Welcome to my travel photography guide
Whether you are shooting on your Phone, GoPro, Point and shoot, Mirrorless or DSLR. Travel and photography go hand in hand. Think about it. Every time you have planned a holiday or researched where your dream destination is you always look out for those amazing photos which show off the destination the best. The ones that entice you to spend your hard earned money on those expensive plane tickets and hotel rooms.
Hopefully I can teach you something new or give you some ideas for the next time you are traveling.
Not every photo needs to be that one amazing shot. I believe photography can be used for personal memories of a place or experience or for advertising a cool destination. I like to think of both of these things when I have my camera in my hand and I am traveling around. I look for those amazing shots which will make people say wow. But I’m also looking for those cool shots which will only mean something to me. It’s just which of those I choose to share which is the difference. Obviously I don’t post or share pictures of me looking stupid in front of a natural wonder. instead I post the natural wonder. Photography is all about perspective, that includes the actual pictures and the sharing of that picture.
Now we have that out of the way. Let’s talk about actual photography tips and tricks. The actual key elements to taking photos which will hopefully make you a better travel photographer and help you nail those awesome travel shots.
Composition is key
I believe composition is the most important thing in photography. Way more important than the technical camera basics that I will discuss below. Without good composition even a perfectly exposed image will appear boring and bland.
The Rule of Thirds
My first tip in regards to composition is to learn about the rule of thirds and to base your composition around this. This is how I shoot the majority of my images. Essentially the screen is broken up with 4 lines, splitting in in to 9 sections. You can enable this in most modern cameras, so that it appears on your screen or in your viewfinder whilst you are using the camera. My main focus is to put the horizon on one of the horizontal lines (depending on what you want in the shot) and then I use the vertical lines to highlight a point of interest. Where the lines cross is where the eye is drawn and therefore where you should have your point of interest.
Using the rule of thirds grid and the horizontal lines for the horizon also allows you to ensure your horizon is level. No one wants a wonky picture. Think about all the amazing travel pictures you have seen, all of the horizons are level. Don’t get me wrong you can break this rule, but there needs to be a reason for breaking this rule and that’s usually an artistic intent.
Everyone sees the world differently. You might find something more interesting than someone you are with. Use this unique perspective to your advantage and capture the world this way. This will help you to develop your own style. When looking at a waterfall for example. Don’t just take one shot from in front of the waterfall, try shooting it from high up, from low down, from the right or from the left. Try adding rocks to the foreground or maybe even a person. The great thing about digital cameras is that you can take lots of pictures. So experiment. Don’t be scared of trying new things.
The main thing you need to worry about when you first start shooting is exposure. Making sure you image is exposed correctly is vital. There are 3 main elements that you need to think about when setting your exposure.
The aperture on a camera is like your iris in your eye. The hole which lets the light in will get bigger or smaller and will therefore let more or less light in. With a camera this will also affect the depth of field. When the Aperture is bigger or a lower F number the depth of field is a lot shallower and therefore less of your frame is in focus. This is perfect for shooting portraits or finding details such as leaves or mushrooms in the forest.
When the Aperture is smaller or a higher F number the depth of field is a lot wider. Meaning more of the frame is in focus. This is mostly used for landscape photography as you want most of the landscape in focus.
The shutter speeds refers to how long the shutter on the camera is open for. So how long light is allowed to hit the sensor for. With a fast shutter speed of 1/200 for an example the shutter is open for 200th of a second, meaning very little light is let in. This is great if you want to capture an exact moment, like a bird in flight. The image will be crisp and sharp with no motion blur.
However if you did want to create motion blur, for example when shooting waterfalls, you would select a slower shutter speed. With a slow shutter speed of 3 seconds for example the shutter is left open for 3 seconds. And therefore 3 seconds worth of light and movement is allowed to hit the sensor for the camera to record. So when shooting with slow shutter speeds it is recommended to use a tripod so only the moving parts of your image have motion blur and not your entire image.
ISO is simply your cameras sensitivity towards light. Adjusting the ISO can add brightness to your image by adding digital light. This is especially helpful when natural light is low or non existent. However if you have your ISO too high it can create grain or noise on your image. This isn’t always ideal as it makes your image less sharp and a little messy.
When outside during the day you shouldn’t have to set your ISO above 200. I try and shoot all my landscape image at ISO 100 as it gives the cleanest image possible. In low light I try to avoid going over ISO 6000 as you will start to encounter grain again. Sometimes I do break this rule, for example when shooting astro photography. But it all depends on the situation.
I tend to set my ISO last when adjusting my camera setting. I only increase the ISO when I have no other choice in getting extra light to my sensor. So next time you go out try adjusting the shutter speed and aperture first and the ISO last.
White balance will affect your image greatly. Simply put your white balance determines how your camera records colour at the time of taking the image. A white piece of paper under different light sources will have different colour tints. We use white balance in digital photography to counter this.
So when you are shooting your image think about where you are and what light you are using. Are you indoors or outdoors? If indoors what kind of lighting is there? How strong is the light? This will all affect your white balance. In your camera setting you can use preset white balance options. For example there will be a setting for a sunny day or a cloudy day. When setting up your camera with the above settings look at your subject and think about which white balance will help in the current lighting situation.
If you are using a mirrorless or DSLR camera I highly recommend you shoot all your images in RAW. This means your camera will record a lot more of the data it sees at the time when taking a picture. This will greatly help when you come to post process the image as you will have more data to work with.
