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21 Travel Photography Tips (Secrets from the Pros)

21 min read
21 Travel Photography Tips (Secrets from the Pros)

Here are our best travel photography tips for beginners and intermediates, based on our experience of going from complete beginners to professional travel photographers, and now working in the industry for 8 years.

Picture this.

You finally book a trip to your ultimate bucket list destination.

Antarctica, Iceland, Namibia, Bali, seeing the Aurora Borealis – wherever it is, you’ve waited your whole life to finally visit.

Naturally you are going to want to capture the best travel photos possible of this once-in-a-lifetime adventure to share with your portrfriends and family members, on social media, and maybe even print on the wall at home.

Moments in time or a travel experience that you always want to cherish.

So you’ve splashed out on a new camera based on expert recommendations, and you’re keen to hit the road.

But here’s the problem – you don’t have the faintest idea how to get the same kinds of images you see in postcards or on the internet.

The kinds of travel photos that just pop, stand out from the rest, inspire you to book a flight immediately.

Luckily that’s where we come in.

We’ve been fortunate enough to work as professional travel photographers for almost a decade now, being paid to fly around the world, running photography workshops, take pictures for the tourism industry and tell stories.

And now we want to share our knowledge, secrets and insights from our travel photography journey with you so you can take better travel photos.

In this post you’ll find many of our favourite travel photography tips you need to know to come home with shots you will be proud to show off.

Today is the time to learn. Let’s begin.

Burana Tower Travel Photography Tips
The Burana Tower in Kyrgyzstan. A simple image, but one of my favourite travel photos.

General Travel Photography Tips for Beginners

To start with let me talk about the general travel photography tips that I feel are not only the most important, but also the most difficult to master.

Developing an eye for photography takes time. Years in fact. It’s a never-ending learning process, but I promise you with practice you will get much better.

And once you start to get the skills for framing and composing a shot, the rest is easy.

1) Know Your Camera

Whether you shoot on a dSLR, mirrorless, smartphone or an old film unit, the first travel photography tip is to get to know your camera equipment.

Whatever you have in your camera bag, take the time to read the instructions, play around with all the buttons and camera settings, and spend hours with it in your hand so that it becomes a part of you.

Study the menu so that if you need to change camera settings in the field you’re not spending minutes scrolling through it when timing is critical.

Also don’t forget to learn your camera’s limitations.

Does it perform well in low-light or does the image fall apart? Is it sharp wide open, or do you need to stop down to get the best clarity? Does it have inbuilt image stabilisation?

Ultimately when you pick up your camera you want to feel comfortable and know exactly how it works. Then getting better pictures will come faster and easier.

Knowing your camera allows you to capture those moments that happen quickly, like when this armadillo wandered into our campsite in Torres del Paine.

2) Focus on the Golden and Blue Hours

Light is everything when it comes to travel photography images, and there’s a good chance you’ve already heard about the golden and blue hours.

The Golden Hour is that time when the sun is low in the sky and it throws a magical, warm glow across the scene.

Think the first hour after the sun peaks in the morning, and the last hour or two before the sun drops over the horizon in the afternoon.

The Blue Hour is when the sun is below the horizon and the sky gives off a beautiful blue hue.

If you really want better travel photos, one of the best travel photography tips we can give is to get used to waking up early and stay out late to make the most of these two times of day.

If you’re not a morning person, get used to setting an alarm. Many of the great travel photos of the Taj Mahal and other tourist sites with no one in them for example were taken by people who got there early.

Taking photos in the middle of the day can still result in great shots, but in general you’ll find the blue sky too blown out unless there are some interesting clouds, and on a sunny day you’ll find the lighting conditions can be a bit harsh.

Instead use the middle of the day to get street photography, or scout out photo locations and a vantage point for your sunrise and sunset photos to come back later.

Bonus Tip – Even if it looks like the sunrise or sunset might not be so beautiful, wait around. You never know when the clouds might break or the sky randomly lights up in brilliant colours.

Fitz Roy Sunrise
We woke up early for sunrise and Mt Fitz Roy was covered in clouds. Still we stayed for a while, and the clouds eventually broke just as the sun was casting a gorgeous red glow on the mountains.

3) Plan Your Shots

Before you arrive in your tourist destinations, spend a few hours planning out your shot list of images you want to photograph.

You can get inspiration from Instagram, Google Maps, travel guides, magazines and more.

Make a note of these pictures, and then plan your day around the optimum time to shoot (sunrise or sunset for example).

Doing this will help you nail the shots you want to go, and give you more purpose and direction.

