Travelling is a magical time filled with experiences and memories that will live with you forever, but often as well as the memories we cherish dearly, we want to capture the places we visit as well as our time there. We often strive for better photos, capturing postcard worthy scenes and doing the incredible sights we see justice through our lens. Taking photos of ourselves in those places and the things we do too is yet another challenge. Travel provides the most incredible opportunities for photography, for narrative telling through images but it is also a challenging environment with an unpredictability and many external factors that can make capturing your experiences in the way you want a sometimes difficult task. With that in mind we’ve put together a guide to travel photography tips for beginners.
Hire a professional to do the work for you!
Maybe you think it sounds a bit self-centred and dramatic to hire a professional photographer for your trip, but in reality, it can be a fun and simple experience with benefits beyond simply having good pictures.
Finally going on that once in a lifetime trip is something you’ve dreamt of and planned for years, so why not get a professional to capture at least some of your time there? Maybe you’re hopeless at photography, or you don’t want the hassle and stress of trying to take great photos of each other or yourself and just want to enjoy your time. Hiring a professional allows you to just relax and know your memories are being captured beautifully.
It might be that you hire a professional for a particular activity or event or even better as a local guide too. Having a local willing to help you is a good way to get yourself oriented and to answer questions you might have about food, customs or history. With photographers like the ones from Localgrapher, you will not only have a local who knows the best places to do a photo shoot, but also someone with an insider’s knowledge to help you discover so much more about your destination. You will also get access to some locations you probably wouldn’t have other wise even known about or a unique angle on some of the more well known landmarks of your destination from your personal photographer.
It’s not something for everyone but it’s something worth considering even just for a day or particular place you might be visiting. Once you get over any awkwardness you’ll be left with some incredible photos from your trip.
Go on a course or take an online course for an in-depth guide
Another great idea is to take a photography course either in person or online before you go. These are well worth the time and money and if you give yourself enough time to complete all the modules and get some practice before you travel you will be so much more confident in your ability!
You can even take specialised travel photography courses as well as just general photography courses that will go into more detail about the specific considerations to bear in mind when on the road. If you can take a course in person rather than online we’ve found them to be better for getting feedback as well as interacting with others on the course which can be great for gaining new perspectives and inspiration. Doing a course is one of our most useful travel photography tips for beginners as it allows you to really learn the ropes from professionals.
Going it alone: Travel Photography Tips for Beginners
Study other photographers and practice different styles
One of the best ways to improve your photography is to look at what other photographers are doing and take inspiration. One of the first things we learnt in Art School was imitation before we began developing our own style. Finding photos and imagery you find inspiring or reflective of what you would like to achieve in your photography allows you visualise your ideas. Learning from other photographers and developing an idea of what you want to achieve is one of the travel photography tips for beginners we highly recommend.
A great starting point is to take some photos you love and just try to recreate a similar scene or effect. This means that you start to look at ways you can manipulate your camera to produce certain images, you start to look more closely at composition and the effect it has on the image and where your eyes are drawn to. Studying well taken, successful and inspirational photography is the best way to learn. You should also try to find images that come with info such as what shutter speed, ISO and aperture so you have an idea how the photographer created the image.
Collect some photos in different styles and experiment with trying to recreate them and then using them as inspiration to do something similar but telling your own story. It’s a great way to discover new angles, poses, viewpoints, compositions or ways to use light that you might not have even considered!
Travel Photography Tips for Beginners: Get to know your destination and have an idea of the shots you want before you go
If you’re main aim when visiting a destination is photography then a great thing to do is research photography of the place before you visit. Even if you’ve been doing photography for a long time this is one of the travel photography tips for beginners that really helps you to be efficient and visualise what you want to capture before you even get there.
Generally speaking published imagery of a landmark in books or on postcards etc will have been taken by someone who is a professional and has studied all angles and lighting before settling on what they consider the best! So finding that same angle is probably a great way to get a great photo of the place you’re visiting.
Ok, that might not make for the most original image! So another great way to research a location is on photo sharing services such as instagram. On here you get a range of images from snap shots to professional images from all and every angle. Its a great way to find inspiration, discover some lesser know details or another viewpoint you might not have know about.
