Coming home from your vacation or trip with great travel photos always feels amazing. Just think of all the 😍👌❤️👏 comments they’ll get on Instagram! The truth is that taking better travel photos isn’t that hard. I’m not suggesting it’s easy to take amazing travel photos, but I’m going to give you a few travel photography tips that will dramatically increase your chances of arriving home from your next trip with a lot more keepers.
1. Travel Light
Less is more when it comes to travel photography. If your gear is big and heavy you’re far less likely to want to carry it around all day. I don’t know how many great shots I’ve missed over the years because I just didn’t want to carry my camera bag anymore. Try taking the bare minimum that you need for the day. You’ll be more likely to use it, and you’ll be less of a target for thieves.
2. Plan Ahead
You might get some good photos if you wing it with camera in hand, but your chances of getting great travel photos will be much better if you plan ahead. Research your travel destination before you leave on social media. Instagram and Pinterest are great places to start. Make a shot-list of locations that you want to photograph and plan where and when you want to shoot them. You don’t have to get them all – I rarely do – but you’ll get more than if you don’t plan at all!
3. Get Up Early And Stay Out Late
Set your alarm to get up early – preferably before the sun comes up. Early-morning light is gorgeous and you’ll likely beat the crowds. Likewise, stay out later in the day for sunset. There’s a good reason they call it Golden Hour. You’ll find the light at the beginning and end of the day far more dramatic, and it’s often easier to shoot at those times due to cooler temperatures and fewer people around.
4. Stay Out Really Late
If you want to get creative, don’t pack up after the sun goes down – the fun’s just beginning! Blue Hour, or twilight, begins about 20-30 minutes after sunset, and it’s by far my favourite time of day to shoot. You’ll need a tripod as the light is getting very low, but you can have a lot of fun playing with long exposures. It’s also a great time for cityscapes because the lights of the city are coming on and there’s still some light in the sky. If you really want a challenge, wait until it’s really dark and try your hand at astrophotography. All you need is a clear, dark sky.
5. Leave Your Tripod Behind
Most of the travel photography tips you’ll read will encourage you to take a tripod with you. Despite my last tip, I would encourage you to leave it behind unless you think you will be shooting in low light or long exposures. A tripod will slow you down, partly due to size and weight, but also because they take time to set up and pack down. Try leaving it behind some days while you’re travelling. You might enjoy the freedom of shooting handheld. If you can’t handle not having a tripod with you, try a small GorillaPod or invest in a lightweight travel tripod.
6. Use Your Smartphone
Even if you carry your camera everywhere with you, don’t forget your smartphone also takes great photos. Often pulling your phone out has advantages over your camera. Its subtlety allows you to get photos you may not be able to with your camera. More and more tourist sites are banning cameras, but you can still use your phone. It’s also a good idea to leave the camera behind sometimes to fool your family into thinking that spending time with them is the reason for the trip.
7. Photograph Children
If there’s one subject that will guarantee to add some fun to your travel photography, it’s photographing kids. Just like big people, kids look and act differently everywhere you go, and capturing those unique behaviours can make for some great images and stories. Taking great photos of kids can be challenging, but it’s totally worth the effort, and anyone can do it with a few child photography tips.
8. Back Up Your Photos Every Day
Don’t wait until you get home from your travels to back your photos up. Take a backup drive with you and back everything up each day. Make sure you have enough memory card space for the trip so that you don’t need to delete anything off them, that way you’ll have two copies of all your photos in case of theft or memory failure. I always back up the photos on my smartphone too. I’ve discovered a little trick to free up space on my phone without deleting photos.
9. Talk To People
You’ll be amazed the doors that will open for you when you talk to people. You don’t have to be weird. Just strike up a conversation with the person next to you on the bus or the person who makes your coffee. Locals are the best source of information and travel tips. You never know what might come of it. You might make a friend, or you might get invited to a wedding (true story)!
