For many of us, going on a trip means we hope to come back with great photos. We go on this amazing adventure, see beautiful sceneries and want to capture them in a way that means something to us.
However, there’s more to taking great travel photos than just showing up to a beautiful location and snapping a few shots. If you aren’t well prepared for your trip, you may end up returning home with nothing more than a few snaps instead of the beautiful images you intended to capture.
The good news is that going from shooting ‘snaps’ to capturing amazing travel photography doesn’t require that much. In fact, you’ll be well on the way by following the 12 tips I’ve shared below.
#1 Know your camera
Whether you have a new camera or you’ve had it for a long time, make sure you know how to easily change the basic settings and how to maneuver your way through its menus. It’s essential know the ins and outs before leaving on a trip. Failing to do so can cause a lot of stress and in the worst case, result in you missing the shot.
Even experienced photographers should spend time getting to know their new camera before leaving on a trip. Each brand and model have their slight differences and using a new setup can be confusing for most.
At the very least, you should learn where to find and adjust the essentials camera settings such as the aperture, shutter speed, ISO and white balance. I also recommend that you’re familiar with the general menu and, from experience, how to quickly turn on your display light when shooting at night.
#2 Learn to make a good composition
A good composition is what makes or breaks your shot. Take some time to learn what makes up a good composition in an image so that you have the basic toolset to capture compelling photos from your travels.
One compositional guideline is The Rule of Thirds. The concept here is to break away from always having your main subject and horizon centered in the image. The frame is broken into nine squares by dividing the frame down in thirds both horizontally and vertically; try to place the point of interest along or at the intersection of these lines instead of centering it.
This is a quick and easy guideline to follow and one that often improves the overall appearance of the image.
Leading lines is another popular compositional guideline that’s often used in photography. By using natural lines, for example a path or river, you can help guide the viewer through the photograph. Good leading lines can have a huge impact on the visual flow of an image.
There are many compositional guidelines in photography and in our article ‘5 Compositional Guidelines to know in Landscape Photography‘ we look at some of the most important.
#3 Research and scout your locations
Do your homework on the locations you are planning to visit; start by looking for inspiration from other photographers to learn about the classic shots then move on to using Google Maps in aerial view to find the lesser-known spots that may have potential.
I recommend that you write a list of both the general areas and specific locations you’ve been scouting and include a little extra information about each place so that you know what to expect.
It’s also crucial that you’re familiar with the weather (as well as the sunrise and sunset times) and have an idea of what it might be like during your visit: this way you can be prepared for anything.
Since light plays such an important role in landscape photography, it’s important to keep in min the direction of the sun. This allows you to get the best possible light on each location as you know what time of the day visit.
Don’t plan on getting the perfect shot right away; spend some time moving around the location and test different compositions. Once you have found one you that you’re happy with, wait for the light.
Sometimes this means coming back to the same location a few times.
#4 Travel light
One of the more important things I’ve learned (and definitely the hard way) is to travel light.
I know how tempting it is to pack every piece of equipment you can possibly fit into your bag but sometimes it’s better to take only the essentials. Trust me, when you’re carrying it on your back all day, for several days in a row, your back/body will thank you for leaving a couple of pounds behind.
#5 Wake up early and stay out late
Light, as mentioned earlier, is a key ingredient for great photos and the best light for travel photography tends to be early mornings for sunrise and in the evenings for sunset. These hours, known as the Golden Hour, have a softer and warmer light compared to the middle of the day when the sun is high and the light is harsh.
There’s another bonus of being up early too: you’re more likely to have a popular and touristic location for yourself. We’ve all heard the saying “the Early Bird gets the worm”. That’s very true in travel and landscape photography.
The blue hour is another great time of day for photography. This is the hour either just before sunrise or after sunset when the sun is just below the horizon and creates a magical blue light.
#6 Don’t forget your tripod
Tripods are great and I couldn’t live without mine.
I know they can be bulky and annoying to lug around but I strongly recommend that you don’t leave the tripod at home, especially when going on a photography expedition. I dragged mine around while traveling by train across Europe for two months and while it wasn’t always ideal, I wouldn’t have been able to get many of the shots I did without it.
Recommended Reading: Why Every Landscape Photographer Needs a Tripod
Tripods come in handy when you intend to photograph either early morning or late evening. This is because the dim light makes it nearly impossible to shoot handheld without increasing your ISO to levels that negatively impact the image quality. By using a tripod, you can instead extend the shutter speed while still getting a sharp result.