Of course, don’t just copy what others have done but studying the layout and angles before you visit can help you have a better idea of how you want to capture it yourself and give you some ideas for your own unique photos too. It means you can be more efficient when you visit and make the most of your time!
Check out the weather forecast and light conditions the day before
Sometimes the weather can play havoc with your photography plans, it changes the atmosphere of images and can greatly effect the light. Of course, good photographers should be able to create beautiful photos in all weather and inevitably it is something you will have to suck up and deal with on your travels! Checking the conditions before though is one of the simplest and easiest of our travel photography tips for beginners to do and especially in the early days taking photos in ideal light is easier as you get to know your equipment and the fundamentals of photography.
Many photographers use the weather to create a certain aesthetic and atmosphere in their images too. However, you should check the forecast and maybe plan your days and shoots around that if you can if there is a certain light and conditions you are looking for. Maybe you want to do some landscape photography and want a nice bright sunny day to really bring out the layers, or your have some images in mind with very harsh light and shadows. It might be that you want to do some portrait photography where slightly overcast conditions are more flattering. Having an idea of the weather a few days before can help you plan or even having a plan B and some other shots in mind if the weather changes.
Another huge consideration when taking travel photos is the direction of the light on your subject. I’ve seen many people before wonder why photos look different from another they took or what they imagined and most of the time it comes down to light. One of the simplest travel photography tips for beginners is to just look at the light before you frame your shot and to walk around your subject as you do so.
One thing to bear in mind is that midday is the worst time for light as it is right above you and your subject (unless in rare occasions that is what you are after). Mornings and afternoons are better times to take photos as the light is pointing more in one direction which can light up your subject or create interesting shadows. Something a lot of people forget to do is to walk around their subject and see where the light is, just a few metres either side might make all the difference. We found this particularly at the temples in South East Asia that are often symmetrical, so if the light isn’t great on one side then its usually great around the other!
A great thing to do is to try to find out before you visit where the direction of the light will be before you visit which will allow you to time your visit better. The phone app Lumos allows you to see on a map where the light will be pointing at different times of the day and year which is super useful as well as having an augmented feature you can use through your phones camera if you are at that location to see the path of the sun.
However! With all these things in mind, you should also learn to take good photos in less than ideal weather and lighting conditions as you won’t always be able to wait it out for the ideal conditions or the right time of year! Learn how to make clouds look dramatic or how to make the harsh midday sun work if that’s the only time you have to get the shot too.
Travel Photography tips For Beginners: Give yourself enough time both in a location and when taking photos
One of the most important aspects of photography is time. Sure, some photography is very much time based and getting good at taking photos quickly is a really valuable skill to not miss the shot. But especially in the beginning on our travel photography tips for beginners guide we really recommend taking your time and thinking about your shots.
However when visiting a location you should give yourself enough time to take the photos you want and not rush the process. This could mean giving yourself a few extra days in a place to allow for better weather or for an event. It might also mean rather than just stopping and taking a quick snap shot you hang around for the lighting to change or take a few extra moments to compose better or find a new angle. You might also take a new moments to try different settings or for a scene to develop. Rushing a shot usually ends up with disappointment!
As with all photography though there is always a “however”. As much as there is something to be said for taking your time, there is also something to be said in photography for just taking the shot when an opportunity arises. It’s a good thing to get to know your equipment and your settings which is where the next tips comes in!
Get to know your camera and equipment before your trip
Getting to know your camera and equipment before you head off on your trip is the best way to be sure you get the shot and practicing is an important aspect of our travel photography tips for beginners guide.
Knowing how your focus system works for example will help avoid lost shots. What shutter speed you can get down to before your images are blurred on your system and lenses, what your sharpest aperture is for your lens and focal lengths as well as its diffraction limit, what ISO is useable on your camera?
These are things you should learn about specific to the camera you are using. A great way to do this is to take control shots using different settings and to analyse the results to see which work best. Then when you’re on your trip you can go straight to the settings that are best for each shot!
Travel Photography tips For Beginners: Learn at least the basics of photography and develop your skills
Of course, learning about the basic principals of photography is the best way to be sure you take good photos by knowing how your camera works!
A good way to do this is to get a book or look online for some guides that will take you through the main aspects of photography such as ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture with examples of the effects of each on your photos and how to use them. There is a lot more to photography; different lenses, focal lengths and sensor sizes as well as focusing distances to name just a few things. But knowing the basics is the beginning to taking better images and being able to do more with your camera.
