Do you like travel? Enjoy taking photos of your trips and experiences? Want ways to improve your photography skills? You’re in the right place- here are 10 quick and easy travel photography tips for beginners to improve your photos almost instantly.
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Travel Photography tips for beginners- where to start
There are two types of traveler. Those who can take breathtaking travel photos- and those of us who are trying to improve.
I’ve spent years traveling the world, taking photos wherever I can. Sometimes, I get it right but mostly, I find things I want to work on for next time. Still, all this experience has taught me some basic fundamentals of travel photography- things which everyone can use almost instantly to take better photos.
If you’re a beginner to travel photography, it can be a bit overwhelming. A Google search for ‘tips for beginners’ can throw up hundreds of results. To help keep it simple for you and cut through the noise, here are my top 10 quick and easy ways that you can improve your photos today- whether you’re traveling or just taking photos of your dog.
NOTE: If you’re just getting started, you might find this list of essential travel photography gear for beginners useful.
These aren’t in any particular order, so feel free to scroll and take note of whatever tips make most sense to you.
- Travel Photography tips for beginners- where to start
- What story are you trying to tell?
- What are you feeling- and how can you show that?
- Think outside the box
- Research Your Destination
- Check the weather/ golden hours
- Give yourself time
- Go off-center
- Don't be scared to include people
- Learn your camera settings
- Try to work on only one thing at once
What story are you trying to tell?
This is my absolute favourite tip, and one I try to remember every time I pick up my camera or phone.
What do I want this picture to show?
If I’m back home, showing this location to friends or family, or posting it on social media, what would I be saying about it?
Am I in awe of the quiet majesty of nature? Am I laughing at the kids playing football, or smelling the delicious foods in the market?
Your first job is to figure out what you love about the place- and THAT’S what you photograph. Who cares if there’s a famous monument in the square? If your favourite part is the chocolate shop next door, or a view of the trees instead of the turquoise lake, then capture that.
What are you feeling- and how can you show that?
Ok, I lied. There is an order to this list. Once you figured out WHAT you love about a place, then figure out what you’re FEELING.
We spend a lot of time in nature. We prefer mountains, forests and lakes to the hustle and bustle of cities- especially as we travel with a dog as much as possible.
One of the reasons we’re drawn to these locations is the quiet and the sense of sheer wonder. Seeing mountains in the distance makes my heart sing and the peace of a still lake soothes my mind (at least, until I let the dog into it!)
So, for these photos, we try to show calm. Still water. Still trees. Still dog… (ha- I wish!) We use our tripods a lot in these places to take longer exposure shots which are softer. We also do a lot of wide shots to show as much of the scenery and splendour as possible.
For cities, or something busier, you might want to focus on the feeling of movement or life. Kids running, people walking or chatting (get the back of them if you haven’t asked for permission) or birds flying. You probably won’t be able to use a tripod, and you’ll need to change your camera settings to take fast action or rapid burst so you can get the shot and move on. You also might want to take closer in shots to focus on just one part of the location, instead of a wide panorama.
Think outside the box
One of the best tips I ever heard was ‘how can you take the same shot as 1000 other people… differently?’
Now, unless you’re planning on being (or are!) an award-winning travel photographer, let me be clear. It DOES NOT MATTER if you take the same shot of the Eiffel Tower, from the same place as 1000 other people. If you LOVE that shot, and the light works for you and you’re happy, slap that baby up on Instagram and be proud of yourself.
Still, at many locations, there are opportunities to think a little outside the box. Can you get higher (safely!) or lower? Can you shoot through leaves or railings, or zoom in/ pull back to get a different perspective? Can you use a drone (if legal), or walk around and shoot from the other side?
Not only can thinking outside the box give you better travel photos, but it’s also fun. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been somewhere famous, and it’s been FULL of people trying to get the same shot they saw on Instagram from the same angle… but walk 100m away and it’s amazingly quiet with a totally unique perspective. Try it- you might be surprised and pleased by the results. And if it doesn’t work, you can always delete the shot, move on and try again.
My favourite angle? I love to shoot from the top of a hill, rocky outcrop or cliff. It drives my husband mad when I start scrambling upwards. Failing that, I love to capture places through trees, or long grass. I’m often climbing, crouching or contorting myself into crazy positions, but I’ve got some great travel photos I’m proud of, so it’s always worth it.
Research Your Destination
Leading on from the previous tip, one of the best ways you can improve your travel photos is to be prepared- and that starts with some research.
Spend a little time learning about what the location has to offer, and where you can get good photos from. Remember, you don’t have to follow the crowd, but you do need to know where they’re going to be so you can avoid them if possible.
I prefer to do this research using the internet- printed guides can go out of date too quickly. It’s also a good time to learn if there are any festivals or events taking place when you visit (and research the local customs!)
Be aware that certain places have restrictions in place on what you can/ cannot photograph and you need to follow the rules. You should also check if there are any dress codes you will need to adhere to (particularly in religious locations or places.) Ignorance is not an excuse and you don’t want to cause offense when you travel.
