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Tips to Improve your Travel Photography

Take your photography to the next level with these tips to improve your travel photography.

Every travel destination is a new opportunity to learn about culture, history, people, landscapes and architecture.  Share the essence of your travels so that others get an insight into your experience.

Here are a few tips to help you improve your travel photography.  Keep learning.  Push your own boundaries and enjoy your successes.  Practice Practice Practice.

Here are my top tips to improve your travel photography

I came into travel photography by trial and error.

As an artist, I had an eye for colour and framing my shots but no technical knowledge on how to translate it into a quality photograph.  It has taken persistence, dedication and practice to learn different techniques of travel photography.

Here are my top tips to improve your travel photography.

Research your travel destination

Ruakuri Caves New ZealandRead the travel guidebooks about your destination to identify where to go and what photos might be a good capture.  Aim for images which will capture the essence of your location.

When researching your destination, look at photographs that other photographers have captured.  Note the richness in their landscapes, the way they capture the culture and the  flora and fauna.   What is the intended mood of the photo?

Decide whether you will learn by emulating the photographer or by introducing your own strengths.

Do you know your strengths?   Is it Portraiture?  Landscapes? or perhaps Action photography?  Think about how you will portray the story with your photographs.  Create a ‘shot list’ for your travels.  Producing amazing photos does take some pre-planning to ensure you don’t miss an epic location shot.

Set yourself a simple brief

Australasian Darter

I like to forward think the shots that I want to capture. Often this means setting myself a challenge to complete.

Set yourself a brief like – “Photograph sunrise every day.  Capture a portfolio of beautiful doors.  Set yourself a task to capture birds or wildlife.  Photograph the first person you meet every morning eg: the waiter who serves you your morning coffee or the flower vendor on the street.  Snap people standing in an entry line or capture the bustle of a busy city or people simply going about their day”.   Turn them into a series.

Practice before you leave home by setting yourself some targets.  Choose a colour to photograph ie: anything blue.  Capture people’s feet as they walk the pavement or facial expressions as they enjoy a coffee.  You’ll be surprised how setting targets encourages you to photograph more.  The bonus is that you have a collection of themed images that you can use later.

Learn about light

Darwin Waterfront

Light is the most important factor in photography.  The soft, warm glow of the morning light creates amazing images.  What time of day has the best light for the photographs you want to capture?  Where will the shadows be?

Getting up early for that morning shoot often means that there are less people around.  If you want that shot of the beach with no one crowding your shot, or a glimpse of the sun peeking over the hills at first light or a busy tourist attraction with no one around.

Golden Hour:  The hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset are referred to as the Golden hours.  Capture the soft, warm tones and the depth of the shadows.

Blue hour:  Blue hour is the hour before sunrise or after sunset when the sky is still blue, but city lights are turned on.

Pack smart

Sunrise in Napier New Zealand

Don’t over-fill your camera bag.   Follow the KISS principle and keep it simple.   There is nothing worse than lugging a heavy bag around with things you ‘might’ use.  Learn to use the equipment you have with you at the time.

Researching your destination is key to this principle.  Know what you want to photograph and decide which lenses to carry with you.

For most of my photography I take my Sony a6000 and usually take my Sony kit lens 3.5-5.6/16-50 and current favourite Sony Zoom lens F4 18 – 105.  These lenses usually give me enough flexibility to give me a range of photography options.

Don’t get caught without your camera

The old proverb is true – the best camera is the one you have with you!

I don’t know how many times I have left my camera at home and opted for my cellphone camera instead!  Invariably there is that one shot that would have been gold, if only I had taken my camera along.  Note to self!

Vary your perspective

Hosier Lane Street Art

Create variety and interest by stooping low to provide a different vantage point.  Climb up on a fence or walk up stairway to shoot from a different perspective.  Place your camera on the ground – just to be different.

Photograph a reflection in a puddle or a mirror.  Take a photo of someone taking a photo.  The possibilities are endless when creating a photograph that will have people pausing before they figure out what they’re looking at.

Have Plan B

Ann at sunsetTravel with a backup camera of some sort, especially if it’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Your backup camera doesn’t have to be fancy, it can be a lightweight little point and shoot or your mobile phone.

Backup Your Photos

Make sure you have a backup plan for your photographs.  I usually travel with my laptop and an external hard drive as my backup plan if I can’t access my online cloud service.

Along with travel insurance, I can’t stress enough the importance of both physical and online backups of your travel photos.

My travel photography backup workflow includes an external hard drive and as soon as possible, back up to cloud.  I use Western Digital hard drives for physical backup and Google Drive for online cloud storage.

