Travel photography is about so much more than following a step by step guide and visiting popular destinations.
It’s about stepping off the beaten path in search of something unique. Even if the location you’re photographing is just down the road from your house, being prepared or at least having an idea of what you want to capture can go a long way in achieving beautiful results.
Instagram has told us where the hot spots are and how you should pose when you get there but forget all that noise and dream up where you want to go, how you want to capture it and create your own perspective of somewhere interesting. Knowing the best camera settings is one thing but personally, I find a huge part of photography is how you see the world and having the motivation to get outside and start shooting.
Once you’ve got plans to travel somewhere new there are a number of things to do that will improve your images, some are possible before you even arrive.
Travel Photography Tips
#1 Scout for Locations
Before arriving at a destination do some research to scout the best places to photograph. You can check guides like mine for cities such as Paris, Venice and Hong Kong or outdoor locations in Iceland or the Lofoten Islands. Otherwise, take things into your own hands and use the amazing resources that are Google Maps and Google Earth.
As a map lover, I always jump onto Google maps before arriving and take a virtual tour down roads and coastlines to see if they’re photogenic or not. The street view ability is perfect for taking a peek around from the comfort of your lounge room to create a little plan of attack for where to go and when based on the best light conditions.
Scouting the coastline of Cinque Terre on Google Maps before I even arrived allowed me to find a path to access the port of Riomaggiore and capture the village from the sea.
#2 Be The Early Bird
Okay so this is a tip that I need to listen to myself because really, I love to sleep. But, rising before everyone else means you’ll have a place all to yourself to capture without crowds of tourists. A huge plus when it comes to capturing a destination in gorgeous conditions and producing beautiful travel photography.
In a peak season like summer, getting up and starting your day a few hours earlier will benefit you immensely. Think private beaches, empty streets to photograph and the possibility to capture scenes of a city or village waking up. If you’re not a morning person like me, this one can be a bit of a struggle but is always more than worth it once you manage it!
On a trip to Mykonos last summer I got up to swim in the harbour and photograph the village as it came to life with fisherman hunting for octopus, markets opening and boats getting a morning scrub down before the day ahead. After about 9am the harbour is bustling with people and you would never have the opportunity to capture this calm vibe let alone streets without people in them.
Research what time sunrise is in the area you’re photographing and aim to get there 30minutes before so you can watch as the light changes and slowly envelopes the landscape illuminating the scene. I love to use Accuweather.com when I’m travelling, it’s actually a slight addiction but tells you exactly what time, how much cloud cover is expected and what the weather conditions will be like so you can totally decide whether to stay in bed or not! My guide to ‘Weather Forecasting for Photographers‘ also notes some handy apps to use for planning where and when to shoot golden hour.
#3 Vary Your Perspective
Think about how you want to compose an image and then try some alternate perspectives. Move around, look up, look down, get on the ground, scout framing options, anything to find another way of capturing the scene.
One of the things I always try to avoid is getting home and thinking ‘I wish stood on the other side’ or why didn’t I look left!? If you travel with me you’ll notice I move around a lot to search for the best vantage points, sometimes focusing on travel photography can help you actually explore more of a destination too!
It could mean you need to climb higher to get a better vantage point, or jump in the water…if you’re there to get a great shot, it’s worth trying a number of options incase there’s an angle that’s a little less obvious.
Some articles I’ve written about alternate perspectives can be visited via the links below –
To get this shot meant climbing over a fence while my partner held my hand and I leaned out over the freezing lake with my other hand under the water. It makes it so much more fun than just standing still!
#4 Be Part of the Scenery
Blending in can be a great way to make yourself invisible as a travel photographer. You don’t need to paint your face green and stand in the trees but try to avoid the ‘tourist’ look by being discreet with your camera. I rarely travel with a tripod purely so I don’t stand out and can then capture a sense of place without being glaringly obvious, allowing locals to go about their daily routine around me. I find travel photography is about the candid moments, the movement or atmosphere of a destination so blending in goes a long way towards capturing better images.
My Olympus camera (the OM-D E-M1 MKII) has great stability which allows me to avoid carrying a tripod but if you do need to travel with one, just don’t be that person who takes up the entire path, not only does it make you very obvious I always cringe when I see this because the only thing I think about is someone tripping and breaking their camera gear (maybe I’m just too clumsy!). I’ve totally hidden in bushes before but only when clients know I’m capturing their photos…I’m not suggesting to go all stalkerish here!
#5 Fill the Frame
To compose a great shot, think about every part of the frame. The focal point, the corners and the edges, each section plays a part in creating a beautiful photograph.
You can read these tips to get creative with your composition or take some challenges to improve your photographic eye, something I offer in my mentoring because I find it’s such an important aspect of improving as a photographer. Filling the frame means thinking before you start clicking the shutter and contemplating how you will to interpret the scene to produce a unique photo.
Some people prefer the minimalist look in which you need to find a subject and look for ways to frame it with a blank background or monotone palette, others like a little more chaos and movement found in a street scene.
Looking for lines, patterns, colour tones and subjects will help you to fill the frame and compose a beautiful travel photo.
#6 Once you’re home…Remember Print Quality
It can be easy to load your photos to the online realm and forget about them. But, what about those of us who still care about the old school art of printing photographs? Taking images that have files large enough to ensure a good quality print is an essential part of professional travel photography. Don’t just edit for Instagram and social media, edit for a beautiful print to frame or to pitch to a magazine for publishing.
Be sure to back up your files two or three times too, it’s a lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way too many times!
Clearly this is my lounge room…ha!
#7 Forget the Textbook
Following the set ‘rules’ of photography isn’t always a bad thing but learning by making mistakes can create magic in the long run. Don’t be afraid to venture out with your camera and simply play around with the settings to see what works for you.
Learn the basics like ISO, Aperture and Exposure and then go for broke. Making mistakes has always been part of my journey, even after working as a professional photographer for more than ten years, I’m still learning every shoot and love discovering new functions on my camera, or developing creative techniques to incorporate into my work.
I run photography workshops in destinations around the world that focus on getting to know your camera while enjoying the scenes of somewhere new and enjoying being outdoors. If you’re looking to begin a career in travel photography, these photo tours are all about learning in the field and I share tips on building your portfolio, developing a unique style then how to approach clients. To have a peek at the workshops I’ve got planned for 2018, check out my ‘Workshops and Photo Tours‘ page.
Read more –
If you’ve got any questions about this article or travel photography in general, feel free to ask in the comments below and I’ll get back to you!
Hello! I'm the founder and photographer behind The Wandering Lens. With 14+yrs experience as a professional travel and landscape photographer, all advice found on this site is from my personal experience on the road. I hope it's useful for your own travels and would love to hear in the comments about your trips and experiences around the world.
I'm Lisa Michele Burns, a professional photographer and founder of The Wandering Lens from Australia. Welcome to your guide to photographing the world, improving your photography and scouting unique and inspiring places to experience with your camera. After three years online, The Wandering Lens has turned into the leading publisher of photography focused travel guides and I'm always so excited to hear from readers as they're travelling and improving their photos!