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.

If you like this article please consider subscribing to our RSS or Email feed or following us on Twitter.

What to Pack For Morocco

This is the first in a series of posts about what to pack for specific destinations.  I noticed an unbelievable amount of Google traffic searching for information on what to pack for Morocco, one of my favorite previous trips.  Since I never touched  on what I packed for Morocco, I decided to write a post about it.  Occasionally I’ll revisit this topic for other destinations that require certain types of clothing or gear.

Morocco is a very unique destination.  Located in North Africa but still carrying the vibe of the Middle East.  Morocco is full of culture, languages, sights, great food, amazing landscapes, and best of all, relatively safe.  This makes it a popular destination for independent travelers and backpackers flock to the various areas around the country.

Morocco is not your every day tourist destination though.  Being a conservative Islamic republic, you should be mindful of Moroccan’s customs and be respectful in your dress.  This means that, despite the often warm temperatures, you should not plan on walking around in shorts and short-sleeved t-shirts.  This goes for both men and women.

For men, jeans, khaki’s and cargo pants are acceptable and long sleeved t-shirts, thin jackets, or lightweight casual button-down shirts are recommended.

Women can generally follow the above recommendations but just be mindful to not wear tops that expose cleavage or have short sleeves.  It may not be considered risque in western culture, but these items are generally unacceptable in Moroccan culture.

Recommended Packing List:

  • 4-5 shirts (or blouses) – preferably long sleeved
  • 1 jacket or sweater
  • 2 pairs of comfortable pants
  • swim suit – if you’re visiting the beach
  • hat – especially if you’re visiting the desert
  • enough socks and underwear
  • comfortable sneakers or hiking shoes
  • toiletries – don’t go overboard, but shopping for your typical toiletries in Morocco might be difficult
  • digital camera – smaller is better

Morocco isn’t particularly dangerous, but places like Tangiers do suffer from slightly more than normal amounts of petty theft.  If you are spending time in any medina areas and want to take photographs, a small camera is a better idea.  Remember, this is where Moroccan’s live and work and aren’t necessarily tourist areas, despite the popularity of them.

If you like this article please consider subscribing to our RSS or Email feed or following us on Twitter.

Staying Connected Abroad Without Going Overboard

Year after year more gadgets come out that help us stay connected.  Blackberries, iPhones, laptops, netbooks, etc.  There are an absurd amount of gizmos that we carry around.

Traveling independently, usually with nothing more than a backpack, limits what you can carry, and something is going to have to go.

I used to be guilty of carrying too much with me when I traveled for work.  Not only did I pack a suitcase for one week in a fancy hotel, but I also carried my Apple Powerbook, iPod, digital camera (often a large digital SLR in addition to a pocket digital camera), and my old Sidekick cellphone.  Once you include all the power adapters and other miscellaneous required junk, that’s 15-20 pounds of gear in a daypack!

I’ve learned to live a more simple life, even when traveling for work.  For instance, I no longer need to travel with a laptop.  In fact, the only reason I carried it was to watch movies on airplanes and in my hotel room.

I’ve also consolidated my iPod and cell phone with an iPhone. This lovely gadget never leaves my side and also does most of the work my laptop used to do.  I can easily check my email, surf the web, watch movies, listen to music, and even update my website!

When I travel abroad I turn the cellular data off as I don’t need or want to pay for expensive calls, text messages, or data charges.  I find that most hostels and hotels now have free wireless internet and I’m able to keep up on my email, send messages to my family, and of course, TWITTER!

I’ve also ditched the digital SLRcamera for most trips.  As much as I loved it, it was just too much to carry and in some places, a security liability.  I have a Nikon Coolpix S610pocket digital camera that fits in my pocket and takes great photos.  It’s not the same, but it’s all I need.  Er, want.  Plus, it shoots pretty good quality movies so there’s no need for a video camera either.

In addition to my iPhone and digital camera, the only thing I would consider or recommend carrying would be a Netbook.  These small portable laptops are less than 10″ and usually weigh only 2 or 3 pounds!  To me, they’re not a necessity unless you I was going to be traveling for an extended period of time.  They can come in handy for storing your photographs, writing emails and blog posts, or even using Skype to call back home.

