17 Useful Travel Photography Tips For Improving Your Photos

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Use a long exposure for beautiful photos of waterfalls. (Photos by Matthew Karsten)
By Matthew Karsten

Looking to improve your travel photography? I’ve spent the last five years shooting photos in exotic locations around the world, and these are my favorite travel photography tips.
Some people collect souvenirs when they travel, I prefer to collect beautiful images with my camera. Travel photography is like a time machine, freezing memories from a journey that you can look back on and enjoy for years.

Every travel destination has its own look, culture, history, people, feelings, landscapes and stories. Learning how to capture these subjects through photos helps convey the spirit of a place to others, giving them a glimpse of what it might be like to venture there.

I never went to school for photography. And yet here I am now, making my living as a professional travel blogger and photographer who regularly licenses images to tourism boards, brands and occasionally glossy magazines.

Wildlife makes an excellent subject, but animals are unpredictable—use a long lens.

I’ve slowly learned the techniques of travel photography over years of reading books, watching online tutorials and regular practice to improve my craft. You can learn this way too, if you put in the effort.

Here are my favorite travel photography tips to improve your images.

Wake Up Early, Stay Out Late

The early bird gets the worm. I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase. Well it’s also very true for travel photography. Light is the most important ingredient for great photography—and soft, warm, morning light creates amazing images.

Pre-Trip Location Scouting

Read travel guidebooks about your destination. Scour the internet for articles and blog posts to help give you ideas for photos. Talk to friends who have been there. Reach out to other photographers. Become more knowledgeable about which images will capture the essence of a place.

Talk To People

Photographing local people in a foreign country is tough for many photographers. What if they don’t understand you? What if they say no? Will they get offended? It took me a couple years to get comfortable shooting portraits of locals, and even now I still get a
bit nervous.

Experiment With Composition

You can almost always come up with a better photo composition after some experimentation. Sure, take that first shot standing up straight. But then try laying on the ground for a low angle. Maybe climb up something nearby and shoot from a higher angle.

Use A Tripod

I think more people should be using lightweight travel tripods. A tripod allows you to set your camera position and keep it there. With the camera fixed, you can then take your time arranging the perfect composition.

Use the rule of thirds to frame your photos.

Rule Of Thirds

One of the most basic and classic of photography tips, understanding the Rule of Thirds will help you create more balanced compositions. Imagine breaking an image down into thirds horizontally and vertically, so it’s split into different sections.

Make Photography A Priority

Attempting to take quick snapshots as you rush from one location to another will leave you with the same boring photos everyone else has. Make sure you plan “photography time” into your travel schedule. Good travel photography requires a solid time commitment on your part.

The Human Element

People like to live vicariously through human subjects in photos. Especially if the viewer can pretend the person in the photo is them. It adds more emotion to an image, you feel like you’re experiencing the location yourself.

Humans make very interesting subjects for the camera.

Patience Is Everything

Photography is about really seeing what’s in front of you. Not just with your eyes, but with your heart and mind too. This requires dedicated time and attention. Slow down and make a conscious effort at becoming aware of your surroundings before pressing the shutter.

Protect Against Theft

Ok, this one is slightly off topic, but I think it’s important too. Cameras are small expensive products. As such, they’re a prime target for theft while traveling. I’ve heard many sad theft stories from other travelers. Luckily I’ve never had my camera stolen, but I also take precautions against it.

Shoot In Manual Mode

You’d think that modern cameras are smart enough to take incredible pictures on their own, in auto mode. Well that’s just not the case. While they do a pretty good job, if you want truly stunning images, you need to learn how to manually control your camera’s settings yourself.

Learn to use the manual settings on your camera to get the shot you want.

Always Bring A Camera

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 around, because luck plays a pretty key role in travel photography.

Get Lost On Purpose

OK. You’ve visited all the popular photography sites, and captured your own version of a destination’s postcard photos. Now what? It’s time to go exploring, and get off the beaten tourist path. It’s time to get lost on purpose.

Backup Your Photos

Along with camera insurance, I can’t stress enough the importance of both physical and online backups of your travel photos. When my laptop computer was stolen once in Panama, backups of my photography saved the day.

Wake up early, or stay up all night, to capture that irresistible early morning light.

Post Processing

There is a ridiculous myth out there that editing your photos using software is “cheating.” Let’s clear that up right now. All professional photographers edit their digital images using software like Lightroom, Photoshop or GIMP.

Don’t Obsess Over Equipment

If you went out and bought all of the photography gear I use, not only would it be super expensive, I guarantee it won’t improve your photography skills. Start with the basics and leave the 12-set of lenses at home.

Never Stop Learning

Enroll in some online photography tutorials. Invest in a travel photography workshop. Go out and practice on a regular basis. This is how you get better—not because you have the latest gear or use popular Instagram filters.

Visit Matthew Karsten’s website (expertvagabond.com/travel-photography-tips) for the full version of these tips, including more about photography and his travels and adventures.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Amazing tips, team!
    I’ve always been a traveler and recently took my decision to become a full time travel photographer. I’m taking along these tips to my first trip to Europe next month.
    Just one question, are the kit lens and wide angle lens enough for travel photography or do I need to invest in a zoom lens as well?

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