So you’ve invested in a fancy new DSLR for your next trip abroad. Great! But what does it take to capture truly incredible travel photography that will wow your family and friends back home? I’ve put together my top 5 travel photography tips below to get you started.
1. Simplify Your Settings
Unlike portrait or landscape photography where you can generally control the scene and have little else to account for other than natural light, travel photography presents its own set of unique challenges. At a popular landmark? You’re guaranteed to have tourists walking through your shot. Trying to take the perfect long exposure photo inside a dimly lit church? Good luck. Most don’t allow tripods.
I love shooting in manual mode just as much as any other photo snob, but in these situations, compromises must be made. There’s simply no time to dial in the perfect settings and take your shot uninterrupted. Before you know it, your surroundings will have changed and you’ll be right back to tweaking your ISO and exposure. Luckily, there is a way to balance speedy shooting with your own creative eye without switching to your camera’s auto mode.
Aperture priority mode (often abbreviated as A or Av) should be your go-to shooting mode for travel photography. It allows you to control your depth of field without needing to worry about other settings such as exposure, white balance, or ISO speed. You can choose if you want to blur the background in order to highlight your subject, or keep everything in tack sharp focus and let the camera worry about the technical details. Once this is set, all you’ll need to worry about is framing the perfect shot.
2. Keep Your Setup Small
If you’re going to be walking around all day or in a crowded area with lots of people, you don’t want to be THAT obnoxious person with the gigantic camera bag (trust me, I’ve done it). As much as we’d all like to have every piece of gear you might need for any possible situation, it just isn’t practical. Before long, you’ll be bumping into people and feeling a serious strain on your back and shoulders. Do yourself a favor and simplify your setup down to the bare basics.
The above photo is my usual walkabout kit. I’ll typically opt for a fast, mid-range zoom lens, like the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8. It’s a great usable range for most situations; capable of going wide enough for a landscape shot, or zooming in slightly to capture finer details. The f/2.8 aperture speed is also invaluable for capturing low-light scenes without the aid of a tripod or external flash.
I also make sure to carry extra memory cards, a backup battery, a lens pen for keeping your lens dust and smudge free, a reliable and comfortable strap (I use the BlackRapid Sport), as well as a travel tripod for outdoor sunrise or sunset photos. I’m a big fan of GorillaPods, as the legs can be wrapped around just about anything to mount your camera in various angles. One additional note on camera straps; I suggest getting one without your camera’s brand written on it. There is no need to let would-be thieves know how much you paid for your gear.
3. Change Your Perspective
Let’s imagine that you are about to take a photo of a famous landmark. Wonderful! I have nothing against taking traditional tourist photos, but keep in mind, it’s been done a million times. If you went through all the trouble of bringing your camera gear abroad, you probably care enough to take photos that stand out from the crowd.
Let’s take Big Ben for instance. The iconic clock tower in London has countless photos of it taken from head-on. The quality of the photo may be great, but the content is uninspired. So how can we improve on this? Start by taking a walk around the area. Look for an angle or perspective of your subject that isn’t quite so obvious to the casual observer. You could try experimenting with different focal points as well.
In the photo above, we have a telephone booth standing in the foreground with Big Ben looming behind. We’ve still managed to capture our intended subject, but by adding in other elements to the scene, we’ve created a more eye-catching image that warrants more than a brief glance.
4. Follow the Light
The majority of your outdoor shooting should be done during two points of the day; just after dawn and just before dusk. During this time, the light takes on a beautiful, soft golden hue that is ideal for photos. It also provides much better contrast for capturing rich colors and details in the sky.
See how the light is cast evenly and provides a warming effect to the scene? If I had taken this photo at midday, the landscape would be filled with shadows and the sky would be blown out, losing all detail and appearing almost white.
So what’s there to do in the middle of the day? Utilize this time to take your indoor photos of churches, temples, museums, etc. With the right timing, you can be taking beautiful shots all day.
5. Capture the Experience
What makes for truly great travel photography? It’s not the iconic sights or landmarks. Anyone could Google “Eiffel Tower” and find no shortage of results. No, what makes for truly memorable photos is the experience or emotion that is captured within. You want your audience to not only share what you saw, but how it felt as well. Take a look at the photo below.
There is nothing famous or immediately recognizable in the scene, but it effectively portrays the feeling of speeding through the streets of Thailand on the back of a Tuk Tuk. You can almost smell the gas fumes. I could have simply taken a photo of one of the many Tuk Tuks parked throughout the city, but that doesn’t allow the viewer to live vicariously through your experience.
Keeps your eyes opened for what I like to call the “micro moments”; the things that happen between the planned poses. The authenticity will speak volumes.
Follow the tips above and you’ll be well on your way to better travel photos! Remember to utilize aperture priority mode and a lightweight kit to keep the process streamlined, wait for the right light and find a unique angle for a compelling shot, and most importantly, strive to capture the feeling behind the scene.
Author Bio: Matt from The Born Wanderer. I’m a travel blogger and photographer based out of Boston, Massachusetts. I always knew I wanted to see the world, but I had no clue how or where to begin. I would plan these fantastic adventures in my mind, but without fail, I’d find a way to convince myself that I wasn’t ready, I didn’t have enough money, or any other self-doubting excuse I could come up with. Finally, in 2014, after an inspiring conversation with a stranger, I set aside my fears and took my first steps towards longterm travel. Now, I want to help others take those steps as well for less money than they ever thought possible.