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.