10 Tips To Improve Your Travel Photography

10 Tips to improve your travel photography
As nothing more than an amateur photog, I’ve hardly got all (or even any) of the answers when it comes to improving one’s photography; however, as someone who has become more passionate about taking photos, I have over the years learned a few things along the way. It seems almost comical that just a few years ago I circumvented my way around Asia for nearly 6 months with nothing more than a tiny Casio point and shoot camera set in automatic equipped with a humble 4 gb memory card. These days, on a glorious day of shooting, I might exhaust that same memory card in mere hours. It’s an addictive hobby, I’m telling you! However, with that being said, it’s no coincidence that many of the top travel blogs feature stunning HD photos that capture the imagination and spirit of a particular place, region, culture and/or people.  I offer the following 10 travel photography tips as a way of hopefully inspiring others to take their photography a little more seriously.

10) Primp & coif your photos as you would yourself before heading out to work

If rolling out of bed and heading to work (or some social event) without a shower, brushing your pearly whites and/or running a comb through your hair sounds like a bit of poorly hatched plan, it’s equally as obscene to think about doing it with your recently taken photos.  A few basic editing techniques and skills such as cropping, modifying your exposure and straightening your photos are the travel photography equivalent of showing up to the dance sharply dressed.

9) If you’re dressed nicely put your camera away

With all the talk about looking immaculate in point number 10, it might come as a surprise that I suggest you wear your worst while taking photos.  If you’re not prepared to climb, get down on your knees or twist your body as if playing a game of drunken twister, chances are you’re missing out on some great angles and vantage points that ultimately lead to stunning shots.

8) Think before pressing the shutter

A lot of us have grown up a little trigger happy.  I remember my first ever video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System was Duck Hunt.  I know I’m pre-dating some of the today’s youth with tales of such games that are more likely to be found in a museum or attic than in actual use today; however, I was rewarded greatly for standing as close to the television set as possible and blasting away, yet that kind of technique is not something that is going to improve your travel photography.  Believe it or not, I suggesting one ought to think a bit before pressing the shutter button.  What is your subject?  What are you trying to emphasize?  Have I selected a fast enough shutter speed to capture a sharp photo?  What kind of selective focus (depth of field) do I want to achieve with this photo?  These are just a few questions you might want to ask yourself internally before doing the digital deed.

7) Delete More Photos Than You Keep

I totally get it!  The fifteen photos in a row of you gorging down on that piece of cake are priceless and should forever be kept in storage.  Actually on second thought, maybe not?  Honestly, one of the things that has helped me to improve my photography more than anything else is to be my own biggest critic.  I feel as though one should delete roughly half of the photos they take if not more.  Ideally, I aim for 70% or more.  Why am I keeping this photo is a question I often ask myself?

6) Lose your camera in style

Seriously, if somebody wants your camera bad enough they’ll find a way to pry it out of your precious little hands or safely stowed backpack.  It’s amazing what a lethal weapon invading your personal space will do to change your mind about what is important in life.  My motto is that I’ve bought it to take photos and I’ll lose it in style shooting as often as I can.  This doesn’t mean that I think your camera should be dangling off of your neck at all times; after-all, proper discretion applies in certain circumstances.  However, if you’ve purchased your camera to take photos and not collect dust, my suggestion is to use it and not live in fear.

5) Conquer your fear & dare to be bold in the process

I’m shy by nature.  I used to hate taking photos of people.  What I’ve come to realize is that by stepping out of my comfort zone personally it’s had an equal if not great effect on my photography.  I now take shots of people with confidence – both in candid situations and with posed portraits.  Any excuse that’s holding you back from taking better photos is best left behind in the rear-view mirror.

4) Hitting the bullseye is great in darts, not as ideal in photography

If you’re nailing the bullseye time and again with precision one might call you a talented shot in darts.  In photography if your subject is situated in the dead centre of all of your shots chances are you’re taking lousy photos.  Compositional dos, such as the rule of thirds suggest one place their subject away from the centre.  It’s certainly ‘just fine’ to have your subject positioned dead centre from time to time, but one thing I’ve noticed about some galleries from those just taking up the hobby, is that this is happening far too often.