Experimenting with long exposure photography is another great reason to bring the tripod. This has a great effect on images that include water, skies or other moving elements. Creating that blur or milky look in water will not be possible without the tripod.
#7 Always remember extra batteries
This may seem like a no brainer but you’d be surprised the number of times I’ve gone out to shoot and found my camera battery was dead and I forgot my spares. There is nothing worse than being in a beautiful location with the most epic conditions and nothing but flat batteries.
So before you head out shooting, make it a habit to charge all your batteries and be sure to have a couple of spares available in your bag.
A little tip to remember is colder weather drains your batteries faster. I would always have a couple of extra spare batteries when shooting somewhere that has a colder climate.
#8 Be patient
A great photograph takes time.
Most of the images you see and love from your favorite photographers are the result of them going back to the same spot several times and patiently waiting for the right conditions.
Once you’ve taken the time to set up your composition, it’s all about waiting for the light. Pay attention to the details of the light and the clouds and wait for all the elements to come together.
This can take a while and sometimes it may not happen at all. That’s all part of photography.
#9 Shoot in manual mode and capture RAW files
Cameras have become quite smart and you’d think they could take amazing photos in automatic mode but that’s not really the case.
Yes, the camera analyzes the scene in automatic mode and makes what it believes to be a logical decision for aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Sometimes it turns out ok, even great but other times you may find that the images tend to be a bit overexposed or differ from what you prefer.
I highly recommend that you begin to learn about what aperture, shutter speed and ISO are, how they work together and affect your image. This will lay the fundamentals for you to progress towards using the manual mode. Here’s a quick refresher for you:
Aperture affects the depth of field. Depth of field is how much of your image is in focus and how much is out of focus. The smaller the aperture is, the bigger the depth of field.
Shutter Speed is how long the image is being captured. The camera’s shutter is opened to let light into the sensor. When an image is overexposed it means that too much light has been let in. When it’s underexposed, too little light could get in which could be due to a too quick shutter speed. Keep in mind that a fast shutter freezes motion while a longer shutter blurs it.
I also suggest that you shoot in the RAW image format instead of JPEG. This is an uncompressed file that gives you more information to work with and better flexibility in post production.
#10 Backup your images
Make sure to remember backing up your photos as you go. It’s a good idea to bring an external hard drive on your travels that you can import your images to at the end of every day. There’s nothing worse than technology failing us and losing hundreds of beautiful images.
Recommended Reading: Step-by-Step on How I back Up my Photography
Save yourself the stress and find a system that works for you to have photos saved safely.
While I’m traveling I like to know that all my images are saved in two different places just in case something happens. This is why I tend to keep all my images on a memory card and have them backed up on the hard drive until I return home.
#11 Don’t stop shooting when the weather turns bad
Some of my favorite shots are taken in the harshest elements. I look back at those photos and remember standing outside for hours in the freezing cold wet rain or snow but the reward was a great shot! Dramatic weather can add an extra dynamic to your photos so don’t run away from it.
Look at the weather forecast and be prepared. Pack extra layers, and have dry clothes in your car ready for you if possible. Make sure you have a rain cover for your camera bag and possibly your camera if you are worried about that.
I make sure to have two microfiber cloths in my bag and sometimes 2 extras in the car; one large one to dry my camera body and a smaller one for my lens. It protects my gear and helps me be able to shoot longer without my lens being covered in water spots.
#12. Always be respectful
My last tip is the one I think this one is the most important: always be respectful when traveling and photographing new places.
You’re exploring someone else’s home and culture so keep in mind the golden rule of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”
Be considerate, don’t go tramping through someone’s private property to get a shot, or take a photo of someone’s house while they are sitting at the window eating dinner… No one feels comfortable with that. It’s better to instead ask for permission and only go where they allow.
Make sure to ask a stranger if they’re ok with you taking a photo of them; don’t assume you can just sneak a quick shot. When in doubt, don’t shoot. Be conscious of the different cultures and that some photographs may not be allowed.
Travel photography is a lot of fun but being in a beautiful location is only the first step in capturing impactful images. The very best shots require time, planning and consistency but I think we can all agree that it’s worth it when you finally get that one shot.
You’re more likely to return home with professional-looking images when you’re prepared. Know what to expect about both the location and the weather, know how the sun hits the scenery and know how to best utilize your camera. It doesn’t take much but this is going to be the difference between an impressive travel photograph and a simple ‘snap’.
The most important thing about travel photography is to remember to look up. You’re somewhere new for the very first time, don’t be so focused on getting the shot that you forget to stop and enjoy the views along the way.