ASUS is arguably the most popular maker of Netbooks today and their latest, the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE is quite appealing.

Consolidating is your friend.  You don’t need every gadget and gizmo out there!  Many people have iPhones and Blackberries that can connect to the internet via WiFi now and that can substitute a laptop for the majority of budget travelers.  Don’t forget that many hostels and hotels now provide computers and if not, internet cafes are always around the corner!

OK now, be honest. What are you guilty of carrying? Share  your good (or bad) habits in the comments section!

How to stay healthy while traveling

first aid
photo credit: TheTruthAbout...

Whether you are traveling for a week or for a year, your health is always a concern you should have.

Traveling in a foreign country usually is an experience to remember, unless you get sick. If you’ve been under the weather while traveling you know first hand what I am talking about.

I’m going to go over a few of the ways I combat sickness and attempt to stay healthy while traveling.

1. Water

You must remember to stay hydrated. Keep in mind that even if you’re just walking around the city with your pack back at your hostel, you’re probably still doing more physical activity than you are used to back home.

Make sure you know if the water in your area is safe to drink though. If not, buy bottled water or if you’re hiking and using stream water, you’ll want.to be sure you can purify your water. There are iodine tablets, filters, and probably the most impressive, the SteriPEN which you can use if you bottle your own water and want to be sure it is safe for drinking.  Be sure any reusable bottles you purchase are BPA-free.

2. Vitamins

A good multi-vitamin can go a long way in keeping your immune system up and fighting the multitudes of germs and bacteria.  Some people use fancy multi-vitamin packs with a handful of various pills and others prefer a simple one-a-day vitamin.

3. Hand Sanitizer

Be sure to wash your hands but if you can’t, a small bottle of hand sanitizer can come in handy. No pun intended.

4. Anti-Diarrheal medicines

I’ve saved the best for last. There is absolutely nothing worse than being so sick that you can’t leave your room. Loperamide (Imodium) works very well if you’ve eaten something bad and are having diarrhea.  Make sure you drink plenty of fluids as you can easily become dehydrated.

5. First-aid kit

Finally, a small first aid kit with basics such as bandages (useful for blisters, not just cuts and scrapes!), antibiotic ointment, and even burn cream if you might be around campfires. There are a plethora of small first-aid kits available everywhere that will take up hardly any room in your backpack.

Have any other suggestions or tips that you use when traveling? Please share them in comments below.

10 Must Have Items for the Independent Traveler

Throughout my travels I have learned a lot of things about what and what not to bring when traveling independently. If you’re the type of traveler who is constantly on the go, I think you’ll benefit from this list.

1. A good backpack:

Sure, you might have some fancy luggage in your closet but if you’re going to be traveling independently on trains, buses, or by foot, you’ll soon be sick and tired of dragging that rolling suitcase behind you.

That’s why I bought the Kelty Redwing 3100 (read my review) for as my main pack when traveling. I’ve gone through three packs before I found this one. It holds about 50 liters of gear, has great padding, and can be adjusted to fit snug and comfortably.

And as a final testimonial, I had shoulder surgery a year before using this for the first time and I never once got sore wearing this bag.

Of course, everybody’s tastes will differ. It might be a good idea to try on a few at your local outdoors store, but with this model being such a bargain, it might be worth the risk to just give it a shot and return it if it doesn’t work out. Note: good backpacks can run upwards of $300.  They might have more space or pockets, but unless you’re packing snow clothes, you shouldn’t need more than 40-50 liters of space.

Best part about this pack, you can carry it on the airplane!

2. A good day pack:

Not everybody will need a second bag, but it can be useful of you will have a base location and be venturing out on hikes or day trips. It’s much easier to leave your large bag behind and load up your day pack with the things you’ll need to get you through the day.
Almost any backpack will do but I particularly like the North Face Recon pack. It holds plenty of gear and is extremely comfortable. As with the Kelty bag, this is one of the first bags I’ve had that doesn’t hurt my shoulders despite loading it up daily with a gallon of water and other junk.

