Whether you’re a seasoned pro or about to head out on your first endeavor, photographing your travels can be a stressful ordeal. You want to make sure you’re getting good shots that capture the essence and culture of your destination, but you also have a strict and fully packed itinerary so you can squeeze everything in. Fortunately, capturing perfect vacation photos can actually be a relaxing way to spend your time as long as you’re prepared.
On that note, here’s a list of travel tips to consider for your upcoming vacation photo adventure:
1. Do Your Research
With the abundance of technology in existence today, you can feel like you’ve explored a place before you even stepped foot off the plane. Use your pre-trip planning to find things about the place that inspire you and make a list of the things you don’t want to miss.
I often find a Pinterest search can lead to some really different ideas and inspiration. Once you know which photos you want to capture, research access points and mark the locations on your Google Maps app. That way, you already know where to head once you reach your destination.
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2. Find a Different Perspective
Search for any famous landmark from the Eiffel Tower to the Statue of Liberty, and you’ll find thousands of similar images. To make your travel photos stand out, try to look at the destination in a different way. Maybe there’s an interesting angle or time of day that would make a great, yet rare image.
I try to mix things up by getting up close to the subject and taking a walk far away just to see if an unfamiliar, but novel perspective presents itself. I find a couple of good tools to aid with discovering new perspectives are Google Maps and Google Earth. Take a look for nearby roads or hills that may have an interesting view of your subject.
3. Pack A Tripod
It may be cumbersome and seem like more hassle than it’s worth, but a tripod is a useful tool to have you snapping faultless vacation photos. For morning and evening low-light landscapes, or when there’s no sign of a passerby to aid in your travel group photo, a good travel tripod comes to the rescue.
However, it pays to be aware of your airline’s carry on rules and regulations. Many airlines limit the length of tripods, which may mean yours needs to travel in your checked baggage. I’ve often found the gorilla pod satisfies airline restrictions and suffices for my needs while away from home.
4. Don’t Neglect the Details
People often forget to look at what’s under their feet, at their surroundings, or at the small details. To be cliché, the little things can be just as memorable as the big picture.
Macro photography can add a whole new dimension to your travel album. Whether it’s the tiled floors of Morocco or the beautiful marbled wall patterns of the Taj Mahal, you’ll be happy you took the time to look beyond the usual.
5. Weather Research for Photography
Weather can have a devastating effect upon a holiday in general, but it can be especially disastrous for vacation photos. A rainy day can turn photos of outdoor activities into empty space on your memory card. That’s why I recommend downloading a local weather app for your travels.
It will make it easier to plan outdoor activities when good weather is forecasted and focus on rainy day photography when you know the weather is going to be subpar. And when the weather is rainy, these helpful tips can help you capture great travel photos despite the weather.
6. Fear Water
The sworn enemy of the DSLR–water damage can ruin your holiday. It’s more than likely you’re going to get caught in the rain, splashed in a boat, or excessively sweaty in tropical heat. If you’re not sporting a waterproof camera, these are dangerous times. I recently lost my DSLR body during a torrential downpour. I was driving a motorbike and had little warning of the flash flood ahead.
Fortunately, there are a plethora of waterproof accessories to prevent water damage from occurring and ending your photo holiday early. I suggest keeping a small towel in your bag to remove any water that may find its way in during the rain, as well as a plastic shopping bag to make a semi-waterproof sleeve in a pinch.
7. Get Up Early
I know, I know. You’re on vacation, and the last thing you want to do is wander around in the early hours of the morning. But…the earlier you wake, the less crowded the popular destinations will be. Want to photograph the Grand Canyon or Chitchinitza without the crowds? Go at sunrise.
Bonus tip: I have a sunrise/sunset app on my phone, so I always know what time to get up. It also provides me with additional information on when to be at the beach for those colourful sunset shots.
The light is also generally very beautiful during sunrise. Try to make it in time for blue hour and golden hour to maximize photo opportunities.
8. Get To Know Your Settings
For the best travel photography, your settings will need to change depending on the type of photo you are taking. If you’re shooting in Auto mode, you have little control over this outcome. I would suggest learning to use your aperture priority setting. Shooting in aperture priority will allow greater control over the final image.
For example, landscapes usually favor a narrower aperture (f8 or above) while portraits can generally be wider at around f3.2.
9. Trust In Your Smartphone For On The Fly Vacation Photos
There are times when carrying your SLR and lenses around just isn’t practical or appropriate. These days, smartphones have proven their worth as a more than adequate deputy. In some cases, phones may even suffice as a main camera for your trip.
With attachable lenses, filters, and editing apps, holiday images shot from an iPhone or Android are more than appropriate for social media sharing. For those who have yet to explore and master the art of smartphone photography, perhaps now is the time to get a practice session in.
I’d suggest making a day of it. Challenge your friends to see who can capture the best image using a phone camera. This exercise may well prevent the loss of a memorable moment from your forthcoming trip.
10. Pack A Spare Battery & Memory Card
It may seem obvious, but that’s because it is. Pack a spare (charged) battery and an empty memory card. When you’ve had a stand-out day of photography where the shutter has rarely stopped, the nightmare flash of ‘card full’ won’t leave you without hope.
Or, maybe you forgot to charge the battery the night before, you’ll be safe in the knowledge that your spare is loaded and ready to go. On a day to day basis, this is probably the tip I need to listen to the most.
11. Be Ready
It may be more comfortable at times to have your camera put away in a bag, especially after the tedium of having to take it out and put it back numerous times during a journey.
