Last updated on November 11th, 2021

Travel photography produces the most epic and rewarding photos. Various subjects on this planet can all be photographed differently: landscapes, street art, and foreign dishes, to wildlife, plants, and people.

What I love about travel photography is it captures something unique. Something not seen every day. It brings out genuineness. It beats the typical selfies at the beach (even if you’re traveling) or a photo of your next meal.

What really is travel photography? To me, it tells a story. They’re photos worth returning to admire.

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23 Ultimate Travel Photograpy Tips

Read the below travel photography tips to getting that ultimate photo.

Best Travel Photography Tips

1. Travel Light

bunch of photography gear
Don’t bring everything.

Pack as little as possible with photography and non-photography gear. You don’t want a heavy load to make it feel like a workout, especially when you’re on short trips.

Don’t bring everything. Only bring the essentials.

Keep in mind that many airlines charge for checked baggage. If you can travel with your photography gear, laptop, phone, clothes, and hygienic products as carry-on only, then you’ll save a bit of money. In addition, you reduce the risk of losing your belongings in transit.

Depending on the airline, you can often get away with bringing a carry-on suitcase plus a backpack as your personal item. This should give you enough space for your gear and belongings.

I understand for those expeditions or long-haul trips, you’re going to need checked luggage and probably bring more photography gear. Just try to make a conscious effort to bring what you’ll use. Because when we’re packing, many of us think we need this and that.

2. Protect Your Equipment

Use a dedicated camera backpack to protect your camera from bumps and bruises. I find camera backpacks with side access to be the most convenient. Furthermore, most camera backpacks are water-resistant or come with a rain cover for added shelter. They also help with better organizing your gear and personal belongings resulting in maximized space usage.

Most camera backpacks come in carry-on size, and many have an additional storage compartment for a laptop. If you’re a budget traveler, then you’ll be happy to know many of these camera backpacks are under $100.

An often overlooked protective gear for new photographers is UV lens filters. The UV filter is used to remove blue color casts, but the preferred use is to protect the outer lens glass from damage. These UV lens filters have decreased in price in recent years while still retaining quality. Compared to the price of the lens or to repair the glass, a UV lens filter is a good investment.

Further protection for the front of your lens is a lens hood. These are used to block sun glare but are also excellent as a lens bumper. They are sometimes included with a lens purchase.

3. Bring a Tripod

Woman with camera and tripod on a black sand beach.

Bring a tripod. Yes, it will increase the weight and take up more space, but you’ll need it for photographing the twilight hours. You know, when the sun is near the horizon but not visible. You often get a beautiful blue or magenta hue in the sky. 

Photographing sunrises and sunsets is a must for travelers. Bring a travel tripod that is compact and lightweight. An alternative is to use a backpack or a rock as a tripod.

The top tripod brands use carbon fiber for the frame because it’s the lightest, but it can be costly. Luckily, you can still buy lightweight aluminum tripods for under $100. The flip side is you’ll want a heavy tripod in windy conditions, especially in high-altitude regions like the Rockies or Patagonia.

Pro Tip: Not all countries allow airports and passengers to bring tripods as carry-on due to security risks (potential weapon?). Unfortunately, you may have to travel with a tripod as checked luggage. This happened to me in Colombia.

4. Be Weather-Ready

weather-sealed camera and lens for travel

Make sure your camera and lenses are weatherproof. Rain, snow, and sand storms are always a possibility.

Countries closer to the poles are more susceptible to snow, and tropical climates usually have rainy seasons. Even sweat dripping on your camera is a common problem in humid conditions. A photographer can easily incur $1000 of camera equipment damage due to an hour of harsh weather — gear up accordingly.

Most entry-level cameras are not weatherproof. You’ll have to check the tech specs. In addition, you should also double-check if the lens is weather-sealed. Camera kits that have the camera body weather-sealed don’t mean the included lens is also weather-sealed. Fortunately, the best travel cameras and their compatible lenses are weatherproof.

