Whether you have several thousands of dollars worth of professional camera gear or just a point and shoot camera, you can take great travel photos. In fact, photography is one of the best ways to capture memories from your travel experiences. After much research, experience, and trial and error, we offer our top tips for taking great travel photos.
Taking great travel photos: What you need to know
1. Think outside the box
If you are traveling somewhere touristy, sometimes it can be difficult to get photos of recognizable landmarks that don’t feel cliché. But make an effort to think outside the box. Often travelers try to capture everything in the shot at once, stepping back and getting the landmark, the sky — and other tourists. While that method can create wonderful perspective shots, try looking at the details. Rather than using your camera to take dozens of photos of buildings, focus on some of the unique architecture.
2. Book travel around national holidays and events
While you’re planning your trip, try to book it around national holidays, spiritual or religious events, or even carnival-like celebrations. In addition to providing unique cultural insights, these events offer a variety of opportunities for great photos.
3. Take unposed photos
Often, posed shots lack authenticity. When taking travel photos of people, try to take photos of the subjects doing something from their daily life. Whether they are at work, or doing chores, photos of people in their natural environments are often more interesting than posed pictures.
4. Your photos should tell a story
After getting back from a few trips, I have felt like my photos were missing something. While I got a few great shots, I felt like the photos didn’t tell the story of my travels. Be sure to get plenty of photos of the people you are traveling with and where you stayed. Remember to take pictures of people you met and even what you ate. Often, these are the photos that people will be most interested in seeing as you share your photos with friends back home. In the 1990’s we stayed at some very interesting rooms while touring Italy. I wish I had pictures of them to remember them more clearly.
5. Gain understanding of culture and traditions
Make sure you spend time understanding traditions and cultures of the places you are visiting. Every traveler should strive to be respectful, but photographers have an extra burden because photography can feel a bit invasive. In some cultures, photography isn’t common so it’s essential that you make sure that you’re not being rude or offensive. Go above and beyond. People will be more responsive when you ask to take their photos if you are making an effort to understand their culture and have learned a few phrases of their language.
6. Get permission to photograph people
Often travelers lack confidence when taking travel photographs. Everyone wants to take beautiful portraits, but people are often nervous to ask someone if they can photograph them. Instead, they stand far away with a zoom lens. This is not the best way to take culturally sensitive photos. Instead, ask people if you can take their photos. The worst thing that can happen is that they will so say no. If they do say yes, be sure to show them the photos on the LCD screen.
Generally speaking, if someone is the main subject of a photo, I try to ask permission before taking the photo. The same goes for children, if they are the main subject, I try to ask permission from their parents.
7. Keep a journal
If you have done any sort of long-term travel, you know that by the time you get home you may have forgotten many of the details. Keep a journal close to your camera and make notes of the names of places and people you photograph. Often, my favorite photos are the ones that have great stories that go with them.
Remember that after taking great travel photos that you also have to enjoy them. (Our 8th tip: Enjoy them!) For so many years, after taking hundreds of pictures on my digital camera or phone, I never even looked at them, much less ordered them, framed them, cherished them. Especially having kids, putting the pictures into a digital photo book or in a classic-type photo album, or a few in a frame will help your entire family remember the fun they had on that vacation. So be sure to enjoy and share travel photos as soon as you can after your trip so you will be more motivated.
What are your tips for taking great travel photos?