RAW image files however tend to be quite large. So it’s a good idea to invest in several large memory cards. I talk more about this below.
Lighting and planning- different times of day, where does the sun rise/set, is it cloudy, super sunny, nighttime
Like with most activities that are outside it’s always best to plan ahead. I’m not saying that spontaneity is bad, just that if you want a particular picture you should probably plan. For example there is no point driving two hours to a lighthouse to shoot it in front of the Milky Way if it’s raining (no this hasn’t happened to me!). So yeah a little planning goes a long way.
Time of day
What time of day to shoot is a great question. Will your chosen location look best at sunset or sunrise? It’s always best to try and avoid shooting in the middle of the day and instead aim for the golden hours. Shortly after sunrise or before sunrise. This will give a nice even lighting and nothing will be too bright or harsh.
Do your research! If you are traveling to an awesome city or the outback look up that location before you get there and look for interesting photography spots. Is there a certain building in the area or a particular mountain that is best to shoot? Some areas may have loads of interesting things to shoot. So it’s great to know where they all are so you can maximise your locations in the time that you have.
Like I mentioned with the lighthouse scenario it’s always best to check the weather of a location before you go, especially if there is a particular shot you want to get. I tend to use the Met Service for all my weather forecast needs. It’s great to look ahead and be prepared. But if you are out and about and your see the weather is great, head straight for your favourite location and get snapping!
Patience vs opportunity
Patience and opportunity are both great tools when it comes to travel photography. You could wait days for the perfect lighting or for the perfect sunset to appear in the location you are in. Or you could get lucky and be there on the right day and the right time. Both have their advantages. You just need to be open to both and plan where you can and take opportunities where you can.
I’ve written a long post about which camera gear I use as a travel photographer which you can read here. Below I have summarised some of the key facts and chosen the key pieces of equipment that I think every travel photographer needs.
I think this is an obvious one but yes you need a camera. Phone cameras these days are great but they only offer so much. I would recommend investing in a mirrorless camera as they are smaller than a DSLR but are usually just as good. It all depends on budget and preference but I’m sure with some quick research online you should be able to find the perfect camera to suit your needs. I wrote about my travel camera, the Canon M50 Mirrorless Camera in my Travel Camera Gear Guide.
I think the fewer lenses you have to carry when travelling the better. No one wants to be carrying around a bag full of heavy and expensive glass. One because it’s heavy and two because you don’t want it to get lost or stolen. Before investing in lenses decide what sort of shots you want to take when you are out and about. I wanted to do a mixture of landscape and wildlife photography. So I invested in a lens with a wide focal distance. The Tamron 18-400mm F3.5-6.3 was perfect for my needs as it was wide enough for landscape photography and had a big zoom for wildlife photography.
If you are shooting mostly landscapes I would recommend a 24-70mm lens as it gives you plenty of room to work with. If you mostly want to shoot people I would suggest a 50mm prime lens. Prime lenses tend to be faster than zoom lenses and therefore have a lower aperture and a shallower depth of field. Which is great for portrait photography. For wildlife photography I would recommend a zoom lens, probably a 70-200mm with Image Stabilisation. This will help you get those nice crisp image of wildlife at a distance.
Tripods are essential for any photographer. A sturdy lightweight travel tripod would be what I recommend. I use the Manfrotto BeFree Advanced Travel Tripod and it hasn’t let me down so far. Light enough to carry on long hikes but strong enough to hold a decent sized lens in strong winds.
Like I said in my Travel Camera Gear Guide a good camera bag is worth its weight in gold. Somewhere to securely store your camera and other gear safely is essential in my opinion. Do some research online and pick a bag that is comfortable, fits all of your gear and works for you. I always make sure my camera bag has a water bottle pocket on the outside and somewhere to strap your tripod. You could get away with a smaller bag than the one I use but I think it’s worth getting something strong and comfortable. Perfect for taking on hikes.
With most hobbies/ passions/ jobs practice is key. No one is going to be amazing at something overnight. Despite wanting that to happen. My biggest piece of advice to you would be to practice. Take your camera with you on hikes, go and shoot the sunset, go and shoot at the park in your local area. You don’t need to be in an exotic location to practice and hone your skill.
Perfect your style
As mentioned earlier everyone has their own unique voice and style. You just need to find it. Take pictures, try different things. Think outside the box. Go off the beaten path. Look for new angles. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Keep practicing and experimenting until you find something you like. And then hone that skill. Work on it. Keep that in mind every time you take a new picture. Does this fit my style? Does this tie in to my other shots.
Carry extra batteries. Extra memory cards. A jacket. Warm clothes. Water. Be prepared. This is really important. I’m not going to lie, I’ve been out on several occasions with my camera and I’ve forgotten batteries and memory cards. It’s an easy mistake to make. You are so excited about getting out there and enjoying yourself that you completely forget the obvious things. I tend to keep my camera bag packed and ready to go so I don’t forget anything. I can just grab it and go.
The most important thing that I would tell you is to enjoy yourself and have fun. Take loads of pictures, experiment, try new things! not every picture has to be perfect. Not every picture has to be liked by thousands of people on Instagram. Always have your camera with you and enjoy using it. However at the same time don’t let it consume you. Don’t forget to look at things through your own eyes and soak in the glory of the world. Whenever I am out and about at an awesome location or a see some cool wildlife I make a point of taking time to enjoy the moment without my camera as well as with it. It’s important to absorb the real life atmosphere as well as capturing it on a memory card. Real memories are important too. Because why else do we travel? To create unforgettable memories.