You need to know that all of the best photographers use tools like Google Maps or social media to form a shot list, and you should get used to it too.

Travel Photography Tips
Make sure you plan out your shots before you arrive to a destination.

4) Learn About Composition

You’ve probably heard about how important it is to compose a shot properly, and I bet if you’ve ever read a photography manual you would have come across the ‘rule of thirds‘.

Good composition can be the difference between an average shot and award-winning travel photos.

There’s all kinds of ‘rules’ that theoretically make a photo look nicer, such as not putting your subject in the middle of the shot, don’t cut elements out of the frame, etc.

But right now let’s go a bit into the Rule of Thirds.

This concept is where you divide your image into 9 even squares (many cameras actually have this grid line feature built into their display options).

Then what you do is you place the subjects and points of interest such as a human element along those lines and squares.

Here’s an example of how this looks:

Khongor Sand Dunes Rule Of Thirds
This very simple shot of the Khongor sand dunes in Mongolia uses the rule of thirds method to give it an interesting composition.

The idea of the rule of thirds is that this is a mathematical idea of what our eyes naturally find pleasing. So it’s good practice to incorporate this method into your shots.

Another thing to look for is leading lines that naturally draw your eye around the photo, as well as different angles and shapes.

Have a river flowing from the side of the shot up to a waterfall on the top left for example, or the foreground bending around, leading the eye towards a church at the top of the photo.

This is a skill that you’ll learn with more practice.

An important thing to remember is that rules are meant to be broken.

Get used to analysing your shots with the rule of thirds, but please don’t use it as gospel if you think a different composition would work.

Adding a human element also brings a lot of interest to a good shot, so place people in your frame.

Street Art Leading Lines
Besides being a nice, colourful photo of street art in Valparaiso, Chile, the different angles in this shot leads your eye deeper into it the image.

5) Framing, Framing and More Framing

When you look through the viewfinder or LCD screen, don’t just focus on the subject.

Make sure you run your eyes around the entire frame to make sure you’re not accidentally cutting off something important.

Double-check that the top of a mountain is fully inside the frame, or that your friend’s whole body is in the shot as an example.

This isn’t gospel, because sometimes having something cut off from the frame can be good for composition, but you’ll have to be the judge of that.

Also check to see if you can use something natural in the scene to create a frame inside your picture.

Think of looking out a window at a building, or a bent-over tree surrounding a pretty lake.

These can all help make better travel photos.

Framing Tips
Here I used the shrubs in the foreground and the tree on the right side of the image to frame the Harbour Bridge and Opera House in a natural way. The green also contrasts nicely with the blue and white.

6) Move Your Feet

This is one of the most important travel photography tips I can give – Move your feet.

Don’t just arrive to a scene and take a shot from the place you’re standing.

Instead take a few minutes to walk around and see if there is a better frame or composition.

Go closer, move back, step to the side, consider your lens’ focal length, etc.

Imagine trying to take that iconic Taj Mahal photo, only to find out later that you were 2m to the left of centre, throwing off that perfect symmetry.

Or maybe if you walk to the river’s edge you’ll be able to incorporate some interesting rocks into the scene instead of just water.

Better yet, take multiple travel photos and fill up those memory cards from the same photo locations so you have lots of options when you get home to see which is your favourite.

Angle Travel Photography Tips
When I was photographing the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan I was trying to get a lot of amazing people photos. I saw this group of people in traditional dress outside a yurt, and after saying hello I walked around looking for different angles until I found one I like. See how the out-of-focus man in the front appears to be staring at the old man in the centre?

7) Ask People for Permission

Travel photography isn’t all about capturing the most beautiful sunsets and gorgeous architecture around the world.

Travel photography is also about the people you meet. But if you’re a bit shy like me, how do you get those amazing portrait photos without feeling rude?

Simple – just ask for permission.

Asking someone for permission to take their photo is polite and respectful.

If you have had a great encounter with someone, or you just see a great opportunity and want to capture a wonderful portrait, give them a big smile and ask if it’s ok to take their photo.

You’ll find many people are more than happy to pose for a photo if you just ask (just make sure you respect them if they say no).

Silk Travel Photography Tips For Beginners
A great trick is to ask someone for permission to take their photo, and if they agree take one and then wait for them to come back to what they were doing. This lady in Uzbekistan was extracting silk from worms, and after taking a portrait shot I stood around chatting, taking a few pictures while she got back to work.

But what if you want to get a candid shot, with the subject looking natural?

There’s always another way to get these without annoying the person.

