how to


Hello and welcome to our Photography Guide Part II. In our Travel Photography Part I you learned all about the preparation, gained a feeling about what makes the Travel Photography so special and what to do or not to do when you are on location. The Tips 1 – 6 helped you understanding the basic rules.

Today we want to talk about different techniques on different sections of Travel Photography and general thoughts about this topic. So why we are so excited about making pictures while discover new destinations? Because we want to communicate what makes a place truly special. We want to fix things which suprise, intrigue, excite and inspire. Good travel photography doesn’t just confirm what we already know about a place, rather it challenges our preconceptions, making us question what we think we know.

Technique and Approach
Tip #7 – People

Travel Photography - Taking Pictures of People

First off, as with any genre of photography, shoot in RAW format if your camera will permit it. There’s little point in taking great travel photos if they are just low-quality JPEGs. With RAW you can have JPEGs any time you want. But you’ve also got the higher resolution files too in case you should ever need them.

Shooting people means meeting people. Or at least having some kind of rapport with them, no matter how fleeting. Yes, you might be able to get away with shooting in a more fly-on-the-wall documentary style too. But unless you have some kind of “in” to your host country, shooting documentary photos on the streets will mean you only get images of pubic life, not more intimate and surprising scenes from within the confines of peoples’ homes, workplaces and sites of worship.

Having said this, if street life is your thing, be sure to research potentially interesting areas of each major city you visit: in some countries a lot of life is lived out in the open and visiting the right neighborhood can produce plenty of great material. Also check for things like local festivals, holidays and major events, and plan your visit to coincide.

Tip #8 – Natural Landscapes

Taking photos of Landscapes in Travel Photography

If you’re into shooting landscapes, it can seem difficult to find truly unique and little-known subjects that are also genuinely stunning. But you can, and will, if you make a little effort to venture beyond the standard tourist spots.

You might also want to look into apps such as the Photographer’s Ephemeris or Sun Seeker to help you plan your landscape shots. These are handy tools that will help you to arrive at a chosen location at precisely the right time to catch the sunrise, sunset and the golden hours.

Tip #9 – Cities and Architecture

Cities and Architecture is one field of Travel Photography

Buildings make great travel photography subjects. Just seeing a certain style of architecture can immediately transport a viewer to that place. Look for distinctive buildings that have something to “say” about the location. Sometimes it’s all about the contrast between different kinds of building: old and new; tall and small.

Cities can be great to shoot at night, or just after sundown when the electric lights have come on but there’s still a lingering trace of daylight in the sky. Try to get all vertical and horizontal lines nicely parallel to the side of the frame when shooting buildings (this isn’t always possible without specialized equipment though).

Tip #10 – Sunsets

Sunsets should be not a big topic in Travel Photography

Sunsets are nice. Everyone likes sunsets.

Everyone takes pictures of sunsets too. Do we need any more pictures of sunsets? What makes yours different? Maybe just put the camera down and enjoy the sunset.

Tip #11 – Instagram Trends

Instagram Trends in Travel Photography

Want to be the next Instagram travel photography “influencer”? This means becoming an instantly recognizable “brand”. In the same way that all the world’s biggest companies tend to provide one type of product or service that everyone knows them for, you’ll need to hit upon an idea that will keep people coming back to you, certain that you won’t disappoint.

Here the product is your photography. Just as there are better burgers to be had elsewhere than McDonalds, you don’t need to be the most technically accomplished photographer in order to become an Instagram star. What you need is an idea. A fun, simple idea that you can repeat in every location you visit.

There’s nothing particularly complicated about the #FollowMeTo, #LensBetweenUs or #GirlEatWorld photographs. And the heavy-handed use of filters on some of them wont be to everyone’s tastes. But there’s no denying that these Instagrammers hit upon great ideas. You’ll need one too if you want to achieve the same degree of social media success.

Here are some Inspirations for Instagram Trends:

The #FollowMeTo Pose

The #GirlEatWorld Trend

The #LensBetweenUs Style

And our Instagram Photography Accounts we follow!

General Travel Photography Tips
Tip #12 – Go Solo

Travel Photography - Go Solo

You might not want to hear this, but if you really want to excel at travel photography, you should probably travel alone. Or with just one other person, if you really must.

As a solo traveller you are more approachable, less threatening. This makes it much easier to meet people. Meeting people will open doors to exciting places, and exciting photo opportunities. Even traveling as a couple (romantic or otherwise) will make you a little less approachable. Meanwhile, in a group you’ll find it almost impossible to get access to anything but the most superficial and stereotypical views of a destination. Travel photography is sometimes a lonely profession.