Check the weather/ golden hours
Many travel photography beginners are disappointed when they visit somewhere and the weather isn’t clear. However, a bright, sunny day is actually quite tricky to shoot right, so don’t be too sad.
You can make any weather conditions work for you- if you’re prepared. If rain is forecast, look for reflections in puddles, bright umbrellas and setting for your camera to capture the conditions.
If it’s cloudy, can you get high to be above the clouds? And if it’s sunny, your best times to take photos are in the golden hours. The golden hours are the couple of hours around sunrise and sunset, when the light is warm, soft and gives your photos a golden glow.
Personally, I prefer sunrise. I love to get up early and take advantage of the low number of other people to take shots of somewhere famous. My poor husband is regularly either dragged out of bed early or abandoned while I go on a mini adventure with my camera.
I also love astrophotography- although I am still working to improve my skills in this area. But a clear night while we’re camped up in the mountains- heaven. I’ll be up for hours or get up crazy early to take photos of the stars.
Give yourself time
I know this may not always be possible, especially if you’re on a tour or cruise where you must be somewhere at a certain hour, but try to allow yourself time to think and feel before you start taking photos.
Of course, if you’ve elbowed your way to the front of the queue and you have a few seconds to take a shot before anyone else arrives, then by all means hurry up and take the shot, but then give yourself a few seconds or minutes to look around, soak in the atmosphere and decide what you want to capture.
If there is a large party or tour ahead of you, can you go in another direction for a while until they’ve gone? Or can you sit and have a coffee whilst you consider what angles you want to capture and how the light might work best?
The more you take travel photos, the better you’ll get at quickly assessing a location and deciding what you want to show but, while you’re a beginner, give yourself time to breathe, think and set yourself up calmly. You’ll enjoy the experience much more than being rushed.
Ever heard of the rule of thirds? This is a common photography tip and technique which uses a grid- two lines across and two lines vertically, splitting the view into 9 smaller segments. This grid can be imaginary, but many cameras (especially those on your phone) will allow you to ACTUALLY display a grid whilst you’re taking a photo.
The point of the tip is to put your subject/ main thing you want to focus on, at one of the four points where the lines intersect. You’ll notice that none of these 4 points are in the middle of the shot- they’re all slightly off-center.
For some reason, our brains prefer this- the best travel photos all have the focal point or subject at one of these off-angle positions. Again, the more you practice this, the more natural it will start to feel. You can use this for landscape photography or shots of buildings and people- anything you like. You can also take some really wide shots which you can then edit later if you want to play around with the composition and angles to see what works best.
Don’t be scared to include people
This is a tricky one. I don’t believe it’s right to shoot photographs of people without their permission.
Now, of course it’s impossible to do this in a busy location, and I think it’s fair to say that people expect to be in the background shots when visiting a landmark or tourist attraction. But don’t make them the focus of a shot without their permission- unless their face isn’t visible.
A trick I use all the time is to find a stylish or colorfully dressed person and wait for them to walk past. Once their face is hidden, I can then take photos of them in the location, using them as the focal point.
Of course, if you want to share a story of a local person, then by all means ask them if it’s ok to take their photo. Most people love to feel important and valued- and sharing their story and photo is a great way to do this. You can even take a portable photo printer and give them a copy of the photo as a gift- people love that!
NOTE: I don’t ever deliberately take photos of other people’s kids without asking the parents. My daughter is now old enough to make up her own mind, but when she was little it used to make me nervous if I saw someone taking her photo, so I don’t ever want any other parent to feel like that.
And don’t forget you can edit out photos and other unwanted objects using this insanely useful apps for editing travel photos and videos.
Learn your camera settings
One of the biggest things you can do to improve your travel photos is to learn how to use your camera. Even if you only use the camera on your phone (no shame in that), learn how to use it properly.
How do you zoom, set a timer, do an action burst, adjust for light etc. Don’t try and figure this all out when you’re already traveling, or at the location.
TOP TIP: I struggle to remember camera settings for various types of shots, so I wrote myself a little crib sheet. I had it in the notes app on my phone for a while, but I kept forgetting about it, so I now have it on a piece of paper in my camera bag. If I need a reminder on what aperture or speed I should be using, I can glance at it quickly then tuck it away. Works like a charm.
Try to work on only one thing at once
I know, I know- I’ve thrown lots of tips and ideas at you and you want to rush out and practice them ALL AT ONCE.
My last bit of advice to you- just pick one. One thing to improve.
If you’ve never thought about your feelings or what you want to show, start there. Never used the rule of thirds? Try it out for a day or a session- and JUST think about that before you add something else in.
None of these travel photography tips are difficult or require special kit, so you can practice as soon and as often as you like- even if you’re not going on a trip. You’ll be amazed how quickly you improve.
Our aim is to help you be proud of your travel photos and videos- I hope this post has done that. Safe travels!