How to take travel photos
Learning how to take good photos takes time and I think there are only a handful of people out there who picked up a camera and produced something amazing from the first click. Like most people, we developed our skills over several years as we are self-taught photographers.
We believe that with the proper amount of practice and dedication, anyone can become great at travel photography. Our travel photos serve not only as a portfolio of our work but as a scrapbook of our travels, pieces that we can refer to to remember wonderful moments. We hope that these travel photography tips will help you learn a little more about the art and about the next steps you can take to improve your travel photos and get that perfect shot!
Travel photography tips #1: Use morning or evening lighting
Morning and evening lighting is best for photography. If you plan on waking up for sunrise, then you’ll have about 1-2 hours of optimal lighting before the harsh sunlight sets in. The sky will be a soft blue and the sun appears almost as a haze. Editing morning photos is easy as you don’t need to fix any stark shadows or light casts.
*Avoid shooting during late morning to late afternoon as this is when the sunlight is the harshest.
At the same time, the 1-2 hours before sunset are prime times to shoot as well. First, golden hour will set in; this is where the sunlight is bright but not quite as harsh as earlier in the day. You can easily figure out when it sets in as it’s much softer on the eyes and you may find that you don’t need to wear sunglasses quite as much.
Golden hour typically gives way to blue hour. Blue hour is much darker and while you can definitely still shoot during blue hour, you’ll find that your photos have a strong blue tint to them and will require warming up during the editing process. Photos taken during this time may also have a little more noise.
Travel photography tips #2: Avoid crowds
Depending on the type of photography you’re shooting, you may want your photo void of people. Sometimes we like to have people in our photos; if we’re shooting a social scene, like a cafe, then people add a great social element to it and give it some life. However, if we’re shooting a landscape or a street scene, we don’t want hundreds of people milling about.
The best way to avoid the crowds in a popular and touristy area is to wake up early. You’ll be amazed at how few people actually wake up early to enjoy a town. And if it’s a Saturday or Sunday morning, even better. Most people are up partying late during weekend hours that you’ll find it even more devoid of the masses.
But what if you’re trying to photograph during the day because you can’t get up early? Then we would recommend walking away from the chaos and trying to find cute spots surrounding the area. For example, San Marco’s Square in Venice is INSANE. There are so many people milling about that you can barely move during the day. Our advice is to walk to the alleyways overlooking the canal near the residential area. This is where you’ll find cute spots to shoot with little tourists and a peacefulness you’ll appreciate.
Take advantage of rainy days. A lot of people hate walking in the rain and this is one of those rare times when you’ll find busy streets emptying as people head into shops and cafes for cover.
Travel photography tips #3: Don’t over-saturate or under-saturate
Everyone edits differently but there is a general consensus that desaturated photos, especially travel photos, aren’t the most appealing. On the other hand, overly saturated photos, particularly those that deepen and over-saturate a blue sky, aren’t the most attractive photos either. Pick a happy medium between the two. You don’t want those greens popping out so much that they make your eyes hurt but at the same time you want to be able to tell that those bushes are in fact green.
Editing and Instagram – Instagram can be a double-edged sword. While it’s an amazing portfolio of your work, sometimes we allow ourselves to get caught up in it and the overall appearance of our feeds rather than focusing on the art of the photos themselves.
If you’re trying to maintain a consistent feed, our advice is to pick an edit that works with all the types of photography you’ll be doing. If you visit lush places often, don’t pick an edit that doesn’t bring out the greens. Make sure that all the colors you use often are true to their nature.
However, if you visit places with completely different landscapes (example: Hawaii to Maldives to Rome to Norway) and still want to maintain a consistent feed, we suggest you edit in batches. If you’re in Costa Rica, have a Costa Rica edit that brings out those greens. Use that edit until you reach your next destination and use a different edit for that place. This helps you stay consistent and have a smooth-flowing feed but allows you to bring out the best in each photo instead of worrying about Instagram.
Travel photography tips #4: Take several different angles and perspectives
When we first began as travel photographers, we would shoot one angle and perspective and then move on. As newbies, our eyes weren’t trained to recognize good composition and we always forgot to shoot different angles.
If you’re just starting out, we recommend shooting a scene in at least three different perspectives. Don’t be afraid to shoot from the ground up or frame your photo with greenery that’s nearby. Create bokeh with things in the foreground as you focus on the background. Frame your photo in such a way that it tells a story.
We love shooting street scenes and buildings and we always try to photograph buildings from a street view and head on. Depending on the moment captured, sometimes one angle is better than the other so it’s good to have both on hand.
Travel photography tips #5: Use a tripod in low lighting
Traveling with a tripod can be a pain so we don’t always do it. But if you want to capture a nighttime shot or a long exposure shot of water or of the northern lights, then a tripod is a best.
If you don’t have the budget, don’t feel like investing in a tripod, or maybe you don’t want to travel with it, you can also use a makeshift one by propping up your camera on ledges, backpacks, etc. More often than not, this is what we end up doing and it works fine as long as the surface does not move at all.
However, once you get more serious about your photography, you’ll want to invest in a good quality tripod, especially if you find yourself shooting more landscapes.
Travel photography tips #6: Use a filter to bring out a dramatic sky
This might be more of a pro tip but one that we still think you’ll find useful.