Tip #13 – Get a Fixer

A Guide or Fixer as a Tip for successful Travel Photography

Whether traveling alone or with a friend/partner, it can help massively if you have access to someone with insider knowledge of the location: a “fixer” in journalism-speak. If you already have a local friend, great, they’ll likely be able to provide all the help and insider info you need.

If not, then you should seek out someone who can assist you. This could be a professional guide, or a friendly and helpful taxi driver (maybe offer to pay a daily rate if they’ll take you around). Even a bored hotel receptionist with plenty of time on their hands could be a wealth of local info.

Tip #14 – Be Open

Travel Photography - be open

Naturally, it’s always going to be easier to enlist the help of others if you are friendly and outgoing yourself. Even if it’s the thousandth time today that you’ve been offered a taxi/rikshaw/tuk-tuk/massage/ping-pong-ball-show, keep smiling.

Learn as many words of the local language as you possibly can. Expecting people to speak your language in their country will not win you many friends.  “Your language” means English, even if it’s not actually your mother tongue, as in many parts of the world it’s assumed that all foreigners are English speakers.

Even just a few basic words in the local language, such as hello, please, and thank you will go a long way. Most people are flattered when a foreigner takes sufficient interest in their culture to ask intelligent questions about it, so requesting the help of a local to teach you how to say a more difficult phrase in the language (“Hi, I’m a photographer, can I take your picture?”) can be a great way of getting to know people.

And once you know people a little, they are usually very happy for you to take their photo.

So, yes, smile, and talk to people.

A lot.

Tip #15 – Choose Your Destinations Carefully

Travel Photography - Pick your Destinations carefully

Tourism brings money. But it often also has many much less agreeable consequences for local people. People who may or may not actually see very much of the extra money that tourism injects into their local economy.

In hugely popular tourist destinations, you shouldn’t be too surprised if you discover that local people aren’t very friendly, and have precisely zero interest in either you or your photography.

Think about it though: imagine that you’re just trying to earn a basic living, leading a normal life, when suddenly you find your neighborhood overrun by a lot of people – many of whom are also rude, culturally ignorant, and already drunk by midday – then you’d likely have little time for foreign photographers either.

Conversely, in areas that see little tourism, the inhabitants are usually very curious about foreigners: a category of person they may have only ever seen in movies or on the news. Clearly, this situation is going to work out better from everyone’s point of view.

Tip #16 – Become Invisible

Travel Photography - become invisible

You’re a Traveler, right? Not a tourist.

Wrong. As far as the locals are concerned, there’s little difference between you – the intrepid travel photography adventurer – and some loudmouth dude in a hawaiian shirt who has barely ventured further than the poolside bar the entire week. Effectively, you’re a tourist anywhere that you don’t speak the language or permanently live. Perhaps even if you do speak the language and live there. Never forget this.

Having said that, getting good photos often requires becoming as invisible as you possibly can. This means behaving like the locals do, which will not necessarily be how you behave at home. Sure, in some places, you may be the first outsider anyone’s seen in living memory, so expect to be mobbed by the entire village school in friendly excitement. This may produce many great shots. But generally, the more you can blend in and remain in the background, the more “undisturbed” daily life you will be able to witness.

Tip #17 – Wake Early

Wake up early when Travel Photography

Are you on vacation? Or a hardworking travel photographer? There’s no reason why you can’t do both of course, but if you want to improve your travel photography skills, then you’ll need to dedicate at least part of the trip to doing it seriously. This means getting out of bed when the light is good and few other travelers are around.

Perhaps you’re not much of a morning person? Get up anyway, spend an hour or two shooting, and then go back to bed. Midday light is flat and boring anyway, better to take a siesta.

Tip #18 – Get Lost

Travel Photography - Get lost

Pick a direction and just walk. Lose yourself. Make sure you have the name and address of your hotel in the local language though (i.e. pick up a business card from reception). This way if you really get lost you can just grab a cab and head back without a problem.

Check first with locals, though, to make sure that you’re not about to wonder off in the direction of a notoriously sketchy neighborhood.

Tip #19 – Take Your Time and be prepared

Travel Photography - be prepared

Good things come to those who wait. Good travel photographs often come to those who wait all day. Just make sure there’s a shady tree nearby.