You’ll probably want to have a pack that can hold a water bladder, or at the very least, pockets for water bottles.  You can never have enough water with you!

3. Lonely Planet guide books:

Depending on where you’re going, you’ll likely have a choice of several guidebooks. Over the years I have found Lonely Planet to be the most accurate and helpful for the independent traveler. They tend to cover all types of restaurants and accommodations from the bottom of the barrel budget hostels to five star luxury resorts. Several times I have brought two different guidebooks with me and every time, I end up relying solely on the Lonely Planet.

4. Rough Guide books:

Ok, I wasn’t entirely truthful before. When in Morocco I found myself relying a bit more on the Rough Guide. Since Morocco is a bit difficult to navigate, I often utilized information from both books to determine the best route or activity.

On the other hand though, I’ve browsed other Rough Guides at the book store and some have not been very good. When in doubt, check the reviews on Amazon.

5. Digital Camera:

This probably goes without saying as many people don’t leave home without their camera these days.  My trusty pocket camera is a Nikon S600 which has recently been replaced by the Nikon S610.
You can’t go wrong with just about any modern digital camera and the choices are endless.

I also use a professional Nikon D200 body, but often I find myself leaving it behind and relying on my smaller camera. It’s easier to carry and takes great photos. Don’t forget, most of these small cameras also record movies now. The quality may not be as good as an expensive camcorder, but they work surprisingly well.

6. iPod touch:

Can you tell that I’m a bit of a gadget freak yet? I’ve always brought an iPod along with me ever since I began traveling. You won’t find me walking around the street with headphones in my ears (I prefer the sound of the world around me), but they are great on airplanes and long train rides.

Earlier this year I learned how great my new iPod touch really was. Not only could I use it to listen to music and watch videos on, but its built in WiFi allowed me to hop on to the Internet at every hostel I’ve been at this year and keep in touch with my friends and family. Check your email, surf the web, even post to your blog. Not to mention you can use it to find the latest information on happenings wherever you may be. I’ve since upgraded to an iPhone, but it is so powerful that I don’t even bother carrying a laptop with me anymore. Not even for business trips!

7. Bpa free water bottle:

Ok, enough with the gadgets. No matter where you are, you’ll need to drink water. Depending on where you are, bottled water can often be much more expensive than you’re used to. Solution? Carry your own bottle and refill it with tap water. Just be sure the water is safe to drink where you are visiting!

These CamelBak BPA free water bottles are  great.  Safe to use, strong as heck, and spill proof.  I carry a 1 liter bottle with me every day.

8. Hiking shoes:

You might not need shoes specific to hiking but if you’ll be doing any treading on uneven ground you’ll surely appreciate them.

They’ve evolved over the years to fit and look more like regular old sneakers and less like the mountaineer boots of yesteryear so you won’t feel dorky wearing them around the city as well.

9. Sport sandals:

These are something I wish I had in Costa Rica (and now I do). I tried to make due with my sneakers but every stream, lake, or waterfall we came to I had to sit down and take off my socks and shoes. Then try to keep them dry as I crossed the river only to put them right back on.  I’ve learned my lesson.

They’ll do for mild to medium hikes and you don’t have to take them off when you want to get wet.

10. Quick drying towel:

Last but not least is a quick drying, lightweight towel. They’re thin, light, extremely absorbent, and dry quickly. Much easier to carry than a regular cotton towel, they dry so quickly that they won’t get mildew easily.  Perfect for camping or showering at hostels where you generally need your own towel.  Some hostels will let you use a towel, but there is often a charge. I won’t travel without one anymore.

That’s it! Throw in a few t-shirts and a couple pairs of shorts and you have my backpack, loaded and ready to see the world.

Do you have any suggestions or special items that you can’t travel without?  Please share them in the comments below.

I hope you found this list useful.  If so, and you plan to purchase any of these items or anything else from amazon, I will earn a small percentage of any sales made through the above links.  Anything helps to keep the site up running.  -Thanks!