Often, the best – and cheapest – souvenirs you can have from your travels are photographs. It’s like having the ability to freeze time. They’re a way to remember the dreamy white beaches of Thailand, the colorful festivals of India, and the bustling, vibrant cities of Spain.
Photos also tell a story of their own. Whether it’s a shot of you in the famous Macchu Picchu, or a local laughing directly at your camera – these are all memories worth sharing with the world. Of course, you’d want these memories to be crisp and clear.
Travel photography has taken on a new form since the age of social media and digitization. But it still pays to know a few tips and tricks. Pro or a beginner, there’s always something new to learn. So grab your camera and put these photography tips to the test:
1. Do Your Homework
A great photo usually takes weeks – if not months – of preparation. It’s all this work that doesn’t show up in images. But it’s definitely something every traveler should consider if you want a photo worth remembering.
If you have a certain destination on your bucket list, plan in advance about the best hotels to stay in, the type of weather you’ll be facing, and the best spots for an awesome photo op. Use Google Maps, Pinterest, Instagram, and other digital tools at your disposal. Chat up locals, plan your routes, book your stay at places with a great view, etc.
It may sound like a lot of work – but it’s the same as when you plan a vacation anyway.
2. Pack Light
If you’re going to be out and about, you can’t be lugging around tons of stuff. Create a ‘go-bag’ that has everything you think you might need for an epic photo. This shouldn’t be too big. If you can’t fit everything in a backpack or a sling bag, having a separate bag for your camera and equipment is fine – as long as it doesn’t get in your way.
3. Don’t Forget the Essentials
Once you’ve created your ‘go-bag’, it should contain things like a small tripod, extra lenses, a battery pack, memory cards, and a cleaning kit, to name a few. You don’t want to spend hours hiking or trekking, only to find that you’ve run out of juice to capture that glorious sunset.
Make sure to clean your lenses from time to time as well. Dirt or grime can ruin a perfectly good shot. And editing them later in Photoshop can be too painstaking and time-consuming.
4. Dress Comfortably
Even if you’re planning on a selfie, make sure to dress appropriately. Some locations have strict rules regarding attire – and you don’t want to go all the way back to your hotel just for a change of clothes. Bring items like scarves, a shawl, or even a jacket.
Wear comfortable shoes, too. You’d likely be on foot for most of the day, so a good pair will not only look good, but feel good even after hours of abuse. Also, dressing well means you’re always prepared just in case you change your mind and do want to be in the shot, after all!
5. Know Your Gadget
It doesn’t matter whether you’re shooting with an iPhone or a DSLR – know your gear, period. Read the manual, practice at home, watch tutorials, etc. An expensive, top-of-the-line gadget is still useless if you don’t know how to maximize it.
6. Be an Early Bird and a Night Owl
For the best shots, get up before everybody else – and leave after everyone else does. The sun may be your best friend, but there are just times in the day when natural lighting isn’t to your advantage. Start too late for instance, and you end up battling with glare. Shoot a lot later, and miss the ‘golden hour’ photographers rave about.
It’s all about timing. And in your travels, it’s something you need to master. So in this sense, you need to…
7. Be Very Patient
Don’t be in a hurry. That’s why tip #1 was so important. You don’t want to rush yourself from point A to B. The art of getting the ‘right shot’ usually involves hours of waiting until the throng of tourists are all but gone. Or it’s about camping in the cold to catch the best light shows in the night sky. The more patient you are, the better the photos you’re bound to get.
8. Shoot with the Sun
As mentioned, the sun is your best friend – for as long as you know how to work with it. If you like taking portraits for instance, having your subject face the sun will make those shots stand out. Try framing lights and shadows in different angles. Don’t be afraid of silhouettes! They can make your photos stunning under the right lighting.
9. Rule of Thirds
It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it helps a lot, especially if you’re just beginning. Imagine there are four lines, two horizontally and two vertically, that make up a grid with nine rectangles. Just make sure your subject is within any of the nine frames or near any of the four intersections.
Most cameras have this feature built-in so you can turn it on when necessary. This is an effortless way to keep pictures from looking bland or boring.
10. Experiment with Focus, Detail, and Composition
Knowing your gear can help you create more dramatic shots. For example, opening your shutter for longer can get you cool, soft effects on flowing water. Changing your focus can blur the subject or the background. Play it up on angles by putting your subjects on the sides of the frame, the middle, or the front!
11. Change Your Perspective
Sometimes, the best shots are not in places where you think you’d get them. Think outside the box! Capture close-up shots of food, check out the reflection in puddles or mirrors, see unique shapes in gates or architecture. Your eyes are the best camera, so keep those peepers open for little surprises around you.
12. Look for Themes and Colors
Train your eye to see themes: such as different colors within the same location. Don’t get caught up in rules – because you can break them!
13. Capture Movement
Create variety in your photo collection by capturing action. This could be in the form of people walking, fish swimming, buses driving past, or birds taking flight. Putting your camera on ‘burst mode’ helps, because then you’re able to take several shots of a subject. This makes it easier to pick the best image for later.
14. Work with Weather
Cloudy or rainy day when traveling? Don’t worry! Just imagine all the beautiful, unique shots you can take: raindrops on flower petals, dark clouds against green islands, thick fog against the forest – the possibilities are endless! What you need to remember is to see the hidden beauty in everything. Once you do, there’s no such thing as bad weather.
15. Talk To People
Make yourself – and folks around you – feel at ease by talking with them. You’re a traveler after all, so go make some friends! Not only can locals help you find hidden gems, they may also allow you to take their photo. What’s cooler than that?
16. Don’t Be Afraid To Explore
While an itinerary is important, tap into your inner adventurer by getting lost once in a while. If you’ve snapped your fill of photos for the day, take the longer route back to your hotel. Heard of a nice place the locals are all raving about? Go ahead and check it out! Found yourself on an unfamiliar road? Don’t be scared – ask for help but enjoy the sights along the way.
The best images are usually those rarely seen.
17. Back Up Your Photos
It goes without saying, but backup, backup, backup! Have physical and online copies, especially of your most memorable photos. Ensure memories of your trip can still be retrieved in cases of theft or damage to your equipment.
18. Play Around with Editing Tools
While capturing the perfect shot is a skill on its own, learning post-processing skills are a must for every serious photographer. Things like adjusting the contrast, reducing highlights, and softening color tones can improve photos by a mile. Invest in them just as much as you would in actual photography.
19. Don’t Forget To Look Up
Once you’re happy with your photo, look up from your camera to be grateful for the scenery in front of you. While you’ve definitely preserved the moment, there’s nothing like experiencing it firsthand. You won’t want to look back at a photo and regret not appreciating it as it happened.
20. Practice, Practice, Practice
Don’t be too hard on yourself if the first images seem disappointing. Again, it’s about patience and hard work. Take more shots of different things and you’ll soon find your groove. Practice at day and at night.
Take your camera with you everywhere. You’ll find that the more you flex those photography muscles, the better photos you eventually end up with. Remember: there’s always something new to learn.