So, you’ve picked up your first camera, you’re planning your next trip and want to make sure you take some great photos while you’re there. It’s no time like the present to hone your photography skills, so with that in mind, here’s 15 of our favourite travel photography tips to make sure you get the most from your camera!
1. Book a room with a view
Booking a hotel room with a good view is a must, and can open up opportunities for some great travel photography. By booking a room with a view, you’ll have plenty of photo opportunities from the comfort of your hotel room without the inconvenience of having to travel to more scenic areas. This way, even your downtime can lead to amazing photo opportunities, particularly if there’s a lot going on outside the window. Plus, you’ll have access to a private area where comparatively few other people will have been, giving you a unique angle for your photography.
So next time you book a hotel, book in some more photography time too by checking TripAdvisor reviews and find out about the best rooms for views.
2. Research the destination
To make the most of your trip, be sure to research the area you’ll be visiting. Alongside finding the main local attractions online on TripAdvisor and at the local tourist information website, use tools like Google Earth and Google Maps to explore the area before you go. You can look for potentially interesting places to visit before you get there, which is ideal if you’ve only got a limited time to explore. Why not plan out a route on Google maps to help you get to the best vistas to save you time when you’re out there?
It’s also worth looking for other peoples’ tips on where to go for great views and photography, plus what time of year to go.
3. Bring the right kit
Packing the right gear is essential, however you’ll also want to travel light, particularly with tight luggage rules on many airlines. Researching the destination will help you decide on what kit to bring – there’s nothing worse than showing up and realising you’ve not got the right gear to take great photos.
If you’ve got a variety of lenses, think about bringing a small but versatile set, which may be your kit lens, typically a wide-angle zoom, plus a telephoto zoom so you can capture close ups from a distance. You may also want to add a prime lens to your kit if there’s room, so think about what sort of photos you’d be taking and pick one with a focal length that would be most appropriate.
Yes, zoom lenses typically don’t offer as good image quality as primes, but the area they excel in is their versatility – and I know I’d rather get a slightly sub-par quality shot than not at all!
On top of that, be sure to bring a suitable number of spare batteries, plus accessories such as a lightweight tripod and filters.
4. Have your camera on you!
As the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have on you, so it’s no good if its too big that you leave it back in the hotel room. If you’re in the market for a new camera, consider a Mirrorless System Camera, such as the excellent Sony a6000, which are much smaller and lighter than DSLRs but offer comparable image quality. They also tend to be easier to use, too!
The next thing is to have your camera at the ready when a photo opportunity arises. Wear your camera around your neck when you’re in an area where you want to take photos, or an opportunity may arise, rather than keeping it in your bag. Think about the surroundings and have the right sort of lens attached. If you’re in a city or indoors, have your wide-angle lens on, or if you’re out in the countryside, a telephoto may be best.
That way, should something of interest pop up, you can quickly take a snap. That’s especially important if you’re photographing wildlife or people in the street, where you have next to no time to set up the shot.
5. Make photography a priority
The next way to maximise the number of great shots you can take is to make photography a priority for your trip.
This can be tough if you’re travelling with friends or partners who aren’t keen photographers, so consider stepping out alone for a few hours to get your photography fix, or think about travelling alone or with other photographers friends.
And if you must travel with others who wouldn’t be too happy to stand around for ages while you attempt to get the perfect shot, some pre-planning can help you out. Use Google Maps street view to check out areas you may want to photograph, and put them on your route. Speed things up by avoiding lens changes, too. You may be best off with putting a versatile zoom lens on your camera, helping you take a wide range of shots quickly.
6. Get up early and stay out late
The time of day is another key part of making photography a priority for your trip. This is where the “golden hour” comes in – the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset, thanks to the soft, warm tones and shadows you’ll get.
Being up at these times also means you’ll have less tourists and other photographers in your way, so you can get epic shots of major tourist attractions with no one in sight!
Compared to the early morning and evening, noon on a bright sunny day can be a bad time for travel photography, so why not use this time to put the camera down for a bit and do something with your non-photographer companions who you’ll have neglected all morning!
7. Learn the rule of thirds
Having all the gear and no idea won’t result in great photography, so nailing composition is key. Get to know the rule of thirds, where your frame is split into nine squares. Have your subject lined up along one of the vertical lines and the horizon along one of the two horizontal lines.
