19 Travel Photography Tips That Will Make Better Photos

In this post, I would like to share with you travel photography tips that have given me amazing results over the years.

I’ve had my share of missteps and stumbles. Each trip has taught me something new and every travel photography project has pushed me to figure out how to get the best possible travel photos on every trip.

1. Research Your Destination

There is nothing more maddening than remembering some photo from 4 months ago of the perfect looking coffee shop at your next destination and not being able to find it.

Create research folders for destinations and when you run across something intriguing stick it in there. Even if you don’t come back around to it till years later, it’ll at least be there waiting. Here’s what I use:

  • Instagram collections
  • Dog-ear travel magazines
  • Bookmark web pages organized by destination.
a photo of a airbnb in Japan that i had bookmarked for an upcoming trip
An airbnb in Japan that I had bookmarked a year prior to my trip.

2. Crowd Source Information

Often to get to know a location really well, you need to spend time there. If you don’t have the luxury of spending weeks or months in a location, which is typical, look for friends, family, and acquaintances that might have connections to your destination.

Recently, while researching a trip to Mexico City, I got incredible recommendations from a friend that had grown up visiting Mexico City every year with his family.

Online travel forums such as TripAdvisor or nomadlist can also be very helpfull when you are location researching.

Another way to find unique places for travel photography is to hunt around Instagram location tags. Additionally, they are a good way to spot new places that have yet to be written about in travel magazines. Usually, I look for particularly popular posts and then check the account feed to see if it’s a location-specific account that’s in my destination.

3. Create Photo Goals

Once you have a rough list of places to shoot and things to do, think of ways how those photographs can all fit together and be arranged at the end of the trip. I personally find that it’s much easier to shoot when I have an overarching theme, story or topic in mind. Otherwise, I’m unfocused when I arrive and a little scattered with my shooting. It’s frustrating to get to the end of a trip and to be left wondering if you have enough shots with enough range.

On a trip around the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, I decided to work on a personal project capturing the many colorful facades of the area. Knowing ahead of time that I wanted a broad range of colors, I was able to set aside enough time at the end of the trip to capture a handful of missing colors. Leaving Mexico, I knew I had everything photographed that I needed to organize the project.

a travel photograph of a woman walking past a colorful wall in mexico
One of the many colorful facades of the Yucatan.

4. Pack the Right Gear

One of the reasons for story and theme planning ahead of time is so you can have a good sense of what sort of equipment to pack.

Occasionally the location makes the decision for you. For example, I always leave my drone at home when heading out to New York City because of all of the drone restrictions in the city.

Most of the time though, I have to take time to contemplate the situations I’ll find myself in order to pick my equipment.

a backpack on a mountain
Location and story research is key to packing your camera gear

5. Scout Locations

If you find yourself with the luxury of having enough time, take a day to scout around. It’s easier to get a sense of place without a camera in hand. People often respond when they see camera, from politely pausing to glaring, there’s always a shift when you’re photographing a place. It’s really nice to know what it’s like without the camera intrusion.

6. Have a Plan

If your trip is mostly for fun, a few mapped out destinations to photograph will be enough to keep you on track. On the other hand, if you’re shooting for a project, I think it’s important to have a precise plan. Personally, I always stress about making sure I get everything done in the time I have so I plan and create a timetable when I’m working on a travel photography project.

Tip: Do online research and find names of places, how to get there, and how long it usually takes to explore the area.

The Public Hotel in New York City was one of my planned stops on a recent trip to New York City.

7. Wake up Early to Get the Best Travel Photos!

Do you want to avoid the crowds and take the best possible travel photography shots? I have three words for you.

Wake up early!

Not only will you have amazing destinations all to yourself but also great lighting. Golden hour (shortly after the sunrise) produces vivid, soft, golden lighting that is perfect for travel photography and hard to replicate in any editing software.