10. Don’t Look Like A Photographer
It’s easier said than done, but being clever about not advertising the expensive gear you’re carrying around could save you a lot of trouble. I’ve already mentioned a couple of things previously, like travelling light and leaving your tripod behind. Another thing I would recommend is getting a camera strap that doesn’t scream CANON in big, bright letters around your neck. Also, there are some great camera bags out there that don’t look like camera bags at all. Try carrying your precious gear in something that doesn’t look like precious gear.
11. Be A Tourist
This flies in the face of my last tip somewhat, but hear me out. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard travel photographers turn their noses up or even flat-out abuse other photographers for taking “cliche” photos or “wasting time” visiting and photographing popular tourist spots. This one is really personal preference, but I would say those popular spots are popular for a good reason, and although I would prefer the view without the crowds, if I want to be a tourist or “cliche” and photograph a popular location, I will. If you don’t live there, you’re a tourist. Embrace it.
12. Take Selfies
Some of my favourite travel photos are the selfies taken with a group of buddies or people I’ve met along the way. They tell a story, and even though you won’t see them in my travel photography portfolio, they are often the ones that end up on my wall or fridge. They make me smile and remind me of good times with people who are special in some way. I love using my GoPro for these shots. Every now and then I’ll take one with only me in it 😳
13. Create Photo Stories
Telling a story with your photos can help create a body of work that is greater than the sum of its parts. What I mean by this is that great photos become more emotional and engaging when they are somehow linked to the photos before and after. You can do this using colour, or shooting the same subject from different perspectives or at different times of day, or follow a theme. The options are limitless. Try thinking about your travel photography as a story rather than a set of unrelated images.
14. Add A Human Touch
You’ve probably noticed that there’s a trend on Instagram of adding people to photos, especially landscapes and grand vistas. There’s a good reason they are so popular. People connect more with imagery that involves people. It makes the photo and the place feel more real. It can also create a sense of scale and can increase the viewer’s sense of wanting to be there.
15. Explore On Foot
I love to walk. Your idea of a vacation or trip may not be walking or hiking for hours, but you will find you see and experience so much more when you’re on foot. Of course, sometimes walking isn’t practical if you are going long distances, have luggage, or are being weighed down by screaming children. Many times it is, though, and I highly recommend it. It’s the best way to explore a new place. If you always travel from one place to the next on wheels you’ll miss out on the surprises and discoveries that moving slowly on foot provides.
16. Find A High Point
If you only ever take photos from ground level, you’re missing out on a whole world of opportunities. Getting up high will provide a different perspective of a place, whether it’s from a mountain, bridge, or tall building, there are amazing views to be had that you’ll miss out on if you’re always safe on the ground. I often research rooftop bars, that way I can get great photos while drinking beer – and I like drinking beer! Try researching hotels with good views before you book your accommodation. Tall hotels can be great spots for cityscape photography.
17. Print Your Photos
Finally, at the risk of sounding like a skipping CD, print your photos! There is no excuse these days not to. Printing is cheap. Pick three or five of your favourite photos from your trip and print them. It doesn’t matter how big, or what medium you use, just print them. You’ll appreciate them so much more on your wall. They’ll bring back memories every time you look at them, and they’ll inspire you to keep improving your travel photography for your next trip.
18. Your Turn
This is by no means a complete list. I learn new things every time I go to a new destination, as I’m sure you do. I would love to hear your travel photography tips! What can you add to this list? Let me know in the comments!
For a long time, my go-to lens for landscape photography was the 24-70mm f/2.8. It’s an incredibly versatile lens. It’s fast and sharp. It’s by far one of the best lenses for landscape photography in my opinion. It’s also big, heavy, and expensive. It was my workhorse when I was still lugging around a big full-frame Nikon kit. As much as I loved it, I craved something wider, so I started looking into what I now consider to be the best lens for landscape photography.
