10 Travel Photography Tips to Help Take Great Photos

I’m an avid traveler and a semi-professional photographer (that means yes, I’ve been paid, but no, not very much) and obviously those two loves combine with travel photography.  I have photos from all over the world and they truly mean everything to me.  I’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way and I’ve picked up tips along the way.  Here are the 10 most important ones I know and share with others all the time.

Keep in mind that it really doesn’t matter what camera you have.  You are the one in control and your camera is just a tool.  Learn how to use it, and learn how to take great photos.

Now, onto the good stuff:

1) Make sure horizon lines are straight

Straight Horizon
Straight Horizon - Fez, Morocco
Crooked Horizon
Crooked Horizon - Slight, but noticeable - Budapest, Hungary

One of the most common mistakes people make, especially when shooting landscapes, is not paying attention to the horizon lines.  It’s easy to hold your camera slightly crooked, so be sure pay attention and try to look for an obvious line to use as a guide if the actual horizon isn’t visible.

2) Use your flash when there is back lighting

No flash, strong back lighting
No flash, strong back lighting. Faces are in a shadow - Costa Rica
Flash used, subjects are lit nicely
Flash used, subjects are lit nicely - Costa Rica

Another common mistake and this easy fix can be used in many different situations.  Flash can be used when the sun is behind the subjects.  In this case, you see that we’re in the shade.  The beautiful rain forest is a major part of the photo, but we still need to be lit well.  Flash to the rescue!

You can also use this technique when posing in front of sunsets, at night if posing in front of a lit building, etc.

3) Offer to take photos of other travelers

Thanks Stranger!
Thanks Stranger! - Rome, Italy

Traveling alone but want a photo of yourself? No, you don’t have to hold the camera out as far as you can and snap a goofy photo of half of your face.  Chances are there are other tourists nearby who are thinking the same thing as you.  You’ll often see couples taking pictures of each other individually. Be friendly and offer to take a photo of them together with their camera.  Then run away with their fancy camera! Wait, that’s not what I was going to say.  Oh yeah, then ask if they’ll mind snapping one of you.  That’s how I managed to get this photo of myself in front of the Trevi Fountain in Rome.

4) Look for unusual perspectives

Thinking outside the frame, er... box?
Thinking outside the frame, er... box? - Fez, Morocco

You can only pose so many times in front of random things or places before all your photos start to get redundant.  Browsing this artisan’s shop in Fez, Morocco we noticed our reflections in these beautiful crafted mirrors and decided to make a unique portrait.  It’s not an amazing picture by any means, but we had a good laugh about it and it’s better than us posing in front of the mirrors or a photo of the mirrors alone.  Those would have been pretty boring, right?

5) Find a way to stabilize your camera at night

Blury hand held photo at night
Blurry hand held photo at night - Budapest, Hungary
Stability means sharpness
Stability means sharpness - Budapest, Hungary

If it’s night time and you want to shoot something that your flash can’t light up, chances are your photo will come out blurry.  The solution? Set the timer on your camera and find somewhere you can set it down.  You probably aren’t walking around with a tripod, so look for a post, fire hydrant, bench, wall, etc.  Line up your shot, click the shutter and take your hands off! Don’t be alarmed if your camera takes a few seconds to get the exposure.  It’ll open the lens for as long as it needs to get a decent exposure.

6) Get high

Birds have the best views - Cinque Terre, Italy
Birds have the best views - Cinque Terre, Italy

No, I don’t mean use drugs to help your travel photography.  Use your feet and start walking up, and up, and up.  Some of the best views are from above such as this photograph from the hills above Cinque Terre.  It was quite a hike, but well worth the effort.

7) Don’t use your camera’s digital zoom

Digital Zoom - Venice, Italy
Digital Zoom Reenactment, don't try this at home - Venice, Italy
No Digital Zoom. Nice and crisp! - Venice, Italy
No Digital Zoom. Nice and sharp! - Venice, Italy

There are very few reasons why you should ever use the digital zoom function on your digital camera.  So few reasons that I can’t even think of one.  Even if it does help you reach somewhere you couldn’t have without it, the pictures are so pixelated and blurry that you will probably never use it.  It’s truly a worthless feature built into cameras simply so they can advertise a bloated zoom number on the box for uninformed buyers.

If you really need to get closer for a shot, use your feet.  If that’s not possible, try a different perspective.  Get creative and you’ll enjoy your photo much more than by zooming in to 100x.

8) Keep an eye out for candid moments

Beggar candid - Florence, Italy
Beggar candid - Florence, Italy
Kids fighting over a tire - Fez, Morocco
Kids fighting over a tire - Fez, Morocco

Candid moments are usually my favorite type of photographs.  Sometimes you can capture someone’s expression when it is entirely genuine.  These kids fighting over a tire really stood out to me and I was really glad I managed to capture it.