3) Notice the world in a different way

Do you remember when you bought that shirt you thought was unique only find out every 10th person you passed down the street seemed to also be wearing it.  Quickly look around the room where you’re reading this article right now and notice something red.  Have you found something yet?  Okay, let me know what you found in the room that was green.  The fact is that we see the world in a selective manner and this bias is reflected in your photography as well.  Try going out and trying to capture certain tones, colours or shapes as an exercise for the day.  It will not only help you to see the world more creatively but it makes for a fun challenge.

2) Reduce the shots of YOU

Remember the example of those splendid shots of you eating cake from point number 7?  You’re going to hate me all over again.  Honestly, the name of the game when it comes to improving your photography is not to shove yourself into every single frame your ever take.  I’m so sorry.

“My sage like piece of advise (coming from a fool) is to start noticing everything in front of you instead of having to be in front of everything.

1) Learn as many rules about composition as you possibly can & then break them all…OFTEN

There are a plethora of compositional dos and don’ts one can potentially learn to improve their photography.  I suggest studying them all and applying them in appropriate situations; however, I can’t stress enough to also be prepared to break them just as often.  Photography is about emotions and feelings as much as it about technical skills.  Ultimately it’s about doing what feels right.

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{ 57 comments… read them below or add one }

Amer February 28, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Great tips Sam! Though, I rarely delete my travel photos (unless it’s really crap and I choose to delete it on site), maybe because I haven’t travelled as much but with the prices of storage devices these days, I’ll keep em all just in case. The problem though rises when you need to choose photos to write a post or show it to your friends – too many photos to go through.

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Nomadic Samuel March 5, 2012 at 2:20 am

Hey Amer,

That’s a great point you bring. It does take a while to go through them all :)

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Ron | Active Planet Travels February 28, 2012 at 6:54 pm

I really like number 2…people seem to take too many shots focused on themselves instead of what’s around them. Noticing everything in front of them is similar to what I tell everyone in that they should “open their eyes” and look at the details. I personally find that the details are what makes a great picture….in most cases! ;-)

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Nomadic Samuel March 5, 2012 at 2:21 am

Hey Ron,

I really like that! Opening your eyes and noticing the details is crucial. I’ve personally found that I’ve trained my eye a little better with some conscious effort.

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Jeremy Branham February 28, 2012 at 10:11 pm

Good tips! Very practical and applicable for those that really think about photography from a professional perspective. There’s one that I disagree with you on – photos of yourself. I take entire trips, can shoot hundreds of photos, and then realize I am only in 5 of them. I need to make more of an effort to make sure I am in more photos!

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Nomadic Samuel March 5, 2012 at 2:22 am

You know what Jeremy, I’m guilty of that as well. I rarely take any shots of me either. I think we had better make a special rule just for us which is exactly the opposite.

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Andi of My Beautiful Adventures February 28, 2012 at 11:07 pm

These are FABULOUS tips and I agree with all 10 — the most important is definitely #3 though!!! PS I totally lay on the ground and climb things to get good shots in dresses! ;-)

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Nomadic Samuel March 5, 2012 at 2:23 am

Hey Andi,

That’s awesome to hear that :) Those who aren’t photographers might be wondering what you’re doing but anybody who loves to take photos would totally get that.

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Jade - OurOyster.com February 29, 2012 at 12:58 am

Great tips!! I need to really work on my photography… its one of the things that I am not too happy with at the moment, and I have for the equipment to take good photos so I just need to get on it!

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Nomadic Samuel March 5, 2012 at 2:24 am

Hey Jade, I think you do take decent shots. It’s a hobby that can grow on your over time :)

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John February 29, 2012 at 4:14 am

Excellent summary of tips Sam! My roommate makes all sorts of fun of me for bending down and contorting my body all in the name of a perfect composition, but he just doesn’t understand it at all. I’m glad you do!

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Nomadic Samuel March 5, 2012 at 2:25 am

Hey John,

I definitely understand and having seen some of your photos on your blog I’ve noticed you have a great eye.

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Stephanie - The Travel Chica February 29, 2012 at 11:43 am

Love the comparison to the game Duck Hunt!

I have created so much extra work for myself by taking a bazillion photos. Because I am still learning, I am still experimenting, so it is important to take a lot of shots. But you are right that you still have to think before pulling the trigger.

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Nomadic Samuel March 5, 2012 at 2:26 am

LOL, did you up playing that as well. I would love to find some of the old games I played as a child just to test out again now. I don’t play any video games these days but I’m sure I could get hooked again.

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Journeys and Travels February 29, 2012 at 1:06 pm

I so agree. But I am still overcoming suggestion 7 hahaha. I would love to lose my camera in style too just to get to be where I can take the best photos I take. I am a novice in photography.