I am one of those people who naturally gravitate towards children. Apparently, I was always that child who wanted to hold the baby. Any baby. It’s just the way I am. I guess that’s what drew me to become a paediatric nurse. It’s also probably why I love to photograph children when I’m travelling.
Photographing children needs to be approached differently to other subjects, though. There are ethical considerations, which is another post altogether, but I want to show you a few tips that will help you to improve your child photography. Whether you’re photographing your kids or you’re trying to improve your travel photography, I’m sure you’ll find these helpful.
Put Them In Context
There is a tendency to want to photograph children the same way we do adults. Use a long lens and wide aperture to blur the background and make a lovely portrait. It isn’t wrong, and as you’ll see, I still do that. But showing kids in their own environment tells more of a story and shows their personality. It shows the viewer the world that child lives in and the things that are important to them. Try using wider lenses and taking a more documentary-style approach.
Let Them Be Kids
If you’ve spent any time around children, you’ll know that they’re not very good at staying still. Or doing what you ask them to. Or behaving like adults. So don’t try to make them. Let them be kids. Let me be cheeky. Show them doing the things that kids do. Playing games. Making a mess. Having tantrums. Making faces. They’ll give you much more authentic, engaging photos if you let them be themselves.
Get Down To Their Level
One of the defining characteristics of children is that they’re small. Babies are even smaller. If you want to show the world they live in, get on their level. Bend your knees. Sit on the floor. Lie in the mud. Get dirty. Kids spend enough time looking up at the world without us making them look up and smile for the camera. They’ll respond much more warmly and naturally to you if they see you’re willing to get down on their level.
Be A Big Kid
This goes hand-in-hand with the previous tip. Get on their level mentally. Nothing will help you engage more with a child than being childish. This will come more naturally to some than others. Some people never really grow up. You don’t have to be a clown if that isn’t you, but playing games, making faces, laughing, and being more child-like will go a long way. Get on the other side of the camera and let them paint your nails pink from time to time.
Include Their People
Don’t just photograph the child, photograph them with the people in their world. Their parents, brothers and sisters, and friends. Some of my favourite photos of children from my travels are those which show siblings or best friends. Capturing the bond between children makes for highly engaging photos.
Make A Portrait
Although this isn’t something I do often, and in many ways goes against my standard approach to photographing children, sometimes you can shoot kids the same way you would an adult. I don’t have any rule for when I would or wouldn’t do this, it’s just something I might do if I feel it. I don’t pose them, but I do sometimes zoom in or get in close and isolate them with a shallow depth-of-field the way I would a headshot.
Let Them Forget You’re There
This is the opposite of the previous point, and ties in more with my earlier tips about photographing them in their context and letting kids be kids. Sometimes as soon as a camera appears, it’s like a circus, and every child within earshot will be brawling to get in front of your lens. This is unavoidable in certain circumstances, but if you can avoid this hysteria and continue to photograph them when they’ve forgotten there’s a camera present, you will often get some fantastic candid photos which can really display their personality. Of course, this requires some wisdom. Don’t be the guy photographing children from the bushes in a playground.
Not everyone likes kids, I get it. Some people hate kids. If that’s you, it’s probably best for everyone if you avoid them. For the rest of you humans, I can’t stress how much enjoyment you can get from taking a more kid-friendly approach to photographing children. It can be a little stressful sometimes, but it can be so rewarding. Who knows, you might even have a little fun!
When I’m travelling, I like to get off the beaten track a little. I love nothing more than to find secret spots and unique angles on popular travel photography locations. But sometimes when I’m exploring a big city, especially one as important as London, England, I just embrace the fact that I’m a tourist and roll with it.
I only had five days in London, which if you’ve been there you will know, is nowhere near enough time. There is SO MUCH to see and do. You could live there your entire life and still not see everything. So, I decided to embrace the fact that I was a tourist and visit the tourist sites along with a billion other people.
I loved it.
