A combination of planning, practice, and patience is essential to return from your trips with great travel pictures. On this basis, here are ten common travel photography mistakes and how to avoid them.
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Common Travel Photography Mistakes
When we travel, we often fail to put enough effort into planning our pictures and aren’t ready for when unique photo opportunities arise. These mistakes are common, and there are simple ways to avoid them. The following are some of the most easy-to-prevent travel photography mistakes.
Failing to Plan Ahead
The first critical mistake that many people make is to arrive at a location without knowing what to shoot.
We’re all guilty of it. We get to destination X, take out our cameras, and immediately start shooting.
Impromptu photography can lead to great scenes, but it hardly works when you’re traveling. Instead, walk around the location for 15-30 minutes without using your camera. Scout the destination and ask yourself what would make a picturesque scene.
Pre-scouting – or even better, having a shot list – is a powerful way to find the best photo locations in a given spot. Consequently, preparing your frames before shooting is a surefire way to avoid travel photography mistakes.
Not Having Enough Time
Failing to prepare is common, but not having enough time is also one of the most prevalent beginner travel photography mistakes.
Especially if you’re on a tight schedule, not planning enough time for photography will hurt the final results. You’re quickly trying to get a shot in without properly arranging the frame, finding the right subject, and controlling the light.
To counter this problem, set a specific time for photography. It might be challenging if you’re on holiday and simply want memorabilia pictures, but you’ll later thank yourself for having better shots.
Not Mastering Your Camera Settings
When it comes to beginner photography mistakes, shooting with the wrong camera settings is common and avoidable.
Most pro photographers defend the “always shoot in manual mode” mantra, but there are reasons to disagree.
If you’re not yet comfortable with the camera’s main settings – ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, keep the auto mode on to avoid having lots of ruined pictures.
Especially if you’re taking street shots or other travel scenes, a great frame can pass by in a second. And if your camera settings aren’t on point, you won’t capture that particular moment.
Not Being Patient Enough
When you look at some of your best travel pictures – especially street scenes, how often did they happen within five minutes of your arrival? If you want to capture a fascinating moment, you’ll have to put yourself into a favorable position and be patient.
No matter if you’re standing in front of a famous monument or roaming the streets, be patient. It can take five minutes before a captivating scene occurs, but it can also take an hour.
Don’t make the common travel photography mistake of shooting immediately and not waiting for a better photo opportunity to arise.
In this context, I took the picture below while walking across the town of Edfu in southern Egypt. The city was full of old Mercedes cars, but there weren’t many photogenic scenes involving them. It took a full 30 minutes before I found one with the hood open and a man in local attire standing next to it. That makes a much more interesting shot than a parked car, doesn’t it?
Being in the Wrong Spot at the Wrong Moment
One of the most critical tips for aspiring travel photographers is to learn about light. And that’s where choosing the right moment comes into play.
If you’re shooting at noon with bright sunlight, your results won’t be satisfactory. In simple terms, too little or too much light will impact your images.
We always want to capture a given scene in perfect light conditions. But that’s theoretical as we rarely have those. As such, the best way to avoid light-related travel photography mistakes is to shoot images that fit your current light conditions.
If you want to photograph a particular landscape that looks best in a sunny dusk setting, choose a corresponding period. If it’s rainy or gloomy, adapt your style and shoot moody streets.
To come up with great images – no matter the circumstances, adjust your photography to be in the right place at the right time.
Failing to Include a Human Element
Landscape and city shots are great, but the human subject often tells a better story.
When taking travel pictures, don’t solely rely on the beauty of a particular location. Try to include a human element to add meaning.
The picture below shows a woman on skis with a mosque in the background. The scene depicts a ski resort in a Muslim country, but there is more. As the woman is wearing a face mask, the viewer knows that this happened during the Covid Pandemic.
Taking Too Many Obvious Travel Pics
We all want to have a pic in front of a world-famous monument like the Eiffel Tower. However, if you want your photography to stand out, try to capture these places from a more unusual perspective.
In this context, there are many ways to avoid the mistake of taking super-obvious travel pictures. One example is shooting the location from the hip or ground. Alternatively, capture a scene in front of the monument instead of a portrait.
The picture below shows the Colosseum in Rome but from a different viewpoint. Instead of shooting the building at sunset like every travel magazine, the photographer decided to capture its reflection and added slow-shutter people movement – creating a unique depiction of a world-famous location.
Over-Focusing on Social Media
Trying too hard to have social-media-worthy pictures is also among the most common travel photography mistakes.
Much like taking bog-standard tourist pictures, many aspiring photographers over-concentrate on Instagram.
Yes, we all want to have a beautiful feed – and certain types of pictures will get more likes. Basing your photography on social media, however, will let external factors decide what you shoot. As such, you’re giving away control of your art by taking pictures for someone else.
If you want your photography to stand out, concentrate first and foremost on telling stories that capture your emotions. Chances are, they will ignite someone else’s emotions as well.
Not Having a Sense of Scale
Among the most common travel photography mistakes are undoubtedly also problems of scale.
In simple terms, you need to include a reference point in your picture to show the viewer what dimensions a particular setting has.
Below, you can see a picture of the Palace of Parliament in Bucharest, Romania. It’s one of the largest buildings in the world, but it’s hard to showcase its dimensions in photos. In this shot, the taxis allow the viewer to grasp the immensity of the building.
Having Too Much or Too Little Gear
Finally, the last among my list of beginner photography mistakes is the over-reliance on gear.
We’ve all heard the following phrases: I don’t have the right camera. I forgot my tripod, so my landscape shots won’t be exceptional. And if I had one more lens, my street photography would improve.
Personally, one camera and two lenses usually do the trick. In this context, I use the Sony A7iii for most shoots and pack a Sony 24-105 f4 zoom lens and a Sigma 35mm f 1/4 for street photography. I only take a tripod when I know that I’ll use it.
There are endless options on the market when it comes to cameras, lenses, and accessories. I don’t believe in carrying five different lenses everywhere (climb stairs with 25 kilos in your backpack), so I think that you should take as little as possible.
The challenge resides in finding the best gear for your needs and sticking with it. That might take some trial and error, but in the end, “the best camera is the one you have in your pocket.”