Don’t make it obvious that you are taking their photo. Act natural and take lots of photos of the environment around them.

You can also keep your camera down by your side and point the lens in their direction.

If you have a zoom lens, use it. This was you can be on the other side of the street or market and still photograph the person.

Interested in learning more? Join one of our exclusive photography workshops in Antarctica, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan or Mongolia!

Make Them Feel Comfortable

Another one of my favourite travel photography tips for portraits is to bring in another element to the shot.

Some people will feel uncomfortable posing for a stranger, but if you can make it about something else they will feel much more at ease.

As an example, maybe ask if they can pose with something in their store like a rug, or ask them to show you their wedding ring.

This way they’ll realise there is more to your photo than just them. This will also add a lot more interesting elements to the shot!

Mongol Man Travel Photography Tips
Even though I didn’t buy anything from this man in the Gobi Desert, I joked around with him enough that he felt quite comfortable to pose for a photo for me. By having his motorbike in the frame as well it tells the story of how he travelled to find us.

8) Use a Tripod

A tripod is one of the best camera accessories you can have in your camera bag, and really essential for travel photography.

This will allow you to get excellent shots in low light, as well as get creative with your images (like taking long exposures).

These days you don’t always need a massive tripod to travel around with, especially if you want to travel light and are a hobbyist photographer. Look at some of the Joby Gorillapods.

Another good thing about using a tripod is that it will force you to slow down with your photography and put more thought into each shot.

Rather than just pointing and shooting, you will think carefully about where you want to set up your tripod and how you want to compose your shot.

Honestly if you want to become a better travel photographer, you’ll need to invest in at least a small tripod.

Use A Tripod Travel Photography Tips For Beginners
Using a tripod allowed Jarryd to take this long-exposure photo of a waterfall in El Chalten, Argentina.

9) Find the Right Travel Photography Gear

You don’t need to go out and spend tens of thousands of dollars on new travel photography gear to get the best shots.

In fact chances are you already have a perfectly adequate camera right next to you (your phone).

Instead just get what you an afford, and as you grow with your photography style, post production, etc, you’ll learn what camera gear you need as well.

Things like filters, tripods, flashes, prime lenses, zoom lenses, etc will come in time.

For now, all you really need is a camera, memory card and enthusiasm!

Check out our recommendations for the best travel tripods.

10) Be Unique

There’s nothing wrong with getting those iconic shots of the Eiffel Tower or Machu Picchu to share on social media.

They’re beautiful and are often amazing camera angles of famous places that everyone wants to visit.

But don’t forget to be unique as well! Find a different perspective that hasn’t been photographed a million times.

In fact make it your goal to get a few unique shots that you can be proud of.

Over-expose, under-expose, incorporate motion blue – the only limitation is your imagination!

Be Unique Travel Photography Tips
This photo follows absolutely no rules, but I really like it because it stands out as something different to every other photo I tend to take.

11) Find Your Voice as a Photographer

Just like a writer or musician finds a particular style they like, as a photographer you need to discover your ‘voice’.

Travel photography is such a broad term that can cover just about anything.

Really just taking any travel photos will fit the description, whether it is landscape photography, wildlife photography, architecture, portraits, food or whatever.

Just find a style you love most, and focus on getting better at it.

If you really like black and white photography, then start shooting in black and white! Love taking images of crazy street markets? Then get out there and find them!

Experiment, learn, discover and nurture!

Find Your Voice Travel Photography Tips For Beginners
Just keep taking photos until you find your style!

Technical Travel Photography Tips

While the technical side of using a camera is usually the most overwhelming thing for a new photographer to think about, it’s actually one of the easiest things to master. All it takes is a bit of study and practice.

If you’ve never looked into getting out of ‘Auto mode’ on your camera, then terms like ISO, aperture, white balance and shutter speed will seem completely foreign.

READ MORE: Check out our great article and blog posts featuring our best landscape photography tips!

12) Exposure Triangle of Photography

The Exposure Triangle is a metaphor to explain the 3 elements that allow light onto a sensor.

A camera captures light, and the right amount is needed so that your image isn’t too bright or too dark.

The 3 parts of the Exposure Triangle are aperture, ISO and shutter.

Each one affects how light reaches the sensor in different ways, and getting this combination right is essential to capturing a beautiful image.

Exposure Triangle Travel Photography Tips
The Exposure Triangle.

If you want more information, I’ve put together this comprehensive guide to understanding the exposure triangle which you should really check out.

For now though I’ll explain these three things briefly, and how they relate to taking better travel photographs.