The Human Element

Coober Pedy working opal mine

People are generally more attracted to photos containing images of people in photos.

The human element also gives a sense of scale.  By placing your subject in the distance, you can get a better sense of just how big those mountains really are.  Try photographing people in the distance to complete an impressive landscape.

Adding a human element to photos helps tell the story.  Images appear more powerful when people are included in the shots. Its a great way to change the tone of a photo by adding the human element.

Talk to people

Busking in Las Vegas with the best

Photographing people in a foreign country is tough for many photographers. What if they don’t understand you? What if they say no?

Take the risk.  Say hello.  Ask for directions. Buy a souvenir. Compliment them on something. Chat for a few minutes before you ask if you might take their photo.  It’s far less confronting and surprisingly, people are more likely to agree to having their photo taken.

Always ask permission for close-ups. Spend time learning how to say “can I make a photograph” in the local language before you arrive. People really appreciate the effort, and often people are happy to be a part of your adventure.  Some people will say no.  Its courteous to offer a small payment, especially if they are a poor community.

Always be courteous, thank them and smile.

Rule of thirds

better travel photos

One of the most important photography tips is to understand the Rule of Thirds.  This rule will help you create more balanced compositions by breaking an image into thirds horizontally and vertically, so it’s split into different sections.

The goal is to frame your photo into those sections in a way that’s pleasing to the eye.

  • Strategically place the subject on one of the thirds rather than directly in the centre.
  • Keep your horizon on the bottom third instead of placing the horizon across the centre.
  • Keep that horizon straight by lining it up on one of the gridlines.

Turn on your camera’s ‘grid’ to display the rule of thirds grid on your LCD screen to guide you when composing photos.

Use a tripod

Using a lightweight travel tripod is one of the most helpful tools when travelling.

Its simple to set up a tripod to keep your camera position stable. Once the camera is fixed, you can then take your time arranging the perfect composition.

Tripods give you the ability to shoot much slower shutter speeds such as waterfalls, low-light, stars, etc without camera shake.  Using a tripod will give you greater control over your camera’s manual settings.

Patience is everything

A Cassowary in the Daintree Rainforest

Photography is about really seeing what’s in front of you.  Slow down and be aware of your surroundings before pressing the shutter.

Pay attention to detail.  Don’t be in a hurry.  Sit quietly and wait for a photogenic subject to pass by.  Then wait some more, because you might get an even better shot.  Look up, crouch down for that different angle.

Good photography takes time. The more patience you have, the better your travel photography will be.

Always Bring A Camera

Azure Kingfisher in the Daintree Rainforest

There is a saying in photography that ‘the best camera is the one you have with you’.  Be ready for anything, and always carry a camera.  Luck plays a key role in travel photography.

The difference between an amateur photographer and a pro is that the professional is ready to take advantage of those surprising moments.  You never know what kind of incredible photo opportunity might present itself. Be ready.

I keep my camera ready and within easy reach.  This has helped me capture great shots of crocodiles, kangaroos, birds and other wildlife.  If my camera had been packed away in my bag, I would’ve missed these wildlife opportunities.

Keep your camera on you, and ready for action.

Get lost on purpose

Crocodiles

Get off the beaten tourist path and explore further afield.  Take your next adventure and get lost on purpose.

If you want to get images that are a little bit different from everyone else, you need to go exploring.  Grab a business card from your hotel so you can catch a taxi back if needed, then choose a direction and start walking.

If you want to capture the true nature of a destination and its people, you’ll need to get away from the maddening crowd and go exploring on your own.

Don’t obsess over equipment

Want to know what photography gear I use?  Check out What’s in my Camera Bag?

Knowledge, experience, and creativity makes a great photographer.  Instead of buying new equipment, learning how to use your current camera’s settings to get the most out of your camera.

Never stop learning

Take a travel photography workshop.  Invest in online courses, webinars and books about photography to improve your craft. Practice!

Push your boundaries.   If you think you’ve mastered landscapes, then challenge yourself shooting portraits of strangers.  Stalk animals like a hunter for a taste of how difficult wildlife photography is.  Experiment with long-exposures of the Milky Way.  There is always something you can learn.

You’ll become more skilled and resourceful as a travel photographer when you take the time to learn new tips, techniques and skills from other photographers.

My top tip to improve your travel photography is to have Fun!

Travel photography should always be more about Travel than Photography.  Having great experiences should be the number one objective of any travel experience.  Enjoy what you are doing, interact with your subjects if you can and learn from your experience.

Remember to have fun.

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Do you have any tips about travel photography that you wish to share?  I’d love to know.  Drop me a message in the comments below!