10 Travel Photography Tips Worth Knowing
Travel Photography Tips Worth Knowing
It seems the digital revolution in photography has changed the accessibility of photography for us all. It used to be an art privy to those with the knowledge of operating a film camera and the resources to develop such film. But today, travel photography is no longer burdened by set film speed or heavy gear. Today, you’re capable of taking home stellar photographs without even being a professional.
After photographing a number of places around the world, I’ve learned a few things along the way. There are a TON of tips on the internet, but here are 10 travel photography tips that I’ve learned personally and feel are important.
1. Go Easy On The Gear – Consider a Prime Lens
This may be a no-brainer, but photographers are perfectionists and with that, they tend to have very specified tools in mind for what they want to accomplish. But sometimes this can be counterproductive. If you’re not a professional or don’t intend on selling your photographs, (and even if you are), go easy on the gear. Of course, there are exceptions to this.
If you’re fortunate enough to be spending most of your travels in a car on the road, then this shouldn’t be a major problem. But if you’re backpacking around or going on a long hike, then obviously carrying three lenses, a tripod, and a camera or two will totally affect your photography. I know, I’ve been there!
Unless you’re in tip-top shape, you’ll be too wiped out to work your best shot. Consider a fixed prime lens at 50mm or 35mm, depending on whether you’re shooting mainly street or landscape photography. Prime lenses give you much sharper images to begin with (because of lens physics), but few things kill a good photo-opp better than having to schlep around heavy camera gear.
And for this reason, my favorite travel camera is the Fujifilm X100s. More on this later, but seriously, it’s light and you hardly know it’s there. You can grab shots you otherwise may be unable to take and you can enjoy your travels a whole lot more.
2. Invest In A Good Tripod
If you intend on taking any long exposure shots or even shots of sunrise or sunset, consider buying a tripod. And if you’re really serious about photography, then you don’t need me to tell you that using a tripod in general, regardless of low light, will help you achieve a much sharper photograph. It’s amazing the difference it makes in your photography, but make sure you buy a good one, nothing flimsy and certainly not one that is too heavy or cumbersome to set up. There’s a saying in photography that your tripod will outlive your camera, so invest in a good one.
If you intend on shooting a lot in cold weather, then consider buying one made of carbon fiber because it doesn’t conduct temperature like aluminum. If you’re in moderately cold weather at night shooting stars, your tripod can still get super cold. Most tripods nowadays are made of either aluminum or carbon fiber. In either case, if you’re shooting in the snow for extended periods of time, consider buying some leg warmers for your tripod.
3. Invest in a Good Bag
The bag is often an overlooked part of photography, but it shouldn’t be. It’s a bag!! A part of me cringes every time I see one of those bulky generic Nikon or Canon bags that screams steal me. This being a lifestyle blog, and I emphasize the word style, I am not a huge fan of a bag that grandma would use because of its simple utility or practicality. With that said, if you’re on a budget or are a beginner, then stick to what you’re comfortable with.
There are plenty of affordable options out there that offer practicality, utility, and style and don’t advertise that you’re carrying an expensive camera. National Geographic offers a great line if you’re summoning an Indiana Jones vibe, but of course, there are plenty of great options around the world to choose from. The new Africa Collection from Nat Geo is totally worth checking out. Make sure it’s weather-resistant. Plus, your travel photos will look tons better with you and your attractive satchel.
4. Lighting is Everything
This is a given as just a basic photography tip, but when you’re traveling it’s major. Of course, the magic hour is the most popular time to photograph and I do recommend waking up for sunrise if you happen to be near a beautiful landscape. But besides that, mid-afternoon lighting can be extremely harsh, and generally, it doesn’t bode well if you’re taking photos of yourself or another human being. Consider finding a shadier area and make sure to use your flash to offset the harsh shadows.
5. Choose Your Travel Friends Wisely
This is a rule that isn’t talked about much but it’s important, at least if you’re serious about photography. Photographers are notorious for getting caught up in capturing whatever it is we see and this often tests the patience of those we travel with. Before you book a trip with a friend or even a family member, make sure they understand your passion and will be ok if you take more time than them to photograph. There’s nothing worse than traveling with someone who gets impatient with you working the shot or minds when you want to stop for a photo along the freeway.
6. Look at Post Cards
Yes, look at postcards. No, don’t copy the shots and by all means, don’t just shoot cliché images. But if you haven’t thoroughly researched the new city you’re in, then this will give you a broad, basic idea of its most iconic and popular spots to photograph.
7. Always carry a spare battery
This is seriously important. You should always have at least one extra battery, and make sure it’s charged!
8. Think Ahead – Plan What To Wear
If you’re at all interested in taking home shots of yourself on your travels (I know I am!), then planning your wardrobe will go a long way towards achieving better photos. We all plan our clothes to some extent on vacation but think a bit further. Style yourself. And if you’re traveling to somewhere in the second or third world, it’s probably best to not prance around in designer bags or heels. It looks weird. The essence of the place should also be reflected in your clothes. You don’t have to dress like a bohemian vagabond but think a little bit ahead about the types of locations you will want to photograph yourself with. This takes practice, as you’re likely not a personal stylist, but it pays off. Details matter.
9. Do Something Different
I remember when we went to view the sunrise over Angkor Wat in Cambodia and when we showed up, there was a line of over a hundred photographers in front of the lake. The shot itself was classic, but seriously, a million people will go home with the exact same shot! I spent a good amount of time photographing this scene, but the shots I got after that were actually more memorable because the lighting was still brilliant. So yes, get that postcard shot but don’t focus too much on it.