13) Aperture

Aperture is how wide, or small, the blades in your lens are and how much light goes through the lens.

The aperture size is measured in ‘F Stops’, and displayed as numbers. f5.6, f8, f11, f16, etc

A wide aperture (small number – f1.8) lets in more light than a low aperture (big number – f22).

A wide aperture also has a shallowed depth of field than a low aperture. I know it can be a little confusing, but you’ll pick it up the more you play around with it.

If you want the background blurry in your photo, you’ll want a wide aperture. If you want everything in focus, you’ll want a low aperture.

Aperture Travel Photography Tips
I used a wider aperture for this photo so that the focus would be on the young girl, and the background would be slightly blurry without losing enough detail to be able to tell that it’s a rural environment.

14) ISO

ISO is how sensitive your camera sensor is to light. A small number, such as 100, means it’s not very sensitive and therefore needs more light to leave an impression.

A high number, like 6400, means it’s very sensitive and needs only a little bit of light to show up on the sensor.

The higher the ISO, the more noise shows up in a photo. Noise lowers the quality of your image, so in a perfect world you’ll want to keep this as low as possible (unless you’re going to stay out late doing astro and night photography).

It’s also necessary to raise your ISO if you’re shooting moving subjects (or handheld) indoors.

Milky Way Antarctica Iso Travel Photography Tips
There are times where having a higher ISO is actually better for the photo. When Jarryd took this photo of the Milky Way in Antarctica he had the ISO at 2000 so the sensor would capture more stars.

15) Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is pretty straight forward – how long it takes for your shutter to open and close. This allows you to freeze a frame, or introduce motion blur.

Want to capture a bird in flight? You’ll want to have a fast shutter (1/4000th of a second for example).

Want to make a waterfall look silky smooth, like you see in so much Iceland photography? Go for slow shutter speeds (3 seconds for example), and check out our guide to waterfall photography tips while you’re at it!

Keep in mind that if you are holding your camera equipment rather than using a tripod, you’ll need to have a fast enough shutter to eliminate your own hand movement.

As a general rule 1/60 of a second is the slowest you should go so your picture doesn’t pick up hand movement. Any slower than that and you’ll probably need a tripod.

Whales Travel Photography Tips
When Jarryd took this photo he needed to have very specific settings to get it right. He chose an aperture around f7.1 to make sure he could get the image quite sharp, but because the whales were moving he needed a high shutter. He kept the ISO down to 100, which kept it clean, and he could go for a shutter of 1/800.

16) Combining All Three for Perfect Exposure

There is no ‘perfect setting’ for aperture, ISO and shutter. It all depends on what you are trying to photograph and the style you’re going for.

Luckily most decent digital cameras have two little tools that will let you play around figure out how all three work together – manual mode and histograms.

Manual gives you complete control over your camera’s ISO, aperture and shutter.

If you change one, nothing else will change, unlike in ‘aperture priority’ mode or ‘shutter priority’ mode.

The histogram is a visual display of light. When the bars are all the way to the left, the image is darker. When they are all the way to the right, the image is lighter.

When most of the bars are in the centre, this is perfectly exposed.

This is a histogram. The left side are your blacks, or shadows, and the right hand side are your whites, or highlights. For ‘perfect exposure’ you ideally want your histogram to be in the middle, not all pushed to one side.

The best way to figure out what combinations work best when you’re a complete amateur is to put your camera on “manual” mode, activate the histogram, and play around with the settings.

Pick an aperture (f/8 for example) and point it at the scene. Now look at the histogram.

If the image is too dark, then you’ll need to let more light in. Let’s make the speed slower. See a change?

Now put the shutter back to where it was and instead change the ISO. Make the ISO higher. Is the image getting lighter?

Spend an hour or two playing around with different apertures, ISO and shutter so you get an idea of how each one affects the light hitting the display.

Take note at how drastically things can change if a cloud goes in front of the sun, or you take the camera inside.

This just comes with practice of course, and knowing what settings you want for a particular scene will become second nature

Keep in mind that not all travel photos needs to be perfectly exposed. Sometimes having a darker image looks much better than having one that is nice and bright. You can use your judgement for this.

Low Exposure Travel Photography Tips For Beginners
Not every shot has to have perfect exposure to be beautiful.

17) Bonus – General Ideas For Camera Equipment Settings

This is very, very basic and by no means should be read as gospel. There are a million different things that can affect why you would want a faster shutter, or wider aperture. But if you are confused about what to pick for what here’s a quick idea.

