Ten Travel Photography Tips - dummies

By Serge Timacheff

You don’t have to be a professional photographer to get great shots, and you don’t need a load of expensive lenses, camera bodies, and gear to take memorable pictures of the places you visit. Here’s a collection of ten tips to keep in mind while you are out and about on your travels.


Know when to use your flash

Understanding when to turn your flash off, on, or set to auto makes a huge difference in various types of light. Using your flash to fill in shadows — such as on someone’s face in midday sun — can turn an unusable photo into a beautiful portrait. On the other hand, using the flash in slightly diminished lighting can create artificially dark backgrounds and a flat look to your images. In this case, turn off the flash and increase your ISO a little.

Figure out how to use macro mode

Whether macro’s a mode on your point-and-shoot or a setting on your dSLR lens, shooting close-up shots can be lots of fun. Flowers, insects, food, and even decorative architectural elements offer another world when seen at close range.

Expect the unexpected and be ready to shoot!

When traveling, you’re bound to see things you’ve never seen before. Whether it’s a snapshot of something interesting taken from the bus window on the way to your hotel or that cute little dog running on the beach, you have to be prepared to get the shot. If you have to think about getting out your camera, it’s probably too late. Keep your camera handy and be ready to shoot whatever comes along.

Understand depth of field

Understanding depth of field is essential to taking various types of photos and making your subject stand out — or getting all your subjects in focus! Depth of field is a concept you can practice as a photographer for your entire life, and it affects every photo you take. Whether you’re giving emphasis to one flower out of dozens or ensuring everyone’s face is perfectly focused at the dinner table in that cute little Venice bistro, using your knowledge of depth of field comes in handy.

Figure out how the exposure triangle works

Knowing when to prioritize your shutter speed, aperture, or ISO and how these factors relate, gives you more control over the quality of your photographs. You can then manipulate settings to achieve specific effects, whether it’s a stop-action image of someone on the ski slopes or a great image of a priceless work of art in a museum, knowing the exposure triangle ensures that you take great photos with whatever kind of camera you use.

Find out how to shoot in diminished light

Many photographers are hesitant to shoot in low light without a flash. First, whether you shoot with a handheld or use a tripod, familiarize yourself with the limitations and capabilities of your camera and then practice getting the best quality images you can in diminished light (not total darkness, but early evening or in a museum, for example).

As your skills increase, experiment more with a tripod, such as shooting a city skyline at night. The skills you develop make shooting something like a lower-light handicraft market a breeze. Opportunities abound for interesting night shots while traveling!

Discover how to use manual mode (dSLR)

Lots of cameras produce excellent results with automatic settings or specialized presets, especially point-and-shoot models. However, with any camera in auto mode, you’re still relying on your camera’s tiny brain to figure out what looks best, and you — presumably with a much bigger brain — can quickly outsmart the camera to get a better shot.

Finding out how to manipulate depth of field and exposures really make your photos stand out, but you need to be comfortable with manual mode (shutter speed, ISO, and aperture; not necessarily manual focus). Work with aperture-priority and shutter-priority modes to get comfortable with a semi-automatic shot, and then work your way into shooting manually as your skills and confidence increase.

Play with composition

Think outside the box, figure out how the Rule of Thirds applies to what you’re shooting, and look for interesting angles and new ways to frame your subjects. Shoot from the ground up, stand on chairs or ledges (please be careful!), or take a shot from a perspective others may not consider. Also play with different focal lengths and see, for example, how a wide-angle lens or setting distorts angles that converge versus a normal lens (or setting).

Get out of the way!

Shoot in places where ordinary tourists might not get to or explore, and you’re bound to find some interesting local color. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Look at landmarks from in between buildings or down alleyways.

  • Use a long lens to shoot a statue in a museum from a staircase instead of just in front of it.

  • Hire a guide to take you to local, non-touristy locations to see life as it really is, not as the other tourists see it. Just as with composition, though, please be safe!

Study the photos of others

Use Google Images, a travel book, or other resources to review how other photographers have shot some of the same subjects and places you’re seeing and visiting. Shoot what they shot and then branch out on your own to get some new, cool angles no one’s seen before! It doesn’t matter how many times something’s been photographed — there’s always a new angle.

For example, photographers keep coming up with new views of the Eiffel Tower even though it’s undoubtedly been photographed as much or more than almost any other physical structure in the world. What unique angles and composition can you find? Try to document your trip with familiar images, and then create “pictures within pictures” that give folks a more creative, unique look at the things you experienced.