As part of our travel photography tips for beginners guide we’ve done a run through of the main 3 technical aspects of photography as well as shooting in RAW below:
Aperture is the size of the hole in which the light travels through and into your camera. It is listed as f numbers and rather confusingly the smaller the number the wider open the aperture! So f2.8 is a larger hole than f11.
Aperture has two main effects on your image.
Firstly the amount of light allowed into your camera. The wider the hole and so the more open it is means that more light is allowed into the camera so you could use a lower ISO and faster shutter speed with a lower f number. If you want to use a higher f number you would get a darker image unless you adjust your other settings.
Secondly and more importantly is depth of field. Depth of field means how much is in focus. So here the lower the number the less is in focus. So f2.8 would be a very shallow DOF and f11 would be much wider. So this needs to be taken into consideration when taking portraits or landscapes as well as macro photography and can be manipulated to create a very different image with one thing being the focus of the image or many areas. Be careful though, shallow DOF requires more accurate focusing and pushing the f number too high results in diffraction which degrades the quality of an image. Each lens has different diffraction limits and focusing distances so be sure to read up and test your own lenses too.
Shutter speed refers to how fast the shutter is released when you take the photo. You will find values on your camera such as 1/15 (1/15th of a second), 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1,1000. You can also get much slower settings of usually up to around 30 seconds of exposure as well as BULB which is usually where the shutter is held open for as long as you want.
Again, shutter speed has two main effects on your images:
The first again is the amount of light. The time refers to how long the sensor is exposed to light so the slower the shutter speed the more light is let into the camera. This is why a lot of nighttime photography is long exposure to allow much more light into the camera in a dark scene.
The second effect comes down to motion blur or capturing a moving image. The slower the shutter speed the more likely the image is to be blurred and the quicker it is the more likely it is to be frozen on that particular point. Sport photography usually uses quite high shutter speeds but both can be used to artistic effect too.
The general rule is that below 1/60 needs a tripod. But as with any rule there are always exceptions.
Firstly, some people have a more steady hand than others, meaning they might be able to hold a camera steady at a slower speed, some might have to up the speed to account for their shaky hands!
Secondly some newer cameras come with built in stabilisers which mean you can push the camera more when shooting hand held. You should check with your manufacturer and do some of your own tests too to see what you can get away with!
Thirdly a consideration is the focal length of your lens. The more zoomed in it is the quicker your shutter speed needs to be to stay free of blur. The general rule is to use the focal length as a guide, so for 100mm it would be 1/100. But again on modern cameras you can usually push this a little more.
Using a tripod is an idea way avoid blur when you need to shoot at slower speeds, but be aware, it won’t freeze your subject but just avoid motion blur from camera movement.
ISO used to refer to the film loaded into the camera and how sensitive it was to light as well as how grainy it is. In modern digital cameras it still does a very similar job.
In general terms the higher the ISO the more light is allowed into the camera once again, but as with anything with photography there is another side to it that requires compromise. The higher the ISO the higher the “noise” or grain too. This can be used artistically but generally speaking its a bad thing and is to be avoided especially in digital photography where noise isn’t as aesthetic as film grain and can also be added in post production if wanted!
If you can, shooting at base ISO, usually 100 is ideal. But you might need more light such as in a situation where you can’t use a tripod and need to hand hold the camera in low light, so a higher ISO is the compromise. Each camera has different “usuable” ISO values and that is also down to the person too. The larger the sensor the more you can push the ISO, so a full frame SLR can be pushed further than an iphone. Also shooting in RAW can help negate the effects of a high ISO by allowing you more control over how the image is processed.
Shooting RAW is getting more into advanced photography and requires a bit more work as well as file organisation. However if you take the plunge then you can get much better results from your photography. In our travel photography tips for beginners guide we recommend trying it out before you travel and comparing the differences as well as the workload.
RAW basically is an unprocessed file and is often referred to as a digital negative. Most cameras produce JPEG images, these are compressed and processed images, the amount of compression and processing is decided by your camera and not you. They are also harder to edit too as their compression removes some of the information captured by the camera.
For a lot of people JPEGs are good enough and cameras are getting more sophisticated with processing. JPEGs are also easier to store and upload directly to sharing platforms.