But it only takes a 10-second delay in which you have to reach for your camera in its case to miss that once in a lifetime shot. When possible, always have your camera out and ready.
12. The Back-up Plan
Easily ignored until the moment you need it, a back-up plan is essential. I’m sure you’ve heard numerous stories of lost albums where a daily back-up could have prevented months of later heartache. It can be a painful discipline, I know, but those hours of transferring files will be more than paid back in your moment of need. Few things are worse than losing a month (or more) of images.
Personally, I always travel with an external hard drive for backing up my SD cards. That external remains in my second bag. Remember, don’t keep your back-up in the same place as the originals in case of theft or damage. It’s also a good idea, if possible, to keep a third back-up somewhere in the cloud, but this can be a challenge in more remote or less developed destinations.
Related Article: Best Memory Card for Camera
13. Keep a Record of Where You Are
It’s easy to believe you’ll remember every detail of your favourite holiday snaps. Sadly, memory often fails us, and when it comes time for post-processing and cataloging, details can become fuzzy. To remedy this, keep a simple notebook with the answers to where, when, and what for every series of photos.
As a keen wildlife photographer, I will admit there have been numerous occasions when I’ve ignored this tip. As a result, I’ve spent hours scouring the internet for the name of the stunning bird I was sure I’d never forget. Keeping a notebook would have prevented hours lost trying to spark that memory I thought was embedded in my memory.
14. Travel Light
Camera equipment is heavy, but through careful research and selection, you should be able to take a load off your back. Literally. I recommend choosing two lenses (max!) for most trips. Be sure to do your pre-trip research and decide which pieces of gear would be the most useful.
15. Stay In One Place
It may be tempting, or sometimes necessary, to try and see everything in one trip. However, I find a longer duration of stay or multiple visits to the same area can yield a much better photographic experience. In this way, you can really get to know a place and express your artistic opinion of it through the lens.
16. Lose Yourself
Sometimes getting lost can have its advantages. A great way to discover unique and individual locations is to find places away from the crowds.
In a city, it’s easy to stick to the main roads and never deviate. But occasionally cutting through the back roads or taking the long way can help you discover a photographical gem you hadn’t even considered pre-trip.
17. Don’t Be Afraid To Ask
It can take a lot of confidence to walk up to a complete stranger and ask them for a photograph. Fear of rejection can be a powerful thing. However, in pursuit of top travel photography, stunning portraits of locals are a real winner.
There’s a definite potential for awkwardness, but don’t let that stop you! From time to time expect your advances to be rejected, but I am often pleasantly surprised by how willing and happy many of the local people are to have their photos taken. Here’s a pro tip – Offer to email the finished product to your photographic subject. It may help break the ice.
18. Think Smart and Safe
On average, a traveling photographer will be carrying €2319.34 worth of camera equipment. (Ok, so the stat isn’t real… but camera equipment is expensive!)
It’s important to make sure you have a plan in case of theft. Travel insurance, accommodation reviews, and padlocks can all aid to keep you calm and safe during your holiday. Make sure you aren’t found without your camera during your time away.
19. Share Your Work!
It’s all well and good having 3000 great images on your computer from your last trip, but make sure you use them. There’s little point having the world’s best picture of Niagara Falls if no other person in the world gets to see it (personal enjoyment aside).
You can showcase your vacation photos and travel tales right here on PhotoBlog.
20. Prepare a Checklist
The last thing you want to do is to be sitting on your plane home and browsing through your photos only to discover you never took one of the photos you dreamed of. A small checklist of desired images will prevent any unwanted expletives on your way home.
21. Snap Away
In this digital world, taking too many photos has little consequence. At one point in time, a careless click may have cost you your last remaining exposure. With modern cameras, this is not the case. The digital age allows for a ‘photograph now, delete later’ mentality.
I will usually take excessive amounts of photos of one thing in every composition and aperture and then take my favorite few during post-processing. Of course, this isn’t the most efficient way to do things, but it usually results in fantastic images.
22. Tell a Story
A photo journal can really take your photography to a new level. A single stand out image is great, but to share your journey through progressive captures is a sure-fire way to inspire others. In fact, many travel publications are now using photographic essays with very few words to showcase various destinations.
23. Forget Tradition
Whilst a cheesy grin and your target location may make for a great memory, a simple candid moment can represent a moment far more truthful than an arm’s length smile. Try to photograph locals or your travel buddies acting naturally.
If you’d prefer a posed shot, don’t have them smiling into the camera. Photograph your subjects from behind or looking away from the camera. This will create a far more natural image. Of course, that’s not to say selfies don’t have their time and place…
24. Shoot in RAW
It’s a memory card killer compared to JPEG, but the reality is that a RAW file allows a far greater recovery. If your settings were slightly off, you should be able to save your file in post-processing. If you are planning to shoot in RAW, I would advise a memory card no smaller than 16gb.
25. Book a Room With a View
To save you some travel time, it’s often best to book a room with a view. Then, you can choose to shoot those painful sunrise photos from your bed, if you desire. You’ll also be able to shoot beautiful images throughout the day, if only to compare which light works best.
Alternatively, find accommodation in your photographic destination. For example, it would be preferable to stay inside Monument Valley than to be at a hotel 20 miles away. In this way, you’ll always have the first crack at the best viewpoints and the last light of the day.
What’s Your Best Travel Photography Tip?
Did we miss any of your favorite travel tips and tricks? Let us know in the comments below!
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