories. Take pictures of yourself so that you can recall those memories even better.
14. Get lost.
This is similar to the tip about getting off the beaten path, but there’s a different goal.
This one is about getting out of your comfort zone. Test yourself and your photography by throwing yourself into an unfamiliar situation.
You will survive. You’ll grow, too. And if you’re lucky, you’ll find some awesome shots that have never been taken… as well as a fresh perspective.
15. Don’t forget extra batteries (and memory).
Since we’re talking phones here, this means you should bring an external battery pack to recharge. If you’re shooting in raw (which you totally should for post-processing purposes), you’ll likely need an extra micro-SD card or two.
Sorry Apple users.
If your phone dies, though, you’ll be forced to experience the trip yourself (rather than behind a lens). That’s a positive. On the other hand, you’ll inevitably find amazing vistas and once-in-a-lifetime shots if your camera is dead (or the memory is full).
16. The best camera is the one you have with you.
You don’t have to go buy a brand new DSLR for 3 grand. These days, most high-end phones are perfectly acceptable for use in serious travel photography.
17. Have flexible equipment.
You could take this literally and get a flexible mini tripod, or understand that I simply mean bring generalist equipment.
If you took every camera, lens, and tripod you might need for a given picture you’ll collapse before you can find the shot! Limit yourself to one good camera, one or two all-purpose lenses, and maybe a tripod. Remember, travel light.
Besides, challenging yourself to make a picture good without optimal equipment can help you develop your skill (and even some new techniques!).
18. Find lines, angles, and symmetry.
While these kinds of things are common in our built environment, they’re much more rare in nature.
Finding and exploiting such phenomena will make for incredible photographs. Humans unconsciously look for patterns, so if you supply it in an unconventional setting your photo will certainly turn heads.
19. Keep it simple.
Being in a new place can be overwhelming. When you’re excited about something, it can be tempting to try to record everything all at once.
We can’t really comprehend all that much simultaneously, though. Instead of taking a panorama of a busy market street, try focusing on one facet at a time. Take a picture of the fruit stand. Catch that cute kid. Get a close up of the donkey.
Getting each part individually allows for easier and better photos. View them all later for a more comprehensive picture than you would have gotten with that wide angle lens.
20. Keep learning.
Maybe this goes without saying, but no one is ever done learning. Even National Geographic photographers have room to grow.
When you’re out doing travel photography you are in the unique position where you can create new situations, create new challenges, and create new opportunity. This is the time to try something new and fail spectacularly – you still learn as a result.
21. Don’t forget to put down the camera sometimes.
Remember that ultimately travel photography isn’t about your portfolio or your Insta. It’s about having new experiences. It’s about making stories you can tell your kids about one day.
Don’t spend your whole trip behind the lens. Your pictures should remind you of the time you had – not be the only evidence of your travels. Have fun while you’re out there!
Do you have any travel tips we didn’t get to? Share them in the comments below!