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Nomadic Samuel March 5, 2012 at 2:27 am

I think we all start of as novices. I honestly feel I have a lot still to learn myself :)

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Sabrina February 29, 2012 at 7:42 pm

Good tips! I need to work most on conquering my fear and put myself out there more often and actually ask people if they wouldn’t mind being photographed…

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Nomadic Samuel March 5, 2012 at 2:28 am

Hey Sabrina,

That’s honestly not always easy. I find though that if you can get comfortable with hearing ‘no’ it really helps because that’s honestly the worst that is likely to happen.

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Bethany ~ twoOregonians February 29, 2012 at 11:47 pm

Best photography tips list I’ve seen in quite a long time… Great advice, Samuel. You’re so right: the digital age has made it so easy to be wasteful and thoughtless, and the expense of gear keeps people from taking it out and using it on the streets .Edit, delete more than you keep, use your camera/don’t live in fear, don’t be trigger happy. All terrific advice…

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Nomadic Samuel March 5, 2012 at 2:28 am

Thanks Bethany :)

I’m glad you found these suggestions helpful. I often have to remind myself of them.

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Julia March 1, 2012 at 2:11 am

Thanks so much for this! Everyone knows I am NOT a photography expert (…), so I really appreciate the help!

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Nomadic Samuel March 5, 2012 at 2:29 am

Hey Julia,

I also don’t consider myself an expert. I’m glad you found this helpful!

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jenny@atasteoftravel March 1, 2012 at 8:41 am

Great tips Sam for an L plate photographer. I really must learn to delete a lot more than I do and also take your advice about thinking before pressing the shutter

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Nomadic Samuel March 5, 2012 at 2:31 am

Thanks Jenny, I also need to remember my own advice more often as well :)

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Davide March 2, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Nice tips! I’d add a couple myself:
1. work your subjects: don’t limit yourself on a shoot per subject, keep shooting and experiment framings and compositions;
2. prepare before leaving: study guidebooks, look at other photographer’s pictures and so on (I’ve blogged about it recently).

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Nomadic Samuel March 5, 2012 at 2:32 am

Those are great additional tips Davide. I personally studied a lot about photography in 2009. I’m really busy these days so I’ve let that slide a bit. I need to get back into the books.

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Davide March 5, 2012 at 6:22 am

More than books, I’d say photo books. You need just one good technique book, after that you should keep developing your vision.
You have to train your eye, and photo books are the way to go.

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Kae Lani | A Travel Broad March 2, 2012 at 8:48 pm

I like your comment about reducing the “shots of YOU”. I barely have any really good photos of myself in places because I’m usually the person behind the lens. Meanwhile, my friends get tons of great shots to run home and show the folks.

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Nomadic Samuel March 5, 2012 at 2:33 am

I’m the same way! I suppose the tip is really only for those who have to be in every photo. I’m rarely in any of mine to the point I should try to make more of an effort.

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Davide March 5, 2012 at 6:18 am

I usually travel alone, so it’s a bit hard to take self portraits on the go :)
Also, clients don’t want to see my face in their images XD

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Nomadic Samuel March 16, 2012 at 11:38 am

Good point Davide! :)

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Kurt W March 3, 2012 at 4:32 am

Well said, it seems often the main subject as you noted is dead center. Come on people, try the 1/3 spacing rule.

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Nomadic Samuel March 5, 2012 at 2:34 am

Hahaha…yeah, that’s so true Kurt.

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Ayngelina March 4, 2012 at 3:07 pm

The best tip I have ever read is once you take a shot turn around 180 degrees and take a shot of what was behind you. It makes for an interesting story.

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Nomadic Samuel March 5, 2012 at 2:34 am

That’s a great tip Ayngelina. I’ll remember that one :)

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Federico March 6, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Some great tips Sam!

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Nomadic Samuel March 7, 2012 at 5:34 am

Thanks Federico :)

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The Time-Crunched Traveler (Ellen) March 8, 2012 at 8:12 am

This is great advice! I like the rule about learning about composition, but not being afraid to break the rules in order to really capture the emotion or essence of the place. Your photos are excellent! Thanks for sharing the tips!

