Coming home from your vacation or trip with great travel photos always feels amazing. 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 traveling. 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.
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!