Beautiful sunrise taken early morning in Negombo, Sri Lanka
Sunrise at the Negombo Beach, Negombo, Sri Lanka

8. Find the Perfect Spot for Golden Hour

Golden hour is where nature put out its most vivid light show. If you are a travel photographer, you don’t want to miss the golden hour.

Always hunt around for spots to shoot at sunset and sunrise when you’re walking around. The golden hour goes by fast and if you don’t have a specific location in mind, you’ll struggle to get the best shot before it’s over. I generally like to have a specific location in mind and I try to arrive 15 minutes or so before sunrise or sunset to setup my tripod, camera, and ND grad filters.

Pro Tip: Use an app, such as photoephemeris, that can help you track the sunrise/sunset direction relative to your destination.

A photo of the golden sunset at the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in Iceland
Capturing sunset at the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in Iceland. Photo by Sandy Noto.

9. Master the Art of Composition

Photo composition is a skill that you need to practice and hone. If you’ve taken even a cursory look around for advice on composing photos, you’re probably familiar with the rule of thirds. It is a basic yet powerful way to compose in a way that draws viewer’s attention to your subjects. Simply place your subject on or intersections of one third lines of your frame.

A travel photo of a castle in the middle of a lake. Composed with rule of thirds.
Rule of thirds is a simple yet powerful composition tool that will immediately make a huge difference in your travel photography.

Mastering the rule of thirds is a great starting point but dig deeper. Study famous photographs, dig through photo books and read everything you can on photo composition. Over time it’ll become second nature to look for symmetry, leading lines and interesting viewpoints.

Composition is the difference between a snapshot and a great photograph!

A photo of two women walking in an alley in japan. COmposed with leading lines.
This photo, composed with many leading lines, naturally draw the viewer’s eye to the subject.

10. Travel with a Tripod

Tripods are great in so many situations but lugging around a regular tripod while doing travel photography can be a pain in the neck. A good travel tripod, preferably made from light material such as carbon fiber, is a worthwhile investment. You get all the stability and range of a tripod without the bulk.

Rated Article: Best iPhone Tripod

I’ve lugged my Sirui travel tripod all over the world and have not regretted it. I invested in this carbon fiber tripod because they are extremely lightweight and reliable.

You don’t need to spend a lot of money on a carbon fibre tripod if you can’t afford one. Consider other alternatives such as Aluminum tripods, GorillaPods, monopods, or beanbags. The only requirement here is to have a stable camera that allows you to shoot at low shutter speeds without camera shake.

Aperture: ƒ/20.0 |Shutter Speed: 2s | ISO:100
It would be impossible to take long exposure photography if not for having a tripod.

11. Use a Polarizing Filter

Do you want to know how to take stunning travel photos with vivid colors right out of the camera? Invest in a polarizing filter!

Basically it is a piece of glass that goes in front of your lens that filters out scattered light. Without the interference of scattered light, your camera is able to capture your subjects with vivid natural colors. It is also a great tool to get rid of glare from surfaces such as water or glass.

Use a circular polarizer to intensify colors in your travel photography

12. Always Carry a Camera

I always carry my camera in my hand (unless it is raining out). I use a sling camera strap with my Canon 5D Mark IV. My camera is always easily accessible but sits low on my hip so it’s not as noticeable. Whenever I’m walking around, I check my settings during lulls to make sure they’re accurate. If anything catches my eye I don’t have to dig my camera out of a backpack and fiddle with settings, I’m just ready to take a photo.

Pro Tip: Always wear your lens hood for protecting your lens.

With travel photography, things move quickly. Most of the time, I see something and have to decide in that moment whether or not to shoot it. Second chances are slim so I’ve learned to always take the shot. I’d much rather have an extra outtake than to kick myself for missing a moment.

13. Talk to Locals and Fellow Travelers

Traveling is a great way to meet new people and make connections. Everyone is there for a common purpose which makes it easy to make friends. Don’t be afraid to ask people about what not to miss.