5. Understand the Camera Basics

It’s nice to take a selfie or landscape photo with an iPhone without the need to adjust its camera settings. But to get the best out of your camera and lens, and improve your travel photography, you need to understand how aperture, shutter speed, and ISO function with each other to control exposure (light).

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shutter speed, aperture and ISO chart

There are entire articles dedicated to these three pillars of exposure. But here is a summary of them.

Aperture: The size of the lens diaphragm (opening) that allows a certain amount of light to pass at an instance of time. Aperture sizes are inversed and are measured in f-stops. Therefore, an F2 aperture size has a larger lens opening than F12.

Shutter Speed: The amount of time the shutter is open to allow light to reach the image sensor and capture an image. Shutter speed is usually measured in fractions of a second. But you can manually set the shutter speed to whatever time you want.

ISO: There is quite a bit of science here, but ISO is the image sensor’s sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO, the brighter the image will be but will introduce more noise.

6. Don’t Use Automatic Mode

DSLR camera dial

Unless you’re taking a photo of your passport, never shoot with the Green Box of Death — automatic mode. The options and buttons on a DSLR or mirrorless camera system can be overwhelming. But with a bit of consistent practice, you’ll get used to it. I promise.

Also, avoid using one of the pre-defined modes such as landscape, portrait, etc. Be in charge of your camera and use manual, aperture priority (my favorite), or shutter priority mode.

Aperture priority is my favorite camera mode because I can use it in most situations while traveling. However, I specifically use it for bracketed photos when I’m doing HDR photography.

What I like about HDR photography is it’s able to capture the shadows and highlights to make aesthetic photos of landscapes and cityscapes, but you will need tone-mapping HDR software to do this type of photography.

7. Shoot RAW

Canon image size settings
RAW and JPEG image settings on a Canon camera.

One of the first things to do with your travel camera is to set the file format to RAW. As the name suggests, it saves your image file in a raw or uncompressed format. This allows retaining more image data for better editing at a later time.

Nearly all professional photographers shoot in RAW, and it’s standard practice. The downside to shooting in RAW is that it takes up a considerable amount of additional digital space than JPG. Furthermore, not all photo viewing apps can render/view a RAW file, though nearly all image editors can.

If you don’t intend to edit photos, you can also set your camera to capture RAW + JPG. Of course, this will take up even more space, but you’ll have a JPG ready for instant sharing or social media. And you’ll have the RAW available in case you want to edit them down the road or get a photo retoucher to enhance your images.

SD cards are becoming less expensive while retaining performance. So, the cost of storage shouldn’t be an issue.

8. Understand Composition

Composition is one of the fundamentals of photography. It helps beginner photographers create aesthetic photos by framing the image correctly.

There are several composition rules, but one of the main rules that beginners should learn is the rule of thirds.

The rule of thirds helps avoid symmetry in a photo, which makes some images look bland. For example, if you have a landscape shot, is it better to have the horizon in the middle of the photo or away from it? Most people prefer not to have the horizon in the middle.

The rule of thirds works by splitting the frame into 9 equally-sized rectangles using 4 lines. Then you frame the subject at one of the intersecting points or along with one of the lines.

Some cameras have the rule of thirds grid to help with composition. But it’s pretty easy to visualize. You can also apply the rule of thirds in photography software by cropping the image.

As always, it’s good to know the rules in photography but break them when needed.

9. Change Your Vantage Points

worm's eye view of road and fox

The most common and natural position of taking a picture is standing and point straight towards your subject. The second most common may be with your knees bents.

These practical photographing positions work well in several scenarios. However, some subjects require a better angle or point of view.

That’s why you need to change your vantage point. To tell a better story of what you see.

For example, if you’re taking a picture of a dog, try changing your vantage point to a worm’s eye view. Sure, you may get a bit dirty, but that’s the non-monetary price you have to pay for great photos.

Another popular vantage point for landscape photos or videos is from drones. Of course, with drone restrictions and the added baggage, a better option is to take photos from building or mountain tops.

