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Shoot Smarter: 15 Travel Photography Tips

For many travelers, some of the most important keepsakes they will take home from their travels are their photographs. In this age of ubiquitous digital cameras and smart phones, every aspect of a trip is captured. Yet most of those photos aren’t great. However, by keeping just a couple of travel photography tips in mind, even the most amateur of photographer can capture great images.

15 Travel Photography Tips

It’s Not the Gear

Great travel photos can be captured on almost any kind of camera. One of the best photos we ever took (and ultimately sold) was a quick snapshot on an iPhone. It just captured the right moment. While we frequently use our high-end DSLR, you don’t need professional gear to take great shots. Sure it helps, but you can improve not matter what camera you are on.

Temple Bar at dusk
We took this image with an iPhone, and ultimately sold it

Know Your Equipment

However, regardless of what kind of camera you’re using, you need to know how it operates. The time for learning is not in the middle of the trip! You should know your camera’s settings before you ever board a plane. Each type of location is often different.

We recommend taking your camera with you around your hometown and taking pictures. Take pictures inside at a store or restaurant and then go to a local park. These shots will help you learn how to use your camera’s settings. This is probably the most important travel photo tip on the list.

Giant's Causeway on a rainy day
We took this on a rainy day. You don’t want to be out in the rain and trying to figure out your camera.

Capture the Candid Moments

Staged or posed photos in front of the Great Pyramids or on the beach are fine for your scrapbook, but they don’t represent what you actually experienced. The real memories come from those unstaged, candid photos. So, snap those candid moments. A lot of them won’t turn out, but the ones that do are usually spectacular.

Captain of the schooner Woodwind II during a sailboat race
A candid moment sailing on the Chesapeake Bay

Think of the Caption

We are both writers and photographers. For us, it is sometimes helpful to think of photos in terms of words. What is the caption of this photo? The reason for this is that we want our photos to add to the story of what we experience. A photo can be a static image, but it can also be a compelling narrative. If you think about the great iconic photos, they all tell a story.

A pig head in a pan at Ecuador's Otavalo market
What’s the caption?

Focus on Contrasts and Colors

You can improve your photos by focusing on adding color and contrast. This doesn’t mean staging a photo, but rather how you frame them. Including vibrant colors to the foreground or background, or even how you frame a shot can improve your photography a lot. Likewise, contrasting subject matter or playing with textures will make images that pop!

The Court Garden and The Residenz in Germany
A contrast between the green gardens and the stone of the Wurzburg Palace, along with the blue sky.

Get Off the Beaten Path

There is a lot to be said for getting off the beaten path. In a lot of cities, the main streets are rather boring. Turning up side streets, you’ll come into contact the daily routine of its inhabitants. It is precisely these slice-of-life shots that will create memorable photography.

Markets in a French market
Travel photos of daily life can be captivating

Morning vs. Afternoon Light

If you read any other travel photography tips, you’ll hear the mantra of “morning light!” It’s true that soft morning light is beautiful and facilitates taking stunning photos. However, we’re night owls. Getting up at 4:30am to take photos isn’t going to happen very often. We’ve found that late afternoon light can sometimes be just as good. It’s OK to sleep in and not let your photography take control of your life.

Sunset from our balcony at Tintswalo Atlantic looking out over Hout Bay and Sentinel Peak
The beauty of late-afternoon light in South Africa

Look for Angles

We’ve all seen the photo of the Eiffel Tower taken from the Trocodaro a million times. It’s certainly the clearest view of the Tower. But exploring the neighborhoods around the Eiffel Tower can yield unexpected vantage points. Look for those angles – shooting up at something, or down. Don’t stick the Coliseum in Rome in the middle of the frame. Play with it.

Rule of Thirds

This is as technical as we’re going to get. If you divide your field of view into nine boxes, you can take better pictures. Shift your horizon so it is not in the middle of the frame, instead, put it at the top or the bottom. Put your focus on the left or the right – or both.

The grounds of Keswick Hall at Monticello
Example of the rule of thirds

Be Patient

We’re not the most patient of people. However, sometimes you see a picture you want and you need to wait for it. While in Provence, Laura waited for over 30 minutes to take a picture of a street without cars. And it’s an amazing image. Sometimes you need to have the patience to wait for people to move, the clouds to clear or something to happen. Sometimes it is worth waiting for the perfect picture.

One of the quaint streets of Arles, France
In France, Laura waited over 30 minutes to get this image

Work on Stability

This isn’t about drinking and photography, it’s actually about stability. If you want to truly epic photos, sometimes you need a tripod. If you’re working with a DSLR, you might need a heavier tripod (we use the MeFoto Q1). If you have a point and shoot, a light aluminum one might help. We don’t always use the tripod (it’s a lot to carry around), but for epic shots, it’s sometimes necessary.

Sea cliffs on the Big Sur Coastal Drive between Cambria and Monterey

Every Photo Gets Photoshopped

In the world of photography, it is called “post-processing.” But nearly every photo gets some amount of post-processing (we use Adobe Lightroom). Sometimes it’s cropping the image, applying a filter, adjusting the colors, or something else. This doesn’t make the pictures artificial, but it’s clearly not what the camera captured. Post-processing can bridge the gap between what our mind remembers of an experience and what the camera sees.

The Buchenwald Concentration Camp in snow
Processing is done on all photos. For example, we filtered this photo of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp into black & white.

Learn by Loving

You can always improve your photography. Learn by looking critically at the photos you love. Analyze the shots. What is it that you like? The composition? The color? The subject matter? And then try to replicate what you love in your own photography.

Practicing These Travel Photography Tips Makes Perfect

Just like anything, the more you do it, the better you get. So grab that camera, get out there and take some pictures! Learn from your mistakes. The more you do it, the better you get.

The vegetation in Table Mountain National Park in South Africa

Have Fun

This is a hobby, it’s meant to be fun. If you’re getting overwhelmed with all of the gear and the confusing buttons, sometimes it’s OK to just put the camera back in automatic and relax. Travel photograph should be fun!

Did we miss something? What are your travel photography tips?

Keep these 15 travel photography tips in mind to help capture great images on the road.

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Sunday 6th of March 2016

Patience gets me every time! I just don't have it, which is why I'd be a horrible wildlife photographer!

I'm about to get Lightroom - do you recommend the full download or the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription?

Laura Longwell

Sunday 6th of March 2016

We have the standalone Lightroom download. I've seen a lot of discussion about whether to go with that or the CC subscription, but can't speak to it from personal experience. The consensus seems to be that the CC subscription is best if you also want access to Photoshop, but that's more functionality than we need.


Tuesday 2nd of February 2016

Thinking of a caption is a must!

Suze - Luxury Columnist

Tuesday 19th of January 2016

I really like the idea of thinking about the caption before you even take the photo - very clever!

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