Have your camera ready to hand at all times. Always keep one eye on the light: take meter readings frequently and adjust your camera settings when necessary. This way, when a photo opportunity presents itself, click: it’s yours!

Stay safe
Tip #20 – Be sensitive

Travel Photography - Be sensitive

Don’t flash conspicuous bling (i.e. cameras) in a place where the cost of a single lens might be equal to several months’ wages for the lowest paid members of society.

If you’re from a wealthy, industrialized nation and traveling in the “developing” world, the average person is going to assume that you are filthy rich, even if this is very far from the case. Many people will be curious about your (perceived, or at least relative) wealth, and be on the lookout for exciting signs of these expected riches. Cover your cameras in gaffer-tape, taking particular care to hide the Nikon, Canon, Leica or whatever logo. Make it look beat up, ugly, and, above all, totally worthless. This way you’ll likely find that inquisitive eyes (and, most importantly, hands) soon lose interest.

Put all this ugly gear into an equally ugly bag. Not some high-tech pro camera bag with all the bells and whistles. Instead, line a sturdy but nondescript shoulder bag or rucksack with foam and fill it with all the padded dividers out of your regular camera bag. This way people will more likely expect you to pull out your lunch than some state-of-the-art photography gear.

Tip #21 – Be Aware and be sure

Travel Photography - camera bag for a save camera transport

This bag stays with you at all times. Never let yourself be persuaded to part with it under any circumstances. It does not travel in the hold of a plane as checked baggage, only as carry on. It does not sit on luggage racks at the far end of a train carriage. It does not go in a rear locker or on the roof of an intercity bus. If it absolutely must be stored down by your feet when using public transport, then pay special attention that no one crawls through under the seat from behind and helps themselves to its contents while you’re distracted.

However, even these precautions cannot guarantee that you will not be the victim of theft. Get good camera insurance and regularly back-up your RAW files, both to external drives (preferably carried separately from your computer) and to the cloud.

Let’s summarise the Travel Photography Guide
Now enjoy yourself

  • Shoot in RAW
  • Meet the people on local Festivals, Holidays and Events
  • Try to show contrasts (especially in Architecture Photography)
  • The time of day is important
  • You need a funny, simple Style, which is stringent in any locations
  • Travel Photography is a lonely profession
  • Grab a Fixer with knowledge of the Location
  • Learn a little bit of the local Language
  • Be patient
  • While Traveling always adjust your settings constantly

Walking around in a paranoid funk thinking every local is out to fleece you for your precious camera gear is not going to result in too much quality travel photography. Nor, for that matter, in much quality travel. Assuming you even dare take the camera out of its case, you’ll be so defensive and strung-out that most potential subjects will steer well clear of you anyway.

Relax, it’s just a bunch of molded-plastic and microchips. Now get out there and start shooting!

By the way: When you have your portfolio full of beautiful and breathtaking Photos – Show them to the World!!! Do you want to get your Pictures noticed? My simple Tips for getting more Followers and Likes will give you the Attention you deserve.

All the Best,
Nadja from MyPostcard.

The first thing we need to consider is that travel photography is just photography. Or rather, travel photography encompasses many genres of photography all in one. Portraits, landscapes, street photography, documentary, food, architecture: all of these are part of what we mean by the term “travel photography”.

It’s also important to remember that, just as travel photography includes elements of all these styles, it doesn’t really have any specific techniques of its own. Again, it’s just photography: composition, exposure and other technical considerations remain exactly the same as with other types of photography.

This guide assumes that if you’ve got to the point of wanting to learn more in-depth techniques about a specific genre of photography – in this case travel photography – it means that you already know how to use your camera. You will not learn about exposure settings and the rule of thirds here. Instead we’ll go deep into the parts of shooting travel photography that are neither strictly photography nor strictly travel. The philosophy and approach of the travel photographer.

Sure, we’ll talk about equipment and techniques; tricks and methods, But before we get that far, we need to go back to the beginning. What are we trying to achieve by shooting travel photography? What’s the point?

Why Travel Photography?

Reasons for Travel Photography

Travel photography communicates those things which make a place truly special. It also surprises, intrigues, excites, and inspires wanderlust. Good travel photography doesn’t just confirm what we already know about a place, rather it challenges our preconceptions, making us question what we think we know.

You saw elephants in Thailand? Gondolas in Venice? Sand at the beach? Astonishing!

The best travel photography goes further than this.