Many cameras have a setting to get the rule of thirds grid lines on screen – and in the viewfinder, if you have a Mirrorless camera – so keep this turned on as you get used to it!
8. Experiment with composition
Alongside the rule of thirds, think about other ways to make your photography pop. Most people will take their photos at eye level, so if you want yours to stand out, consider some other viewpoints.
Instead, try firing from the hip. A lower viewpoint makes the world look bigger, like a child’s eye view. We all remember how big and exciting the world was when we were kids, so why not try to replicate that?
Changing your angle is a great way to make for a more exciting image. Are there any foreground or background subjects that can be brought in or out of focus to make your photo a bit more out of the ordinary?
Similarly, try rotating your camera into a portrait view – there’s no need to take every photo in landscape, or shoot for a panorama view, or in a square for Instagram-ready shots.
9. Use an ND filter for long exposures
Long exposure photos are where the shutter is open for a long time, capturing some cool movement effects in the process, such as moving clouds, or moving water.
This is also great to take photos of busy touristy areas if you missed your alarm to get up early (see point 6). Basically, anything that moves in your shot will disappear!
For this to work in the day time, you’ll need an ND filter, which cuts down the amount of light that goes through your lens to ensure it’s not horribly over-exposed. Be sure to buy a filter that will fit your lens, and consider an adjustable one such as this Andoer Filter to cut down on the amount of kit you need to carry.
10. Shoot at night
The night time is also an interesting time for photography. First of all, if you’ve not got an ND filter, you can do long exposure time-lapse photography, including the classic trail of headlights and tail lights on a busy road.
Cities often come alive at night time and you’ll get an entirely different effect to shooting in the day. Often buildings, fountains and sculptures will be illuminated, creating a great contrast with the night sky or with other buildings behind.
Conversely, other less interesting things that may ruin your shots in the day, such as cranes or other construction machinery, will fade away since they’re usually not lit up.
11. Drop auto mode
Ditching your camera’s auto mode is a great way to become a better photographer, and create more creative effects. Manual mode might sound daunting, but in fact after learning how the aperture, shutter and ISO work together, you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly, and from there, practice makes perfect!
If you’re just starting out and don’t yet have a Mirrorless or DSLR camera, there’s plenty of manual control camera apps out there for your smartphone, such as Manual for iOS, to help you get the hang of it. Why not try with one of these apps first, then upgrade to a dedicated camera?
12. Get camera insurance
Your camera gear is expensive, so you need to look after it. Insurance is essential, so either make sure you’re covered via your travel insurance, or get dedicated gadget insurance to cover your camera and lenses if not.
13. Backup your photos
The only thing possibly worth more than your camera are the photos you’ve taken with it, so make sure they’re backed up!
While you could bring a laptop and an external hard drive, that adds bulk to your kit, and means your backups could get stolen or damaged in addition to your camera.
A better way to back up your photos is using cloud storage. Many cameras can connect to smartphones via bluetooth or WiFi, making it easy to transfer your photos and upload to the cloud.
14. Learn about post-processing
Expensive gear isn’t the most effective way to ensure your photos are as high quality as possible. Cheaper cameras and lenses can result in slight imperfections such as barrel distortion or chromatic aberration. While you could spend a lot of money on expensive lenses that avoid these issues, a cheaper way to fix this is to invest in a copy of Adobe Lightroom and fix it in post-production.
On top of that, you can fix things like contrast, colours and brightness, for a better looking photograph.
To make the most of post-production tools like Lightroom, be sure to shoot in RAW, which retains all the uncompressed information in the photo as picked up by your camera’s sensor. Even if you’ve not got an editing program yet, it’s worth shooting in RAW which means you can come back to your photos later to edit them.
Many cameras have a setting to save a RAW and Jpeg version of the image, so turn this on and you’ll have Jpegs to use straight away, and RAW files for use later!
15. Never stop learning
Learning to take great travel photos is a continuous process – you’ll never stop learning about taking better photos. As they say, practice makes perfect, but investing in some photography courses, whether online or in person, is a great way to help the process along and learn from the experts, rather than relying on trial and error.
A course is a great place to start, and we recommend The Photography Masterclass at Udemy which covers everything a beginner/intermediate photographer needs to know!
On top of that, follow other top travel photographers on platforms like Flickr, Instagram, and their own blogs if they have them, giving you a great source of inspiration for your own photography to take your creativity to the next level.