RAW files need to be processed and can be turned into JPEGs. The most used software for this is Adobe Lightroom. This allows you to push the exposure, bring out details in light or dark areas and generally really push your images much more than you could editing JPEGS. In many ways it means you can make mistakes when it comes to your exposure/ light when you take the image and fix it later on (You can’t fix blurred images or out of focus photos!)
But RAW files need to be edited properly and Lightroom does have a steep learning curve. Your files will be flat, lacking saturation as well as sharpening, lens correction and noise correction. Which is great because you get to do all those things to your own tastes, but you also have to do them properly. So learning how to use Lightroom is a good idea before you make the switch! You should also consider the increased workload to edit and process all your images especially whilst travelling.
Most cameras allow you to take JPEG and RAW at the same time too which is useful. Be aware RAW files are a lot bigger than JPEG and take up much more room!
Other considerations: Camera Modes and Focus Modes
You should also learn about and experiment with different focus methods as well as different program settings on your camera as a start, though there are lots more settings you can experiment with the deeper you get into it. You should ultimately aim to try out and experiment with all the different buttons and setting on your camera so you’re comfortable with what they do and what effect it has on your image. Many cameras allow or have several customisable buttons that allow short cuts to things like white balance settings, focus modes etc.
In the end most people aim to shoot on full manual as well as manually focusing. Despite this being something to aim for it’s not always best for getting the best photos in every situation so you should use all tools at your disposal as well as knowing how to properly use these modes too!
For example shooting A (Aperture priority) is a great way to have control over the DOP of your image but allow some of the work to be done by your camera especially in good light where the shutter speed won’t be an issue or isn’t a major creative consideration in your image. You can use the exposure compensation wheel in this instance to quickly adjust your overall exposure if you feel its too dark or light. Another idea is to use A as a starting point and switch to M from there to fine tune your image. Shooting in A is a great way to be ready for the shot and a good starting point to learn how your camera works. Keep an eye on the shutter speed your camera selects and think about its effect.
Equally, shooting full auto has its place and its usually something we use for things like selfies with mates on our compact camera. Honestly if you REALLY don’t know what you’re doing then its always a good back up option rather than missing the shot and you can still control your composition!! Sometimes Manual can be a double edged sword, master it and you’re photos will be so much better and you’re in complete control over the exposure, but use it wrongly and you’ll end up with even worse photos! Practice is key! Auto can be a good guide as a starting point to adjust from or just for a back up photo if you’re unsure!
Here is a useful article on camera modes: www.photographylife.com/understanding-digital-camera-modes
When it comes to focusing manual isn’t always best and taking advantage of the various focus methods with todays very accurate AF systems is something to bear in mind. Modern camera are often more accurate and fast with focusing and you should consider the various settings available. One that we use a lot is the adjustable focus area on our camera, its essentially a box that can be switched from S,M,L that you move around the screen over what you want in focus and it’s very accurate! So when taking a portrait we would move the small square over the eye of our subject for example. It’s even very useful in landscape photography to get a good hyper focal distance or to place over a foreground subject to either focus on that or move the box over the distance to have an out of focus foreground element. We usually only switch over to full manual focusing for things like macro photography or low light situations where AF can struggle. You should also consider looking at face recognition AF which can be useful as well as locking AF and Continuous AF modes which are good for moving targets.
This is a great article on AF modes: www.photographylife.com/dslr-autofocus-modes-explained
Consider composition, leading lines, and how to manipulate your image to tell a story: Think about what you want from your image
Beyond the technical side of photography it is a creative pursuit and when creating an image you should consider what you want it to say. Is it just a snap shot, a fun selfie or are you trying to capture a narrative or bring attention to a certain thing? You should consider your composition, leading lines, what is in focus or how are the shadows effecting the image or movement?
Use your knowledge of the technical side along with your creative ideas to construct your image. Think about what you want the eye to be drawn to or what you are trying to say with your photo or trying to capture? Are you trying to capture the grandeur of a landscape or the details of an interesting feature, or do you want to take a photo of a local seller at a market surrounded by their product? Does a shallow depth of field work better to bring focus to one particular area or should you use a wide DOF to capture the entire scene?
Travel Photography tips For Beginners: Bring the right equipment for the job!