As a travel photographer, your task is to try to identify the character of a place. Every destination has a certain atmosphere that may return to us even many years after we’ve left the place: in the scent of jasmine on the evening breeze; the heat on your skin; the pungent smoke of street-food on the grill; the sound of a child’s laughter, echoing through the cold mountain air from the far side of a valley. Your job is to shoot images that communicate these diverse sensations visually.

But, just as equally, remember that these are the first impressions of an ignorant foreigner (that’s you). You are a toddler crashing around in an adult world which you cannot fully comprehend. Don’t jump too readily to conclusions. Stay open to having your assumptions challenged. Perhaps entirely overturned.

In part, what you see (and photograph) is what you have been raised to see (and photograph).
As much as your photos are “about” your destination, they are also about you, and your place of origin. They show your own cultural values as much the new and exotic things that you see all around you. There’s little you can do about this of course, but it can help to keep it in mind when photographing scenes and situations you know little about.

Remember, too, that every destination is also somebody else’s home, and you are a guest. Likely an uninvited guest (although hopefully not also unwanted). And, as an outsider, the responsibility is on you to do most of the hard work.

Before you go on your Travel Photography Trip
Tip #1 – Study the Terrain

Escape the Terrain when Travel Photography

In order to come back with images of the unexpected, you’ll first need to find out what to expect.
So your first task begins before you’ve even left home: research.

This applies to the culture and customs of your destination as much as it does to the physical terrain. You’ll need to gain a good understanding of how things are done there, and how they differ from back home. What is considered polite and what is rude. What are the dominant spiritual beliefs and traditional social norms. What is sacred and what is taboo.

Although we might associate many of the above words with anthropological descriptions of “exotic” peoples and lands, remember that they just as equally apply to ourselves and our immediate neighbors as they do to those on the other side of the world. Many things that we take as “natural” or “common sense” are really just social convention and habit. So this is also a good time to think about where your own culture sits in the big picture, especially in relation to your destination.

This isn’t merely about avoiding causing offense to others, but also about not becoming offended yourself when in fact no offense was intended. By developing greater awareness of these issues you will likely find yourself more open to fully immersing yourself in the novel sights and experiences which await you at your destination: pretty much essential when it comes to shooting good travel photography.

Cultural sensitivities aside, you will also need to get a good idea of the physical lie-of-the-land long before you arrive at your destination. Perhaps you are not specifically interested in photographing landscapes, but instead more of a street-photographer? Nonetheless you should familiarize yourself with the local geography (both natural and man-made). This will help you to get an idea of the kind of photographs you might be able to shoot there, and any challenges you may face with regards to weather, lighting, and environment.

Travel and photography forums are of course a great place to start your research. Then, once you’ve got more of a feel for where you’d like to go, it’s probably time to turn to Google Street View and geotagged images on Flickr in order to pinpoint more precise locations. Dedicated travel photography community sites and apps such as ReallyGoodPhotoSpots or ShotHotspot may be of some help too.

Tip #2 – Plan

Making Plans when Travel Photography

You know those spectacular Nat Geo-style views of the sun rising over a sea of bubbling clouds filled with archipelagoes of mountain-peaks stretching off into the hazy blue distance? We can assume that they weren’t just chanced upon while the photographer was out grabbing breakfast. You’ll need to do some careful planning and preparation if you want to be in the right place, at the right time, and with the right gear, in order to capture stunning images like these.

Realistically, you are unlikely to encounter the most amazing and unique views right outside the tourist information center in the car park by the freeway exit ramp. Be prepared to do a bit of hiking if you want to capture something truly out of the ordinary. Check travel forums or ask in your hotel to find out how much time is required to reach potentially interesting viewpoints, and plan your arrival there to coincide with the best light.

Tip #3 – Don’t Plan

Dont plan when youre doing Travel Photography

Just as equally though, you should allow plenty of time (and patience) for the unexpected to occur. Plan meticulously, yes, but once you’ve done all you can, then it’s time to just let destiny take over and do its thing. Revel in chance meetings and opportunities. Make an ally of serendipity. Then seize the moment when it arises.

Your Travel Photography Equipment
Tip #4 – Which Camera Should You Use For Travel Photography?

Which Camera you should use in Travel Photography

The short answer to this questions is: “your camera”. Or at least whichever camera you can (legally) get your hands on.

Consider this: does it matter whether an author uses a PC or a Mac to write their novel? What about Word or Pages, which produces better books?