Leave some wiggle room in your travels to go see things you hear about once you’re at your destination. Usually, if I hear about a place from 2 or 3 people, I add it to my list of things to check out.

If you want to really explore a place, strike up a conversation with locals.

Whenever you meet people on your travels be conscientious of the possibility of cultural miscommunications. Every place has norms and social cues that are sometimes hard to pick up on at first. Be patient with people you meet and yourself when visiting a place for the first time.

But don’t worry too much. People are super friendly and often honored that you have come to experience their land and culture!

14. Be Mindful of Other Photographers and Find Your Own Path

You will run across other photographers on your travels. Sometimes it’s nice to have camaraderie. Sometimes it’s annoying to have someone lurking over your shots. If you’re in a popular destination, be mindful of other photographers and also look for your own angles and side roads.  

Just take a look at this video to see how inconsiderate some travelers can be and how it can ruin travel photography.

Be respectful of nature, safety, and others. Always.

15. Look for Unique Angles and Compositions

The Eiffel Tower, Lady Liberty, Times Square, you’ve probably seen hundreds of photos of these iconic spots and a lot of those shots were probably taken from the exact same angles. Maybe that is truly the best angle to capture each attraction from but challenge yourself to find new, unconventional ways to convey the attraction.

Try going high, low, use an unconventional lens. The more popular an attraction, the more creative you need to be in order to bring something new to the table. Be sure to use all you’ve learned about composition and isolating your subjects.

A unique angle of the eiffel tower in paris.
Try to capture your destinations in your own way. Don’t stand behind other photographers and come home with the same shot as everyone else!

16. Look for Emotions and Human Elements in Your Travel Photography

Ultimately, travel is about people. Learning about new cultures, finding similarities in a foreign place and identifying what makes people unique. Photographing people can be uncomfortable at first and you may stumble into an awkward situation every now and then but if all your photos are devoid of people or only utilize them as a crowd, you’re missing a prime opportunity to convey a distinct sense of place.

Try shooting street style portraits where you’re moving fast and avoiding being detected and then try the opposite and ask people directly whether they mind if you take their photo. In my experience, most people are generally flattered and these can be some of the most memorable photos and interactions of a trip.

A girl from the Kayan Long Neck Hill Tribe in Thailand posing for a photo
A girl from the Kayan Long Neck Hill Tribe in Thailand

17. Always Wear a Smile!

Often times in a place you need to be the one to smile first, to approach, to adventure towards the things you want to photograph. A smile is a great weapon against anyone who’s uncomfortable around a foreigner with a camera.

It’s free. It makes you human, and let others know that you are not a threat.

18. Listen to Your Favorite Music

Music can lift your spirits and get you in that creative space. I fill my phone with favorite music and listen en-route to a destination. Ofc, I am mindful not to have my earphones on while I am with company.

Same goes for your favorite travel shows, load them up on a tablet and start watching when you get a break.

18. Edit Your Photos

While VSCO and Lightroom Presets will get you started, to really get your images to the next level you need to understand how to translate the vision you have for your image through the editing process. This means taking the time to play around with and read about highlights, shadows, contrast, color temperature, saturation versus vibrance, and distortion. There are plenty of great guides here to get started on:

19. Don’t Forget to Have Fun!

Don’t get too bogged down in shot lists, gear and schedules to lose sight of how fun it can be to travel. Getting to know a new place is incredible. Appreciate each opportunity and be sure to have fun on your adventures.

Related Article: Best travel cameras

Over to you

Where are you off to next? We would love to see your travel photos below in the comments section. Please comment if you have any questions or want to share a tip of your own!

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About the author

Sandy N

Sandy Noto is a food and travel photographer. Her specialities include pantomiming to order delicious meals abroad, finding the cutest pastry shop in any city and inviting herself over to your next dinner party. She is particularly proud to have photographed 157 restaurants and counting without any major mishaps, just a few creative messes.

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