Travel photography is challenging because being on the road isn’t the idea situation to be carrying a lot of heavy and expensive gear! Another photography compromise is bringing along the right equipment that will allow you to capture your photos but also not weight you down and become cumbersome when you’re trying to enjoy your trip!
Do you bring your SLR with many lenses or stick to your point and shoot or even your phone? Well, the saying goes that the best camera you have is the one in your hand and you don’t need fancy and expensive equipment to take good photos. In fact, sometimes it can make it harder if you don’t know how to properly use the more complicated equipment and it just becomes tiresome to try to use.
What to pack really depends on you as a person and a photographer. Compromising on bringing a zoom rather than several prime lenses saves space and weight. Buying a mirrorless camera such as the Sony A7ii, which is what we use, makes your bag lighter too. I’ve also known people bring along large lenses and SLRs but just use their phone cameras because it was too cumbersome and complicated and took the fun away from their trip!
Think about the style of photography you will be doing, the length of the trip and how much you can carry. If wildlife photography is your thing then large, long lenses are needed for sure! You might want to bring a tripod as well as getting good quality camera and lens bags too. Or, you might decide that your compact or your iphone will do the job you want.
Read more about our equipment here: The best camera for backpacking, hiking and travel photography guide!
Taking photos of yourself and of other people
One of the main aspects of travel photography is taking photos of you as well as other people you meet along the way. Both have different considerations!
Taking photos of yourself.
This is easier if you travel with a buddy rather than by yourself but it can be frustrating either way. Travelling on your own you rely on either selfies, tripods or other people and similarly if you are a couple wanting a photo together.
Selfies are a great way to get a quick and fun shot together or of yourself. The only problem is that sometimes you’re shooting blind, other times you’re using the front facing camera that is a lower quality or as you are closer to the camera you end up with your background being more out of focus that it would be if you were further away from the camera.
Asking other people is a mixed bag! I’ve generally found that lots of people are pretty bad at taking photos and with mobiles being more and more popular many people don’t know how to focus even a point and shoot camera (hold half way down and then click!!). But that being said if you hang around long enough you can often find someone who looks like they know their way around a camera and if you do you will likely get a nice photo! Though you might feel awkward posing and wanting a few shots so there is that! Of course, you can teach your travel buddy how to take good photos of you or keep asking them again and again until they get it right!! ha.
A tripod is a great way to get a photo together. If there is two of you it is a lot easier to set up and focus. You can put the camera on self timer, focus on one of you with a highish f number and be sure to stand at the same plane of focus as your partner when you run into frame! Focusing when you’re on your own is harder and can be a bit more hit and miss. If you can focus where you will be stood or use face recognition auto focus then you can get around that.
Taking photos of other people/ portraits
Taking portraits of local people when you travel is a really rewarding way to capture your experience there and the human side to your travels. However it’s not the easiest and can be a minefield!
Firstly, on the technical side you should use a lowish f number for portraits and focus on the eye of the subject to be sure the focus is on them and you separate them from their background. You might want to change your f number if you want some of their surroundings in focus too.
Secondly is the hardest part, approaching the person! We are still working on this and it can be quite hard to get right. Sometimes you want natural images and other times you want a more traditional portrait. Getting permission is usually a must do but it does depend on the situation. A market place is usually much more free game than someone sat having a coffee on the street but every situation is different! Some people want paying for photos, others you might want to buy something from them if they’re selling and then they will be happy to pose, others are just happy to talk or even just a nod. You should read the situation and always be respectful of your subjects when travelling as some cultures do have real issues with photography.
Travel Photography tips For Beginners: Back up and keep your images safe on the road
Ok, so you’ve got your photos and you’re happy with them, but you’re still on the road and want to keep them safe!
To do this you will need to set up cloud storage as well as utilising external memory. If you take all your photos on your phone then be sure to set up icloud or the equivalent on your device which should back up your photos when you have internet.
Otherwise you will have to have access to a computer on your travels so you can bring your laptop or use library computers. We use an external Hard Drive to create a complete back up of our laptop. We also use pen drives to back up our photos as they are less breakable and also have cloud storage set up on our laptop through dropbox. It’s a little bit overkill but we take keeping our photos safe pretty seriously! You can come up with a system that works for you.
What Are Your Best Travel Photography Tips For Beginners?
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