You can’t visit London without seeing St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s one of those places that just stops you in your tracks. You don’t even need to go inside, just seeing the historic church from outside is incredible. I took this cityscape photo of the dome from a neighbouring rooftop bar (don’t judge me) just before sunset. You can grab March 2018’s high-resolution desktop wallpaper for free by clicking on the image. It will look great on any size screen from smartphones and tablets up to large desktops.
I am incredibly lucky to have called Mount Maunganui home for a few years. In New Zealand, “The Mount” is famous for its stunning views, it’s endless white-sand beach, and it’s laid-back surf lifestyle.
As you will see, it also makes for a dream travel photography location. The mountain alone will keep your camera focused without ever running out of new angles or perspectives.
So, here are 12 of my favourite photos of Mount Maunganui:
1. Tauranga Bridge Marina
This is one of the first photos I took after moving to The Mount. It initially wasn’t an image I liked, but one I found and re-edited a while later while searching through my photo-archives.
2. The Cross
This photo of the rocks on the north side of the mountain was a happy accident that I took while playing with seascapes one night. I found this crack in the rocks, and as the water flowed in and out during the long-exposure, it created a cross shape.
3. Mount Maunganui Sunset
One of the last images I made before leaving The Mount, this was taken while exploring the base of the mountain after a beautiful, hot summer weekend.
4. Driftwood Seat
I was lucky to get a photo of this driftwood seat that somebody had made on Mount Maunganui Beach because somebody unfortunately destroyed or stole it soon after. It was a great seat for sitting and watching the stunning beach.
5. Moturiki Island
“Leisure Island” as it was known for a long time (and still is by some) got the name because it had a water park on it many years ago. Fortunately, it’s been left to return to natural bush. You can walk right out onto and around Moturiki. There’s a pretty sweet blowhole at the end that’s fun to watch when the surf picks up.
6. Mount Maunganui Nightscape
This was a photo that I took one night when I was hoping to get a shot of the Milky Way and stars over The Mount. Unfortunately, the sky didn’t come to the astrophotography party that night, but I was still pretty happy with what I walked away with.
7. Mount Maunganui Rocks
Another photo looking back on the mountain from the rocks on the north side, just off the base track. The sea was pounding the rocks pretty hard that day, but the long exposure gives the water and clouds a nice dreamy effect.
8. Crashing Waves
The waves were big and heavy on this night also. I was playing around with different seascape shutter-speeds to get different effects, and this was one of my favourites. I had to pack up pretty soon after this shot because the tide was coming in and it was getting pretty sketchy!
9. Milky Way over Mount Maunganui
I managed to get back to this spot on Moturiki Island to shoot the Milky Way not long after the attempt mentioned above. This is a number of images stitched into a panorama, and one of my first Milky Way attempts.
10. Stairway To Heaven
The walk up the summit track to the top of Mauao is a must-do for anyone living near or visiting Mount Maunganui. I highly recommend getting up early and doing it for sunrise because the view will blow you away. Hiking up only takes 20-30 minutes, but you’ll get hot, so doing it early in the day is far more pleasant.
11. Moturiki Island
This photo was another happy accident that I took while waiting to get the photo below. I was exploring the rocks on Moturiki Island while I waited for the light to improve when I turned around and composed this shot with the light behind me. Another reminder to turn around when shooting sunsets.
12. “The Mount”
This photo of Mount Maunganui is almost spiritual for me. Mauao is tapu (sacred) for Maori, and I understand why. It’s an incredible place, and it makes you stop and stare. I have this image printed large on my wall, and it never fails to make me stop what I’m doing and stare at it. Every photographer only gets to have a few images like that, and this is one of mine.
I hope you’ve enjoyed viewing Mount Maunganui through my camera lens. If you haven’t visited yet, be sure to add it to your travel bucket-list. If you have, I would love to see your photos. You can leave a link in the comments and I’ll be sure to take a look 🤙