Nothing is worse than coming home from a perfect, expensive trip only to find out that most of your photos seem to disappoint you. The good thing is though: with just some easy tips you can dramatically enhance your results, even if you’re a beginner! Below you will find my 10 steps to better travel photos, fueled from my experience of photographing more than 75 countries in the world.
My 10 Steps to better Travel Photos:
1. Prepare your trip perfectly!
To take better travel photos, preparation is everything! Before your flight heads off you should know which sights you want to see and take photos of. Personally, I always try to plan ahead what I want to do each day so I don’t regret wasting time at each destination. If you have no clue yet about your destination, WikiTravel and Tripadvisor offers a great first insight into the most important sights to visit. It’s always a good tip as well to check with photography forums or sites like 500px before: here you will be able to explore different motives taken at your destination that you might want to check out as well!
2. Capture “Moments”, not just photos!
This is where your photographs turn from “snapshots” to real photos: most of the photos that people take of famous landmarks are very sterile. They just try to capture their overall impression of a scene, and do not care about the hidden details that “make a moment”. The better travel photos you take will remind you how you felt during that very moment, remind you of good or bad times through your travels. This could be a still shot during a long bus ride or a detail of a coffee cup in a far away airport. Check out the example below from my trip to Mumbai: although it’s just a Gin Tonic and my sunglasses during sunset, it reminds me of that special evening light and the atmosphere overlooking that vibrant city!
3. The light is your friend!
A very easy rule to get better travel photos most of the time: bright daylight is not a very good setting for most of your photos. Sunrises and sunsets create a much better atmosphere as the light is softer and shadows reveal new details. To take better travel photos, try to get to the most photogenic sites before 9am or after 4pm. I know, most travel schedules don’t allow following that rule all the time. But as with my example below, I just came back to the beach during sunset as I had some free time left. Sometimes it’s even possible to plan ahead and visit the best views during the evening.
4. Get off the beaten track!
If you always have hordes of tourists around you, you’re doing something wrong while traveling. To take better travel photos you need to leave the typical tourist areas. Try to get off the beaten track and avoid the typical tourist spots. It helps to have a relaxed travel schedule while taking the locals’ way of getting around (e.g. buses, trains). You will be able to create unique better travel photos, not just the ones everyone takes.
5. Portraits create intimacy!
Portraits are the strongest photographs you can take. Faces of people world wide will tell their story by just looking at them. If you have a great travel lens with you like the Canon EF135mm you will be able to take awesome portrait shots which make better travel photos after all. Just think about it – what will probably be a better travel photo: taking a photo of the desert, or of an elderly local with all the wrinkles and scars in his face?
6. Get proper photography gear!
This one sounds quite obvious, but I still have to point it out. You do not need extremely expensive gear to take some awesome photos. I took most of my photos with a comparably old Olympus E-420. But you should still invest in at least decent gear: a good travel camera and a good travel tripod is always necessary to capture all the moments you want to take with you. Especially when the light gets darker you will notice a big difference as a beginner.
7. Don’t focus on the photos everyone takes!
If you always just shoot the photos everyone takes, you will not be different from any other photographer. The secret lies in doing it different: better travel photos are done by getting a feel for the details. Try to create depth in your photo by working with your focus – zoom in on a detail and make the main attraction blur out in the back for example. Especially with antique ruins like the Angkor Wat or Machu Picchu there are so many details to find that create unique photographs – and that is what you should always be aiming for!
8. Ask the locals for photo tips!
With the internet it has become extremely easy to plan your trip. You can get information on all the sights you want to discover and plan ahead perfectly. But: everywhere in the world there are some hidden spots that mostly locals know. Although you might find them on Tripadvisor, you will not spot their beauty and might miss them. This is why you should always talk to locals and ask for great photography spots. This could be your hostel host, someone at a local bar or (very often) cab drivers. This way I was able to discover some of the nicest spots I couldn’t have thought of before!
9. Be picky!
To take better travel photos you should be picky. This means: don’t be satisfied to get an “OK shot” of a certain sight you travelled hours to see. Wait for the perfect light, wait for the perfect time when no one runs into your picture and try different settings on your camera. Also, get many different shots so that you can chose in Lightroom when you’re home. Always remember: you might never come back to this one spot in the world, so make the most of it!
10. Enjoy the moment!
This is something I want to highlight at the end: although you’re a photographer, it is sometimes more rewarding to let a unique moment sink in and enjoy it to the fullest instead of taking photos 24/7. If you have your shots of a sunset, put the camera away for a while and enjoy that special moment. Taking better travel photos is important of course, but enjoying a moment is priceless.