10. Study Composition
The basis of photography is lighting and learning how to manipulate it through your camera. Once you have this down, you know essentially how to use your camera. This isn’t enough, though! To simply capture the scene in front of you is boring in my opinion. If you’re at all serious about photography and you haven’t gone to art school, studying composition should be more of a priority than studying your camera. Composition is art. This alone will take your travel photos to a whole new level.
Great tips, honey! I’m falling love to my camera (gift from my husband)
and I’m always want know more about this subject. My first mistake was buy a bad tripod. Almost broke my camera =/
Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed them! That’s definitely an important tip to remember!
Don’t be afraid to shoot anything and everything. Try something new each time you take a photograph. Taking many shots with different settings will help you see what’s working and what’s not, without missing a single photo opp.
Curious – what camera bag do you use?
I use a bag by NatGeo, here’s the link. I’ve trekked it everywhere and it still holds up well. http://www.geographicbags.us/medium-satchel-for-personal-gear
Hey Stephanie, what is your take on full frame vs. crop sensor for travel photography? I don’t own a full frame but have found myself thinking about it a few times. One time, at dusk, telling myself that I could take great photos if only I had a full frame. Also, the best lenses are made for full frame cameras (of course they can be used with a crop sensor). On the flip side, I like to travel light, and full frame DSLRs are heavier…
(And a side comment: I once took a photography course in Los Angeles; of the 15 students, many had 5D Mark IIIs or D800s, but the student with the best photos, in my opinion, was a girl that shot with a humble Nikon D3200).
Hey! That’s a really good question. Full frame is typically better for shooting landscapes or if you want to enlarge your images for artistic purposes because the sensor is larger meaning it will capture a better dynamic range in your images. But for general travel photography, I personally don’t think it matters so much. Actually the best camera on the road is the one you feel most comfortable with. I also shoot the other half of my travel photos with a Fujifilm X100s which is a cropped sensor and it uses a prime lens so it’s very sharp. Often times, I find the image quality to be just a good as my 5D Mark II so cropped doesn’t mean it’s a worse camera. Though this isn’t the camera I shoot landscapes with because I have my DSLR, but I use it for grabbing street photos etc because it’s super light and not intimidating. But it does take nice landscapes pics too.
But in general, I’ve found that so many photographesr who tout a 5D Mark III or go out and buy the best cameras really don’t have the best photos. I actually see this a lot and I don’t get it! Though these are cameras they can grow into at least. I’m a firm believer that the photograph is a reflection of the photographer and not the camera. That said, my 5D Mark II has nice image quality. I’ve always heard that it’s better to invest in a better quality lens than upgrading your camera though. I used to shoot with a Tamron 24-300mm on my 5D but made the switch after I noticed that the image quality just wasn’t quite what I wanted it to be. It was a subtle difference to me. But I think upgrading your camera really depends mostly upon which style of photography is most important to you. Are you more into shooting landscapes? Or travel street photography? Do you prioritize a lighter easier camera? Hope this helps!
Thank you for the well thought reply 🙂
I think I will stick to my Nikon D5300 / 28mm f1.8 prime for now… and I may try the mirrorless cameras at some point. I like small cameras.
You’re welcome :).
You’re spot on about the friends. Most of them get annoyed or get bored while I’m patiently trying to compose the best shot. Or, if I want a pic of me, I can’t trust them enough to do it. I really do need to get a good tripod & I’m working on getting a 35mm!
Characters & Carry-ons
I know, it’s so hard because as a photographer you have that urge to get that shot which is hard to understand. But yea, a lot of times, it’s really hard for friends who aren’t photographers to snap a good pic of you too. I definitely think getting a tripod is really useful for when you have a vision of a spectacular shot in mind of yourself and you know you’re the only one who can capture that. Sometimes this isn’t practical, but other times it is. You’ll surely need a remote shutter release too for these kinds of pics!
I just bought my very first DSLR – a Nikon D3200 – and I have absolutely no idea how to use it! lol I’m so jealous of you guys who take such gorgeous photographs, but I’m sure with a bit of education and a ton of practice I’ll get there one day. Now to find that patience for the learning curve… not my strongest suit! 🙂
Thanks Amy! Photography is pretty much my passion in life, lol. A camera isn’t too hard to use! You mainly need to learn proper exposure but that can be accomplished with just some practice. The learning curve isn’t too bad though so you can do it! Signing up for a local class is always a good way to get your feet wet. 🙂
Hi Amy! See my side comment on my comment above 🙂
Nice info!! It’s way over my head at this point – will have a google a few of those terms lol. But I did sign up for an online intro to photography course that I plan on jumping into in the next week or so. That should help get me started. 🙂
Just remember one thing: it’s the eye what matters, not the gear.
Great advice! Btw, what is your first name? Sorry, I don’t think I got it. 🙂
It’s Luis. Nice to meet you 🙂
Thanks guys!! I’ll be doing plenty of experimenting and practicing this next year in New Zealand. 😉
Congrats Amy on taking that step! Yea understanding the fundamentals of the camera is not too hard once you get a hang of it. The trick is to just practice a lot. And the good advice below is quite right. The eye is what’s most important. Good luck and let me know if you have any questions! 🙂
Ahhhh that’s a great point, probably time I gave myself a quick refresher over the finer points of clever composition. I remember the basics from all those years of school and wanting to be an artist but, well, it’s been a while now 😉
Anyway great post and awesome tips, thanks!
Happy you found my tips useful! Yes, I find that setting up a tripod, waiting on the light to change, waking up at the crack of dawn, etc…just to get a shot can definitely test the patience of some haha.. But that’s another perk of solo travel though! Photographers are a crazed neurotic breed!! But definitely refreshing over some composition points helps a ton. But most importantly, get out there and shoot!
Excellent article. Well written. Looking forward to more posts!