The Basics of Travel Photography

By Bonusprint on 19 July 2023

Every photographer knows the feeling: you head out into the world and discover the most incredible new places and cultures. Breathtaking landscapes feed your soul and vivid colours set your imagination ablaze. But then you get home and look back at your travel photos, only to realise they don’t quite capture the true magic of what you saw and experienced with your family or loved one. If you relate then these essential travel photography tips are sure to help you do your next trip justice.

1. Pack only the essentials

When we’re preparing for a trip abroad with the ambition of taking beautiful travel photographs, it can be easy to overpack. But carrying around too much camera gear will slow you down and make you tired, resulting in you shooting fewer photos. The issue with this is that, generally speaking the more photographs you take, the more likely you are to get better shots. So instead of packing every camera and lens you own, simply take your favourite camera and a lens or two (perhaps a wide angle and a zoom – or just a zoom) to keep your camera bag nice and light. You might even find you’re better off just taking your smartphone, which is afterall the ultimate lightweight camera setup!

2. Take extra batteries and memory Cards

Other than your camera (and a good pair of walking shoes), extra batteries and memory cards are the most important things to keep in your camera bag. There’s nothing worse than arriving at a beautiful landmark or seeing an amazing sunset and realising that you have no space left on your card, or that your camera’s just run out of battery power. Likewise, if you’re shooting with your phone, be sure to take a powerbank with you so you can charge it on-the-go – you’ll be using it a lot more than usual!

3. Take better selfies and group shots with a travel tripod

Travel selfies are great when you’re just taking a photo of yourself (and partner), but things get tricky when you’re travelling as a family or group of friends. Pack a travel tripod and make more of these moments by setting it up and using your camera or phone’s self-timer mode. Then all you have to do is run back into the shot with your friends and/or family and say “Cheese!”.

Pro tip: A tripod is will also help you take super sharp landscape photos – especially in low-light conditions.

4. Learn a few local phrases and get talking to locals

Master photographer Robert Capa once said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” With this in mind, it can be worth learning a few simple phrases – even if it’s just “hello” and “thank you” – so that you can build more of a rapport with local people during your travels (and get closer to them). Once you’ve broken the ice and had a good laugh at how bad your accent is, ask your new friend if you can take their photo, and voilà. Robert would be proud of you!

5. Always ask for permission

It’s important to keep in mind that different cultures have different views on photography. For this reason, it’s always best to play it safe and ask for permission before taking a photo of someone. A simple smile and point at your camera is normally enough if you aren’t fluent in the local language. Most people will respect you for asking and happily pose for a quick photo. If they say no, well at least you haven’t upset anybody by trying to take a sneaky candid shot.

6. Take candid shots of your travel buddies

Although it’s important to ask for permission from locals, the same doesn’t apply to your family members, partner and/or friends. Try to capture the reality of your shared experiences by snapping candid shots of them as well as posed shots. Candid photos will help you tell more authentic visual stories and help you remember how you felt in the moment.

7. Think outside the box to be more original

It’s only natural that we want to recreate some of our favourite photos from Instagram while travelling, but sometimes this isn’t the best way to go. If you’re too fixated on taking a specific photo, at a specific location, you’re likely to miss other magic moments that happen right in front of you. So rather than copying what you’ve seen online, photograph your own journey and you’ll create more original images as a result.

8. Make sure your phone or camera is ready to go

The best travel photos often arise when we least expect them: an elephant giving your child an impromptu hug, a fire dancer pulling your partner up onto the stage for a quick boogie. These moments come and go in the blink of an eye, so it’s important to have your phone or camera on you and ready to shoot at all times. Invest in a comfortable strap for your camera so you can wear it comfortably around your neck, or leave your photography app open on your phone so you don’t have to fiddle with settings to get the shot. These are the special little moments that you’ll look back on with the most fondness.

9. Shoot during the golden hour

There’s not “bad time” to shoot travel photos, but there’s definitely something extra special about the golden hour. During the hour leading up to sunrise and the hour after sunset, the sun sits low in the sky and casts warm and flattering tones that make everything from landscapes to portraits extra special.

10. Focus on the details

It’s only natural that we want to photograph the famous landmarks while we’re travelling, the “Big Bens” and “Eiffel Towers” of the world. But it’s important to also focus on the little details that make your trip so special. Look for unusual objects and textures, photograph the trees and plants that you can smell, snap some shots of your favourite meals and drinks, or even your favourite waiter. Photograph wide landscapes, but also zoom in on the details that make it unique. Don’t just photograph people’s faces, also shoot their hands and their feet and their clothes and jewellery. Sometimes it’s the tiniest of details that say the most about our travel experiences.

11. Use the rule of thirds

The “rule of thirds” is one of the oldest rules in the photography handbook and will help you compose your travel shots like a pro. Look on the screen of your phone or camera and it’s likely you’ll see two vertical lines and two horizontal lines that create a sort of grid. If you don’t, go through your settings and switch it on. By framing your shots so that you main subject – this could be your child’s smiley face or the Taj Mahal – is positioned at one of the points where the lines intersect, you’ll create stronger focal points and compositions. It’s simple, but highly effective!

12. Shoot series of images that tell more complete stories

Instead of trying to shoot one-shot “bangers” that you think will do well on Instagram, try creating series of images that tell vivid stories. For example, it might be difficult to tell the tale of how a monkey stole your partner’s lunch with just a single photo. However, if you were to capture a shot of your cheeky new friend’s stealthy approach, followed by a shot of them running off with your grub and then a shot of your partner looking shocked (and hungry), you’d be able to tell the whole story in a series of three action-packed shots. This story-led approach can be applied to any scenario and will help you document your experiences in all their glory.

Discover more advice and tips to inspire your photography on the bonusprint blog.