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Nomadic Samuel March 16, 2012 at 11:41 am

Thanks Ellen! Breaking the rules is fun…in just about any subject :)

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Derek March 8, 2012 at 10:18 pm

Wow.. number 7 would be hard for me! Deleting more pictures than I take?! I think you just described me.. but its definitely a tip I’ll start working on. I know more than half the pictures I take aren’t that great.

Glad I found you!

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Nomadic Samuel March 16, 2012 at 11:39 am

Derek, that is a hard one to follow. I have to admit I sometimes over-rate my own photos. Sometimes the more critical you are the more you can improve your eye :)

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Camels & Chocolate March 9, 2012 at 3:12 am

Great tips! I’d add explore angles, take shots from a different perspective, avoid overexposure/blur/camera shake.

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Nomadic Samuel March 16, 2012 at 11:38 am

Great tips to add! Thank you :)

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Venkat Ganesh March 27, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Great Tips Samuel. I have recently started a travelling around my country – India and your tips will come a long way in capturing good photographs on the road.
Thanks
Venky

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Nomadic Samuel March 28, 2012 at 4:51 am

That’s great Venkat! I’m glad the article was useful. I’m very anxious to get back to India for more adventures and (of course) more photos :)

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Rich April 5, 2012 at 9:18 pm

Great advice, I’ll have to try out some of these techniques on my next vacation

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Nomadic Samuel April 6, 2012 at 10:03 am

Thanks Rich, glad you found this helpful :)

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Lifecruiser Travel May 6, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Awesome! There is never too much of photography tips or advices, in my opinion. I’ll try to follow your advice and go out trying to capture certain tones, colors/shapes for a day!

We use to get complaints that we take too few photos of ourselves…. ha ha…

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Nomadic Samuel May 7, 2012 at 2:36 am

LOL, I honestly get that complaint as well. I take too few of myself as well.

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Mike Grube June 6, 2012 at 10:59 pm

Great advice – I especially agree about the deletion rule. It describes what I’ve been doing for years. Anyhow, you forgot an importan, 11th rule:

TAKE PHOTOS! The moment won’t come again, maybe you’ll never be at that location in your life, maybe the subject you wanted to capture will be gone in a minute/tomorrow/next time. Even if everythings seems so static and there forever – experience teached me that it might no longer be there after just blinking an eye. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about snapshooting, all your rules apply. I am talking about not being too lazy to take that shot NOW.

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Daniel McBane July 12, 2012 at 10:13 am

Some excellent advice here, especially point number two. Now if you want to make a monumental contribution to humanity (possibly even Nobel Prize worthy), you’ll have that point translated into Japanese, Chinese and Korean.

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Nomadic Samuel July 18, 2012 at 8:36 am

LOL, having been based in Korea (for 3 years) and Asia (for nearly 6) I hear what you’re saying :P

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Sophie August 31, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Great tips Samuel. What camera do you use?

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Nomadic Samuel September 3, 2012 at 5:35 am

Thanks Sophie,

I’m currently using a Sony Alpha A65 body with 18-250 mm lens and 50 mm 1.7 :)

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Dean Whitling October 20, 2012 at 4:56 am

Nice list – I think something good to add is the ability to get out of bed nice and early. Its a great time to be taking photos and generally no-one else is around

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Nate Ginsburg November 20, 2012 at 3:37 am

Great tips man- i especially love the one about being bold and taking pictures of people. I recently have gotten into photography and have fallen in love with it! I’ve noticed that some of my best pictures have been candid of random people from places I’ve been. Overall, snapping pictures of unsuspecting people is one of my favorite strategies for getting pictures. Its great except when you are in a country like Ghana where they REALLY dont like people taking pictures of them.. they think you are trying to exploit them which is frustrating because that is not the case at all. I literally got yelled at by Ghanians when I was trying to take some pictures. Luckily, you can still always play the dumb tourist card ;)

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Samir July 6, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Those 10 tips cover almost all I’ve learnt about photography in the past 2 years or so. Whether you’re shooting insects (my 2nd fav) or clouds (#1), contrast is everything.
My only problem is my lack of possession of a HUGE aperture camera. The panoramic mode is great for clouds, but low intensity shots are just worthless in capturing what I actually want! Using even the simplest of programs like Picasa lets me make up for the contrast and intensity, but the resolution just isn’t there.
Lack of a discernible focus anywhere in the frame is especially bad.
Shooting videos of evolving low-alt clouds is extremely taxing due to high wind speed.
Though I’m not much of a traveler, and people are not my subjects of choice at all, those tips are great :)

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