Nobody wins the Nobel Prize in Literature due to their choice of word-processor. So, yes, you’ll probably have heard it before, but the gear really does not make the photographer. It just needs to be good enough to get the job done.

You’ve got money to burn on a second camera? Nice. In that case, you’ll likely want to go for a relatively compact and lightweight model instead of some enormous tank of a DSLR. Otherwise, use the camera you normally use: if it works for you at home, then it’ll work for you elsewhere too.

Of course, if your camera sucks at home then it will also suck on the road, but claiming that you can’t do travel photography because you don’t have a “travel photography camera” is just making excuses: admit it, you don’t actually want to take photos. That may seem a little harsh, but as we said, travel photography is just photography. And in order to do photography, all you need is a camera.

By the way: You have to protect your camera, your lenses and your equipment. Learn more about in my Article about Tips for Camera Protection.

Tip #5 – Which Lenses For Travel Photography?

Which Lenses when youre doing Travel Photography

Lenses, on the other hand, are a somewhat different matter. Yes, of course, you can shoot with any lens that you’d normally be happy using – so you certainly don’t need to go out and spend money on a new set of glass just for the sake of a trip. But this is an area where your choice of equipment can actually make a significant difference.

Not only to how you shoot, but to your back.

At best, anyone embarking on a round-the-world trip carrying a huge backpack filled with bulky zoom lenses will likely end up shooting very little, as all that heavy gear will just be left sitting in the hotel room most of the time. At worst, at the first port of call they’ll be down the local bazaar haggling for a good deal on a carpet in exchange for premium photo-optics. The best equipment for travel photography is small and weighs relatively little.

Not only that, but big telephotos and zooms are also intrusive and will broadcast the message “professional photographer making money” far and wide. Consequently, you shouldn’t be too surprised if in return people expect you to pay them for taking their photos. If you’re really “lucky”, someone may even relieve you of the burden (at knifepoint). In short, when it comes to travel photography, big, expensive-looking lenses are just unnecessary hassle.

Not only that, but successful travel photography is about getting in touch with the local people, being in the heart of the action. It’s not about sniping victims from the hotel window 200 meters away with your mega-tele-ultra-zoom.

These problems are easily resolved by packing only a handful of prime lenses: a 35mm, a 50mm, and one around 100mm is all you need (and perhaps something wider like a 28mm or 24mm if you really must). Small, discrete, lightweight and cheap-looking, you’ll be glad you left the zooms at home (and so will your back).

Other Essential Travel Photography Equipment: Be sure to pack your laptop and external hard disks for back up. Plus don’t forget batteries, extra power, and all your chargers. Also spare flash cards, card-readers and any cables.

Once you’re on your Travel Photography Trip
Tip #6 – Shoot and Don’t shoot

When to shoot and when not to shoot in Travel Photography

If we were to condense this guide down to one single sentence, this is the only rule you really need to know: get out there and shoot.

A lot. Now!

When not to Shoot? Having said that, there’s also a lot to be said for putting your camera down from time to time in order to directly experience what’s around you. To really look. Not through glass or on an LCD. But directly, closely, consciously.

Now start shooting again.

Wanna laugh? Photographers (doesn’t matter which Style of Photography) are sometimes a reaaaally funny and a little bit quirky Species when it’s a matter of making pictures: These funny and bad photographer habits you should avoid while taking a photo:)

Let’s summarise the Travel Photography Guide
What you learned till now…

  • Make a place truly special
  • Communicate diverse sensations visually
  • Research the culture, customs and special terrain
  • Go visit Travel Photography Forums
  • Plan the most important things – but the best things are unexpected!
  • Use your normal camera, no special things needed
  • Keep the technique simple and light weighted
  • Fixed Focal Lengths are better than huuuuge Zoom Objectives

That was an intensive but helpful Beginning, wasn’t it? But every Beginning is sometimes a little bit difficult. All the better that now you have the Basics and the understanding of Travel Photography. Before starting to travel and celebrating the world on Photos you should understand what’s the meaning when making pictures of unknown cultures and foreign landscapes.

In our Travel Photography Guide Part II you’ll learn a lot about the Technique and the Approach in different Photography Sectors and I’ll give you general Travel Photography Tips. After our full Guide you’ll be definitely ready to go to your Photo Trip!

Another by the way: Need Tips for your perfect Travel Postcard? Nooo Problem. Learn more about here.

Stay tuned,
Nadja from MyPostcard.