10. Shoot Landscape and Portrait Orientations

portrait orientation iphone shot

With the prevalence of social media, many pictures need to be photographed in landscape and portrait orientations.

For example, if you take a photo of a mountain range, the typical field of view in the photo will be wide-angle with a landscape (horizontal) orientation or composition.

But suppose you’re planning to share or grow your brand through social media channels such as Instagram or Pinterest. In this case, you should also take a portrait orientation photo of the mountain range.

The downside is most subjects are better suited for one orientation than the other. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make the photo look aesthetic with both orientations. You just have to change up the composition or vantage point.

11. Visit National Parks

mount fitz roy trek

Get away from the city and photograph what the world truly looks like. National Parks are some of the best-preserved areas on the planet. Some of them have no inhabitants, while others may have a few small towns or villages.

In National Parks, you can often photograph untouched land, wildlife, and remote communities.

Some of my favorite National Parks for photography are:

  • Huascarán, Peru – known for the Cordillera Blanca mountain range, Laguna Paron, and Laguna 69
  • Gunung Leuser, Sumatra, Indonesia – known for the rainforest adjacent to the Bukit Luwang town, orangutans, and the Sumatran tiger
  • Banff, Alberta, Canada – known for Lake Louise, Lake Moraine, and grizzly bears
  • Los Glaciares, Argentina – known for the Patagonia side of Arenginta, Mount Fitz Roy, Perito Moreno Glacier, and happy hours for wine and IPAs after trekking

12. Dawn until Dusk

pnhom bakeng sunset
Pnhom Bakeng is the place to be to watch the sunset in the Angkor Wat area.

If you want to photograph the best sunrises and sunsets, sometimes you have to stay in the same location from sunrise to sunset.

The twilight hours bring out the magenta and purple-lit skies.

It’ll be a long day. Bring lunch and water.

I once stayed in the Angkor Wat complex for 14+ hours. I rode my scooter around during the day and photographed several temples from the blue morning hour to sunset.

13. Shoot for the Stars

If you’re spending a good chunk of your money on a travel camera and lenses, then it’s a must to do astrophotography. I mean, get a higher ROI on your investment.

Night sky photography produces exceptional travel pictures. Of course, you’ll want to be away from light pollution along with no moon to photograph the stars. It’s also easier if you’re in the backcountry. The best places to hike and backpack have several photography opportunities.

Most astrophotographers aim to capture the Milky Way. Technically, we’re part of the Milky Way Galaxy and what we’re actually photographing is the galactic center. This is the dense part you see in many night sky photos.

In addition, you’ll want a wide (large aperture) zoom lens to capture the starlight.

14. Scout your Location

compass, camera, film rolls, map, jounral

Photographing the twilight hours isn’t always easy. Many enthusiasts and pros scout their location beforehand.

You can search online for the location of where the sun will be at a specific time. Generally, you’re looking for the sunrise and sunset times. But if you’re in a mountain range. The sunset and sunrise times will not align with when it’s along the peak of the mountains. So some luck will be needed here in addition to good weather.

There’s also an app called Photo Pills. This app is quite technical but can help you plan the location of the sun, moon, and galactic center for whatever type of shot, including astrophotography. It’s a paid app, but worth the cost.

15. Backup Photos to the Cloud

pCloud Premium

The reality is some travelers end up losing their beloved photos due to theft. The best insurance for securing your travel photos is to back them up to the cloud.

These days several high-end cameras have dual SD cards, allowing you to save images to two different memory cards. Many photographers do this in case of file corruption or a physically damaged SD card. However, file corruption and damaged SD cards are rare. On the other hand, misplacing an SD card or theft has a higher probability.

If you don’t have dual SD cards in your camera, then another option is to use an external hard drive or save your image files to your laptop as soon as possible.

Furthermore, saving your photos online keeps your files nearly 100% secure. For this, you should use one of the best cloud storage for photos like pCloud or Dropbox. What’s great about cloud storage is that they offer cross-compatible apps for several devices, including your smartphone: you can also back up your mobile photos.