Sometimes you want to take a dramatic sky or bring out eerie clouds on a gray day but because of the lighting, you can’t regardless of how hard you try to edit it. Other times you want to capture a long exposure of a waterfall or river but it’s too bright outside to do so.
Solution? A filter.
Our current favorite filters are the Lee filters above. They’re a little pricey but totally worth it if you’re serious about photography, especially landscape photography.
The set above comes with three different graduated filters depending on the look you’re trying to achieve. You can opt to buy just one but we would really recommend all three.
Travel photography tips #7: Take both vertical and horizontal shots
It’s easy to forget but always remember to take both vertical and horizontal shots. We’ve had many moments where we were annoyed at ourselves because we needed a horizontal and while you can crop a vertical photo into a horizontal photo, it just doesn’t convey as well. You’ll lose the framing and most of the time, it’s obvious that it’s cropped.
Travel photography tips #8: Have an idea of what you want to shoot
While we love exploring freely and sometimes that’s where we find the best photos, we do recommend also having a destination list to follow. This is because time slips by very quickly and if you’re working with a tight schedule, you may forget to visit a spot that you had been looking forward to.
Your list can be a simple piece of paper where you’ve jotted down your notes, a saved collection on Instagram or some addresses in a notepad on your phone. Whatever it is, keep it handy so you can easily cross them off your list as you get to them.
Smartphone photography tips
Smartphones have come a LONG way and today’s smartphone cameras continually amaze me with their capabilities and quality. We know that there are many of you beginner photographers who cannot afford a DSLR camera right now. And that’s okay. While you’re saving up for one, you can use a smartphone to take quality photos that to the untrained eye, look just as clear as a DSLR photo.
Only use natural lighting
Smartphones are increasingly improving their low lighting capabilities. However, they still have a lot of improvement in that department. This is why we recommend always using natural lighting to take your smartphone shots. Daytime lighting will be your best bet, especially for any food related photography.
Be sure to read our iPhone food photography tips if you’re hoping to step up your food photography game.
Buy a phone with a good camera
It sort of goes without saying that in order to achieve high quality smartphone shots, then you need to purchase a phone with a good camera. Some of the top phones for cameras are the iPhone XR/XMAX, Samsung Galaxy 10, OnePlus 7 Pro, Google Pixel 3 and the Huawei P30 Pro. Tech Radar does an amazing job of comparing all smartphone cameras so be sure to check them out if you are looking to purchase a new phone.
Take advantage of editing apps
Just like with a DSLR shot, you’ll have to edit your phone shots. Most of the time the lighting will be off so you’ll want to tweak that in post-processing.
You can definitely use Lightroom or Photoshop but don’t be afraid to download a few smartphone-specific apps for photo editing. A few of our favorites: Snapseed, Retouch, Facetune, Lightroom and Pixaloop.
Best camera for travel photography
Possibly the most asked question of all time, what is the best camera for travel photography. As a beginner, you’ll quickly realize that everyone has a different answer to this question. There are die hard Nikon lovers, loyal Canon fans and newly converted Sony-obsessed photographers. In our opinion, these are the top 3 contenders for best camera quality for those looking for a mid-range camera (vs super pro cameras like the Hasselblad).
We aren’t going to say one brand is better than the other because we do think that each brand excels in producing amazing photos. But whatever camera you choose, make sure you want to use it long-term. It can be a challenge to switch brands once you’ve purchased all the lenses and equipment. So choose wisely.
Our brand of choice is Canon and we currently shoot with a Canon 6D. We would highly recommend the Canon 6D Mark ii (upgrade to ours) if you’re starting out as it’s a great, affordable full frame sensor camera.
As a note, we *almost* switched to Sony two years ago when they came out with their new line of mirrorless cameras but decided to stick with Canon. Thankfully Canon has begun rolling out their own version of a mirrorless camera and we’re excited to upgrade in the next year or so.
Best lens for travel photography
This is a list of our favorite lenses for travel photography. Personally, we use the 17-55mm and 85mm every destination we visit. However, we have heard great things about the 24-70mm and recommend it if you only want one lens to lug around. The 50mm is included in this list because it’s a great budget lens for those who are just beginning with photography.
Lens below are Canon-branded since that’s what we’re familiar with; if you use a Nikon or Sony or other brand, you can easily find a comparable lens with similar focal lengths and depths of field.
24-70mm – Amazing all-around lens that has a great variable focal length. Heavy but durable.
17-55mm – Great for shooting landscapes and ultra wide angle scenes due to its short focal length. Eliminates need for a 50mm lens.
50mm – Perfect for budgeters and a great starter lens. Great depth of field.
85mm – Awesome lens for capturing long distance scenes (ex: if you’re on a rooftop and you want a closer shot at something in the distance). Great depth of field.
Our favorite editing software is Lightroom, especially for a beginner. It is super easy to use and doesn’t require a lot of time to edit. But like everything, it will take some time to learn. There are a lot of tutorials here if you want to learn Lightroom.
We hope that these easy tips for taking great photos will help you on your next trip. And don’t be disappointed if it takes you time; many people take years to develop their photography skills & style. Practice does make perfect so just be patient & lenient with yourself!