We all want to have outstanding pictures that immortalize the best moments of our travels. As with any discipline, practice makes perfect, but there are ways to improve your travel pictures right from the get-go. On this basis, here are some essential travel photography tips for beginners.
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Top Travel Photography Tips for Beginners
If you’re wondering how to improve your travel pictures, here are some of the most effective ways to take better photos without being a pro photographer or spending thousands of dollars on new gear.
The One-Hour Dusk and Dawn Rule
Light is a crucial factor when it comes to photography. No matter if you’re shooting city streets or landscapes, always prioritize sunrise and sunset.
Early birds get the best pictures because the morning light creates unique color combinations. Likewise, you’ll have jaw-dropping background colors at sunset. In this context, we call the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset the “golden hours.” These two periods create warm, soft tones and beautiful shadows. That’s why you should always prioritize the golden hours when it comes to travel photography.
If you’re visiting a world-famous site like the Colosseum in Rome or the ruins in Tulum, get there at sunrise, and you’ll have the whole place to yourself.
In contrast, noon, especially on sunny days, is the worst time for photography as you’ll have too much light in your pictures. Use these hours to relax (or scout locations) and fill up your energy tank for the golden hours.
The Rule of Thirds
The Rule of Thirds is one of the most elementary travel photography tips – and easy to put into practice.
In simple terms, break your image into horizontal and vertical thirds and place the most crucial elements (your subjects) on the intersections.
In the picture below (a shot I took in 2020 in the region of Meteora, Greece), you can see that the sky makes up around 2/3 of the image. The two rocks (the main subjects) are both on the intersections of the image’s horizontal thirds.
The Rule of Thirds is a simple way to get your composition right, but don’t become a slave to it.
Some pictures tell intriguing stories by themselves without perfectly adhering to the Rule of Thirds. In that same vein, it’s sometimes impossible to place your subjects exactly where you want them to be. In those instances, focus on telling a captivating story with your image.
Research and Scout the Best Locations Beforehand
The best travel photography tips for beginners undoubtedly also including research and scouting.
In simple terms, don’t expect to show up at a picturesque site and find the best photo spots immediately. Some tourist hotspots – like the pyramids of Giza or Machu Picchu – have pre-determined photography viewpoints, but these aren’t always the best places. Aside from that, you’ll have the same pictures as every other visitor, making it hard for your images to stand out.
So, how can we find unique, lesser-known locations? The best way to go about it is to research beauty spots before physically visiting them. As an example, before traveling to Istanbul, look up the best locations to photograph the Hagia Sophia.
Next, do a scouting round before taking pictures. Many of us arrive at a place full of photographic zeal, and we immediately take out our cameras. Because we don’t spend enough time assessing the best locations, we fail to spot them. That’s why walking for 15-30 minutes to find the best spots is an excellent tip for beginner photographers. It might take you a bit more time to shoot a location, but the results will be visible in your pictures later.
Shoot in Manual but Also Use Auto
Many pros exclusively shoot in manual. And while it’s true that manual will give you the best results, that’s only the case if you master your camera’s settings. In consequence, one of my top travel photography tips for beginners is to switch between manual and auto.
The auto mode will give you an idea of how your camera would set up – and modern cameras are intelligent. You’ll have a few acceptable but imperfect images that can teach you how to better set the camera manually. As such, you can use the auto mode as a benchmark and then slowly work your way up toward understanding the camera’s settings – especially ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.
Here is an oversimplified explanation of the three:
- ISO is the brightness;
- the aperture is the amount of light that passes through the camera lens to the image sensor; and
- shutter speed is how long your camera spends taking a picture.
Once you understand the relationship between the three, you’ll be able to manipulate them in manual mode – helping you shoot the best possible pictures.
Have a Subject, Frame, and Purpose for Each Picture
When taking a picture, always ask yourself three questions:
- What’s the subject of my photo?
- What’s in my frame?
- What’s the purpose of the shot?
These three elements are vital to getting an exceptional picture.
Start with the subject and try to direct the viewer’s attention to it – putting it at the intersection of a third. Next, look at what’s in your frame. Some frames work if they are minimalist, while others function with lots of things in the background. The challenge is to avoid drawing the viewer’s attention away from the subject.
Finally, the purpose of your picture is more subjective. Whenever you’re looking at a photo, ask yourself if it tells a story. What’s the message that the image conveys? And most importantly, what emotion do you want to trigger?
Always Bring a Camera
Some of the best pictures are the result of spontaneous scenes. That’s why having a camera with you at all times is among the primary travel photography tips for beginners.
You can’t plan your luck, but you can put yourself in the best possible situation. As photographers say: “the best camera is the one you have with you.”
Don’t Believe in Gear Myths
When it comes to the most relevant travel photography tips, “stop obsessing over your gear” is another powerful phrase.
In my early days as a photographer, I spent endless hours wondering how to take great pictures while traveling, and the gear dilemma kept cropping up.
Do I have the right camera? Which lenses should I buy? And finally, will be the investment be worth it?
In the end, the best camera in the world won’t make a difference if you don’t know how to use it. That’s why you should start with the camera you have and focus on improving your skills before spending thousands of dollars on gear.
They might only have an APS-C sensor (meaning smaller than full-frame) – but in the right hands, these budget cameras can work wonders. Better still, they are easy-to-use and well-suited for amateurs who don’t want to spend a fortune.
Develop an Editing Style
Editing is an integral part of photography. Most photographers use Lightroom and Photoshop to enhance their shots, but there are alternatives.
The most essential parts of post-processing are the image’s exposure, shadows, noise, and color tones.
When your image is technically satisfactory – well-exposed with good highlights, shadows, and noise reduction – you can move on to filters or presets in Lightroom. The more you edit, the more you develop your own style, and the better your final pictures will become.
As such, one of my top travel photography tips is to master your editing software before investing in new gear. The better you are at improving pictures, the more you’ll get out of your camera.
Ask Locals For Permission
When it comes to solo travel photography tips, I don’t believe in letting other people photograph you. If you have a complicated camera, most random passersby won’t know how to use it, and you’ll be disappointed with the pictures. There can naturally be exceptions if you are at a unique place – and absolutely want a picture of yourself there.
Consequently, if you’re a solo traveler, focus on scenes and ask locals if you can take pictures of them. The prospect of photographing locals might sound frightening at first – but in most cases, it’s a rewarding experience.
The best way to go about it is the following: strike up a conversation first. Ask for directions, local tips, or recommendations. Show interest in their culture or occupation. If there’s a language barrier, use Google Translate. Once they realize that you are genuinely interested, they usually have no problem with being in your photos.
To sum up, if you’re wondering how to take pictures while traveling alone, consider photographing locals to tell fascinating stories.
Be Patient and Willing to Make Mistakes
Finally, if you’re pondering how to improve your travel photography, accept that you’ll need a lot of patience to get gorgeous shots.
Most photographers spend years perfecting their craft, and one image sometimes takes five hours of work. No matter your gear, skill levels, or editing proficiency, you need to put the hours in and sometimes ride your luck for the best scenes.
To conclude, don’t forget to be patient and enjoy yourself while delving into the art of photography.