16. Dress Safe

gloomy and rainy day with man standing on a dock in front of lake

Inclement weather is part of outdoor life. Unless you’re planning to photograph felines in a cat cafe, prepare by packing some adventure gear (rain jacket, layers, etc.), water, and some snacks.

Furthermore, don’t wear flashy colors in countries with a high risk of theft. It attracts the wrong attention. Leave jewelry and anything expensive that isn’t required back at home, or at least in your hotel or hostel.

Besides, your photography equipment is expensive enough. You’ll want to return home with all your belongings.

17. Fire Away

Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst, as once said by the famous photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. Take as many photos as you can. Some of the best photos come from unexpected photographs.

Once you upload your image files to your computer, you can sort and delete the images you definitely won’t use. This is standard practice in fashion or wedding photography and also applies to travel photography.

18. Photograph Naturally

male African tribe members

Photograph people in their natural state. Don’t ask them for permission unless it’s culturally unacceptable, they’re children, or you might get hurt. You can always show people your photo after and ask them if they’re okay with it. Just feel out every situation.

The problem with asking for permission is it often gives an unnatural pose, look, or feel. You’ve seen forced smiles. In addition, many photographers are against forced poses of people. Use your judgment.

19. Zoom Away

young male lion

There’s nothing worse than seeing a beautiful bird in the trees or a puma in the mountains and not being able to photograph them due to the distance.

Make sure to bring a telephotos lens if you plan to photograph wildlife or if your subjects are at a distance. I made this mistake when I was in the Galapagos Islands. 

Generally, you’ll want a telephoto zoom lens of 400+ mm for wildlife photography, but you can often manage with 200mm. 

20. Get an Action Cam

Underwater photography produces some of the most epic photos. Unfortunately, you’ll often need a dedicated camera for underwater shoots or a camera with underwater housing.

Underwater housings can cost a fortune and as much as a camera body. That’s why I recommend an action cam. They’re cheaper than many camera bodies.

Action cams like GoPro serve their purpose well. They’re waterproof up to 10 meters. And if you scuba dive and want to record sharks or dolphins, you can purchase an affordable underwater housing case.

GoPro cameras can significantly increase some people’s travel photography budget. Luckily, there are some decent GoPro alternatives on Amazon.

In addition, action cams are fantastic for travel vlogs, mountain biking, bungee jumping, skiing, snowboarding, and more.

21. Utilize a Premium Digital Asset Manager

capture one travel photography software

You have a bunch of epic travel photos. But some not so good.

Now you have to organize and sort them. Delete the images you will never need. And edit your best photos.

You can technically do all of this on your phone or with free applications on your computer. But that would be cumbersome after long journeys.

Photo filing is easy when you have a few photos. But when you have 100s or 1000s of photos, then you’ll need a digital asset manager (DAM) or often called image-management software.

These photography software allow you to manage your photos plus edit them in an efficient workflow. The most prominent are Lightroom and Capture One. Lightroom requires an Adobe Photography Plan subscription at the minimum, whereas Capture One offers a subscription model or the option to purchase a perpetual license.

The good news is Capture One is cheaper for Fujifilm, Nikon, and Sony photographers. Read the Capture One review for more information.

The upside to paying for Lightroom is you’ll get the premium Lightroom Mobile version.

22. Improve your Post-Processing Techniques

Basic image edits on the Instagram or Lightroom app produce great results.

But if you want spectacular travel photos, start editing your images on the desktop versions of Lightroom and Photoshop, or Capture One.

You’ll need to learn how to do local adjustments, advanced masking techniques, and utilize the power of layers.

Below is a selective color photo created by using a mask in Photoshop.

23. Enjoy Your Travels

happy female at beach

The most crucial tip for travel photography is the travel, and not the photography.

We often overthink or ruin the journey by trying to get that one shot. Especially those Instagram selfies.

Put the camera down — and wander.

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