  • Landscapes – You’ll want your aperture around f8-f11. You’ll also want your ISO as low as possible. Slow down the shutter accordingly.
  • Portraits – You’ll probably want to photograph your subject to be sharp, but the background blurry to bring focus on the person. Have a wider aperture (say f2.8 for example), and a faster shutter (around 1/160 at the absolute slowest) to freeze the subject. Adjust ISO accordingly.
  • Indoors – Because it is darker inside than outside, you’ll need to let a lot more light into the sensor. Unless you’re using a tripod, keep the speed at around 1/60 as the slowest, and the aperture around f5.6 to start with. Adjust ISO and aperture accordingly.

Of course there’s a bunch of other styles of travel photography that would use different settings, such as astrophotography, architecture, street scenes photography, wildlife photography, etc.

In time you’ll learn what settings work best for each scene.

18) Use Manual Mode

The best way to get to know your camera and how light works is to have complete control over what settings you choose.

The only way to do this is to shoot in manual mode (shown by the letter M on most cameras).

It will take months of practice, but I promise you that in time you’ll be able to look at a scene and instantly know what aperture, ISO and shutter to use to get the exact style of image you’re looking for.

You can also use aperture priority mode (the letter A on your camera) if you don’t want to make the big leap to manual just yet.

This way you can lock in the aperture you want (f8 for landscape photography, f2.8 for portraits, etc) and the camera will automatically adjust the ISO (although you can control this part too) and shutter to get perfect exposure.

I highly recommend focusing on learning manual settings though until you have it perfected.

Manual Travel Photography Tips For Beginners
Capturing this shot of a sunbeam breaking into the world’s largest cave would not have been possible unless shooting in manual.

19) Shoot in RAW (if available)

When you take a photo on your digital camera, the computer chip inside it takes what you captured on the sensor and converts it into a format that can be easily read. For most cameras, these two formats are RAW and JPEG.

JPEG is a compressed format that the camera creates to save on space. In doing so it ‘locks in’ all the data that it picked up such as the colour and white balance.

RAW files actually saves all the data of what you took and doesn’t compress it.

Most decent digital cameras will give you the menu option of shooting in RAW, and I recommend you use it if you ever plan on editing your photos.

Keep in mind that the file sizes will be a lot bigger (for example on one of our cameras a RAW is 42, while a JPEG is just 20), so you’ll need to have extra memory cards and external hard drive storage.

If you have no plans on editing your photos then shoot in JPEG.

Raw Travel Photography Tips
Shooting in RAW really allows you to push the dynamic range of your photo.

20) Learn About Post Processing

Some people think that editing your photo is ‘cheating’. But the truth is photographers have been editing their photos ever since photography was invented.

Yes, even your favourite photos in National Geographic have been manipulated in some way.

99% of photos you see in your favourite travel magazines have been edited. Every professional photographer edits their photos to some degree.

The reason is that not all cameras are great at capturing exactly what the eye saw in terms of colour and light.

If you really want to get the most out of your professional travel photography business, you should start playing around with post processing.

Many people have heard of Adobe Photoshop, but it’s a pretty advanced tool that most people wouldn’t ever need to use (until you get more experience).

To start with look at the free apps that you can get on your phone, such as Snapseed, or free editing programs on your computer, like iPhoto or GIMP.

Once you get serious about travel photography and you want to start editing all of your photos that are filling up your memory cards and external hard drive, we recommend purchasing Adobe Lightroom.

If you’re ready to make the jump to using Lightroom and Photoshop, Adobe have a great ‘Creative Cloud’ package, which is what we use for only $10 a month. You can buy it here with a 7-day free trial

Before Editing Travel Photography Tips For Beginners
One of my photos before editing in Lightroom.
After Editing Travel Photography Tips For Beginners
The same photo after making some adjustments in Lightroom. You can see I didn’t edit the image so much that it isn’t a true representation of what the scene looked like that morning.

21) Practice, Practice, Practice

Just like anything, becoming a great travel photographer takes time, and a lot of practice. The only way you can get better is by getting out there taking travel photos!

You don’t even have to travel the world to tourist destinations or have the most travel camera available to be a great photographer.

Borrow some family members to take their portraits, get a friend who is also interested in photography and push each other, or grab your smartphone and go shoot sunset.

Buy whatever you can afford, go for a walk around your city and snap away.

We hope that this general guide on travel photography tips for beginners has been helpful.

Please feel free to reach out to us if you have any other questions. We have a lot of experience working with tourism boards, and would be happy to help you too.

Good luck on your photographic journey, and maybe we’ll see you in National Geographic one day!

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