Tips to Improve Your Travel Photography :: Digital Photo Secrets

Tips to Improve Your Travel Photography

by David Peterson 5 comments

Planes, trains and automobiles. And don't forget buses and mules. Whichever form of transportation you use for your next vacation destination, I've got some tips that will help you capture some memorable photographs that you'll be proud of and will be excited to share.

Before Your Trip

There's nothing worse than arriving at your destination and realizing you forgot one of your lenses, or your extra battery, or that new flash card you just bought especially for the trip. Just like you make either a written or a mental list of the clothes and accessories you need to pack, you ought to be doing the same for your photo gear. I personally trust the written list more than the mental. My list would look something like this (note: everything goes in my camera bag, except the tripod):

  • Camera and strap
  • Wide angle lens
  • Telephoto lens
  • Portrait lens
  • Battery and extra battery
  • Battery charger
  • Lens cleaning tissue and/or blower
  • Filters - Neutral density, Polarizer, UV
  • Tripod

One trick is to visualize yourself on your vacation taking pictures. What gear are you grabbing to capture that sunset? The kids splashing down the water slide? Your spouse or significant other skiing down the slopes? If you can imagine some of these scenes, you're better able to imagine the gear you'll need.

Before you go, have your camera professionally cleaned or clean it yourself. Starting off with a clean camera will help boost the quality of your images. In some cases, depending on where you travel and what your camera is exposed to, you might need to clean it when you return, too. It's one step a lot of people don't think about before they leave, but it's an important one.

Times of Day

Even if you're tempted to sleep in, it will pay off to get up early, at least a few mornings, to capture the sunrise. The light at that time of day is spectacular in just about any destination you'll travel to. The pinks and oranges and blues make for some great colors to go along with the soft light.

Spend a day or so scoping out spots you want to photograph and think about how the light might be in the early morning. Where does the sun rise in relation to the spots you've scoped? What's in the path of the sun as it rises? Where will the shadows cast and the low light's glow? You may not be able to answer these questions exactly, but can surmise by observation. If you have the chance, ask some locals. For example, coffee shop owners are often friendly and are certainly up at sunrise to know what the lighting is like.

Alternatively, the end of the day casts a different light that is equally appealing. Just like at home, these are the two times of day that offer the best lighting. That's not to say that you don't want to take photos during the day, you certainly will. Each circumstance will present different lighting situations. Capturing your kid on the waterslide is likely to happen midday, and that's fine. Just watch out for splashing water and use a lens hood to keep the sun glare down. That reminds me! I need to add my lens hood to my list above. This is a good example of imaging a shot and what you'll need so you remember to pack it!

Keeping Perspective

Whether your travels take you to a city, a beach, a desert, or the mountains, one rule that remains is perspective. Keep your angles interesting. It's easy to freeze up in a new place and fall into taking shots straight on. Maybe you're in awe of the view and just want to capture it. But, don't forget to move around and reposition your camera's angle to see how the shot might look from lower or higher or left or right. The slightest shift can have such an impact on an image and being on vacation is no excuse to fall into "snapshot" mode rather than "photographer extraordinaire" mode!

Make Yourself at Home

Hopefully you've researched the place you're visiting before you go and know of all the main spots to hit. But, you also want to explore the lesser known places to capture unique shots. Obviously locals know all the neat places, the tucked away spots that tourists aren't usually privy to. Locals often keep these spots under lock and key, not always willing to open the way to tourists in fear that they will take over their sacred space. So, how do you break the code? When you're asking locals for help, don't have your camera out. It screams TOURIST. Do a little schmoozing first and perhaps the conversation alone will lend itself to some clues. The less tourist-like you look and act, the more likely the locals will open up to you. Take a genuine interest in the area you're visiting, ask questions, and compliment the area, without gushing, and let the conversation lead to the information you're wanting. If you're too shy to talk to just anyone, then go back to the coffee shop or another business and talk to the employees or owner. If you're in a desert, well, you might have to figure it out on your own!

Lenses and Filters

Assuming you've packed all the lenses you need, be sure to use them. A variety of portraits, such as your family or friends you're travelling with as well as some locals, might require your portrait lens. Whereas landscape and fine art photos will require your telephoto and wide angle lenses. Be prepared for any situation. Filters will come in handy, just like at home. Brighten that blue sky or reduce the reflection on a window with your polarizer. Snap on a UV filter for both protection and to cut some rays.


Most vacation photos are of people or landscapes. Showing the fun and emotion of your vacation is what will make your images memorable. Although this family picture exudes emotion and fun, keep in mind to not just do the standard picture like this one, but put people in unique spots and angle your camera in such a way that flatters both them and the background. And most of all, don't forget to turn the camera on yourself once in a while.

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  1. Rob says:

    Don't forget that little cable release, or if you have the facility, wireless remote.

  2. Ray Barnes says:

    I live in the UK and have arranged a holiday in the Far East in February. I've only owned my first DSLR (a Nikon 7100 with which I'm very pleased) for a few months and am wondering if I will have difficulties in the high humidity. Any advice please? Ray.

    • David Peterson says:

      Hi Ray,

      No, you shouldn't have any problems with your camera in high humidity. Just be careful if you move it between high and low humidity places (for example inside your air conditioned hotel room). That's when condensation can form on the inside lenses. To counter this, place the camera in a ziploc bag before leaving the hotel. The condensation will form on the outside of the bag not inside the camera. You can open the bag once the camera has normalized to the outside temperature.

      I hope that helps.


  3. Ebenezer Attard says:

    Awesome share allways get a lot of tips from reading these tips and tutorials. So in this awesome post with regards to the Equipment list just as a thought that good old handy Shutter release and remote will come in handy too especially if you want to include yourself in some shots and low light photography were you require that slow shutterspeed i.e Long exposure photography. Happy snapping my shutter bug friends.

  4. Gene Luttenberg says:

    You forgot a small flash from your camera mfg. for those areas that might need a little extra fill light

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