This is the time to be incognito – think James Bond!  Haven’t you always wanted to be a spy?

9) Keep an eye out for something unusual

Unusual paint job - Budapest, Hungary
Unusual paint job - Budapest, Hungary

So long as it is safe, you should always carry your camera with you.  Even if it’s pouring rain outside, bring it along since you never know when you might see a SmartCar with the Death Star painted on it.

10) Take a lot of photos and don’t delete them

Memory cards are cheap.  Buy the biggest one that your camera will work with or, better yet, buy several.  It might seem like over kill but it can be a good idea to change cards a couple times throughout your trip.  This way, if one fails or your camera gets stolen, you still have photos on another card and you didn’t lose everything. If you’re feeling nice you can always donate it to a traveler in need.  I met two during my last trip and unfortunately I could only help one of them out of their bind.

I hope these tips help!  If you have any travel photography questions or have a tip you’d like to share, please use the comments below.

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23 Replies to “10 Travel Photography Tips to Help Take Great Photos”

  1. Good, sensible advice. I would add to #10 – also carry a USB memory stick and download your memory cards onto it whenever you have access to a computer – extra backup.

  2. Great tips. I had terrible trouble taking good night shots on a recent trip to Cancun. I do delete photos occasionally but only when they are really unusable; most of the others have something I want.

  3. Great tips! I love the pic with the mirrors! On our recent trip, the flash was so important, even outside, in order to draw out colors in the foliage. I would be interested in know what your thoughts are on taking pics of flowers if you suggest not zooming in.

  4. Thanks to everybody for their comments. I’m glad you found this article helpful!

    JoAnna, I don’t know if you’re using a compact digital camera or an SLR, but I’ll assume a compact camera. If so, you probably have a macro mode, sometimes called close up. Most manufacturers have an icon for a flower on it. It helps focus on closer subjects. If so, set it and play around with zooming in and moving back and forth. I also like to get down low to the ground for a different perspective.

    You might need flash depending on the lighting situation. If you use it and find it too strong, try putting your finger a few inches in front of the flash or maybe using a piece of tape or paper to diffuse it. There are lots of things to try.

    Funny you brought this up because I almost put this in the list :)

  5. I always use the “stability” trick when I take shots at night. The camera’s night mode is great but worthless if you cannot hold it still long enough.

    Oh yeah, don’t assume that Photoshop can solve anything; in many cases it can RUIN everything! Yes, you can save some “red eyes” but it takes ages to fix a poorly lit photo (i.e. the light from behind thing)

  6. In regards to the stability issue – a gorilla pod would make a very good addition to your travel gear.

  7. Fantastic article … great reminders even for a professional!!! I travel extensively as I predominately shoot destination weddings, so I have a good amount of travel photography tips as well. The gorilla pod is fantastic, it comes in different sizes for both SLR and point & shoots … I never travel internationally with a tripod anymore. Now that we are in the digital age and memory is all but dirty cheap I also take reference photos to help me document my subjects – ie. street signs, etc that would help me identify a building or business, locations, etc when I am home. I also photograph menus when I travel, gives me some cooking ideas to research further when I am home and sick of making my usual.
    I too also love candids, especially being a wedding photographer I am quite good at capturing those intimate moments – I often like to “shoot from the hip” it gives a different perspective and enhances your James Bond moment.
    One thing that you touched on is what I think to be most important … travel photography is all about ANGLES … whether up high or down low, no one wants to see the same stock standard photos … be creative, it is fun and very rewarding.
    One thing not mentioned, composition rule of thirds … to think of your viewfinder as having a grid – 3 equal squares across and down (9 squares total) and position so your subjects on a third instead of just centering everything.

  8. I am purchasing a Canon T1i, which comes with a separate zoom lens. Is that worthwhile, as opposed to the zoom in the camera? I’ve had an Olympus which had zoom and I loved it. I’d appreciate any feedback you can give me on this – never heard it before.

  9. Hi Lynn,

    Your Canon T1i doesn’t have any zoom except for what the particular lens you are using is capable of. This would essentially be considered an optical zoom since it isn’t computing the zoom like some pocket cameras do.

    Note that most of the list is assuming you are using a pocket camera with less features and options as a digital-SLR like your new Canon T1i. Enjoy it!

  10. Great Web site and full of Greater information. I’m trying to take pictures of mirrors that we make and sell and would like any help you may give me about taking the pictures to put on our web site. I can’t seem to take a good picture to show the decorative mirror as being a mirror without showing something in its reflection. I would appreciate any help you may offer.



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