Tips to Improve Your Travel Photography

Tips to Improve Your Travel Photography

Have you ever marveled at pictures of the ethereal colors of the Northern Lights or the rainforest-dotted islands of Hawaii and wished you could take photos like that? Here’s the thing: You can. Travel photography is not just an occupation one of the coolest occupations on the planet, it’s something that can be enjoyed by anyone wanting to document their adventures and preserve those memories forever. Anyone who’s willing to spend the time learning how to become a better photographer and hone their craft, that is.

Thankfully, you don’t need to have expert-level photography skills or loads of professional equipment to be a great travel photographer. In fact, professional photographers will tell you that photography is an art form that’s all about storytelling and the type of camera someone uses has very little to do with how those stories are told. What does have everything to do with it, however, is the person telling the story – the photographer.

woman taking a photo in the forest

Great travel photography begins with the person behind the lens

The first step in upping your travel photography game is deciding what camera to use. First, understand that you do not need to spend a lot on a fancy camera. Knowing how to use a camera extremely well is far more important than how much you spend or what type you use.

To help you decide on a camera, first determine your photography style. What types of travel pictures resonate with you, and what sorts of stories do you want to tell with yours? What point of view, lighting, and exposures are you drawn to? If you don’t yet know the answer, consider taking an introductory photography course. Local community colleges and SkillShare are great places to start.

Once you’ve chosen a camera, use it! Practice makes perfect, so take pictures at every opportunity. Although your camera will have an auto mode, pretend it doesn’t. If you truly want to learn how to take amazing travel photos, you need to understand how your camera actually works. For example, adjusting ISO can work around lighting issues and changing shutter speed can help you photograph a moving object. Instead of spending money on a pricey camera, spend time learning how to master your camera settings. It’s a much better investment!

man taking pictures in a city

Plan ahead

Great travel photography starts long before you arrive at your destination. The whole idea is to accurately capture the spirit of the place you’re photographing and to do that, you’ll need to do some pre-trip homework.

Read travel guides to learn about the culture if you’re heading to another country. It’s important to be familiar with local customs so you don’t unknowingly offend anyone or even break a law. Learn how to say “hello,” “nice to meet you, “thank you,” and “photographer” in the native language. This small effort will go a long way.

Guidebooks are invaluable, but don’t overlook social media platforms, which are free and connect you with people all over the world. Ask your followers for recommendations on where to stay, eat, and visit, and find bloggers or photographers who live in the area where you’re traveling to see what and where they shoot. Instagram, in particular, is an excellent resource for building a list of places to photograph, both iconic and off the beaten path. And for general travel photography inspiration we love@natgeotravel for their stunning posts.

Once your shot list is established, you can build your trip itinerary. Determine what the weather will be like and which sites should be photographed when, how to get to them, and if you’ll need any permits.

Follow the light

No matter how skilled you become with photography, there’s one central aspect of it that’s largely out of your control: lighting. Sure, you can work some camera magic to deal with lighting issues to some degree, but you can’t change the weather or when the sun rises and sets. “Golden hours” refer to the hour immediately after sunrise and the hour before sunset and are so-named because of the sky’s warm, soft lighting. Planning your travels around these times of day will dramatically improve your photography.

man taking photos at sunrise

Experiment with point-of-view

Have you ever noticed that professional photographers move around constantly as they shoot, taking the same photo repeatedly but from several different angles? Most of us take pictures from eye level, but experimenting with where you shoot from completely changes your photos. For example, shooting low to the ground and looking up adds drama and makes a subject appear larger. To understand how POV changes pictures, take the same photo from different angles and distances, then compare them.

lens held in front of lake point of view

Show scale

Exceptionally large and small things, such as a giant tree or a tiny seashell, are fascinating to photograph. However, if there is no point of reference in the picture to get an idea of just how big or small the object is, there is no sense of depth and it will look flat. Including a person or other focal point in your photography fixes that by adding dimension and creating perspective.

The “Rule of Thirds” is a composition technique photographers use to frame pictures in a way that best shows this depth and perspective, by splitting photos into thirds horizontally and vertically. Fortunately, you don’t have to guess how to do it. All cameras – including smartphones – have a “grid” feature that lays over the screen to help you determine where to place focal points in the photo.

It’s all in the details

Every little thing counts when it comes to travel photography, so take the time to set your camera up for each shot and focus on individual aspects of your subject. Hone in on intricate details, like a boat’s weathered wood grain. Always keep an eye out for interesting or unusual photo ops, like a brightly-colored object in an area where everything else is neutral. These details can make an otherwise-ordinary scene seem extraordinarily beautiful.

Capture movement

The world is always in motion, and photographs should capture that. Adjusting your camera’s ISO speed and aperture can help you portray movement, or “noise,” in photos. Take the time to set up, considering location and lighting, so that you’re ready to start shooting as soon as your subject enters the frame, whether it’s traffic or a person walking.

woman taking photo at night in the city

Post process

The final step in getting great travel photos is post-processing, or editing. Literally all professional photographers edit their photos to enhance – not alter – contrast, sharpness, and color balance. Just like a photography class, an editing course is in many ways more important than the camera you use.

When you think about it, travel photos are bespoke souvenirs. When you’re ready to collect your next “souvenirs,” consider booking a Coast Hotels property. With nearly 40 locations throughout Canada, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and Hawaii, incredible travel photography opportunities are just a few clicks away! Before your trip, be sure to check out the No Place Like Coast blog for inspiration and travel planning resources.