Top Photography Tips for any Travel Situation

We all know how great it is to come back from a trip with a portfolio of images to look back on for years to come. And many of us are familiar with the thrill of having friends and family ‘like’ our online photo albums, and maybe even total strangers on Instagram. There will be a variety of photography situations you’ll encounter when travelling, from portraits to landscapes. Each offers their own challenges and rewards so for the amateur photographers out there using a simple point and shoot camera or new to using a DSLR, here we’ve compiled top photography tips for any travel situation.

The tips provided here do assume a basic working knowledge of manual settings on both types of camera. And that’s probably one of the biggest tips we can give you! Make sure you know how to use your camera before you go. Read the manual and consult good old Google. If you need to brush up on the basics and common terminology, have a read of Lifehack’s handy blog. Or if you prefer to use your camera phone when travelling and feel a little left out of what we’ve covering here, you’ll find a host of handy tips on the iPhone Photography School website.

With that out of the way, let’s crack on with the typical situations and types of conditions you may encounter when globe trotting and how best to handle them with your camera.

Our top photography tips for travel situations include snowy landscapes
The trick with snowy landscapes is to increase the exposure as cameras tend to underexpose bright, white scenes like this

Photography tips for snowy conditions

The problem with snow is that it tricks your camera into thinking the scene is very bright thanks to all the light reflected off the white surfaces. Your camera compensates by underexposing, which results in images that are too dark. The best way to overcome this is to use the manual settings on your camera and apply the correct exposure compensation. This could be a case of opening up the aperture, bumping up the ISO or decreasing the shutter speed. If you prefer to shoot in Auto or Aperture/Shutter Priority mode, all you need to do is simply turn the Exposure Value (EV) dial up to +1, or +2 if shooting on a really sunny day. This tells your camera to overexpose the picture and allow more light in, which should result in a correctly exposed photograph.

Another thing to consider is the white balance. A snowy landscape has a blue tint to it and if you select auto white balance on your camera, your images are likely to end up looking a bit too blue. Instead, select ‘flash’ for your white balance as this setting adds a warmer tone to images in response to the blue tint of flash lighting. If you’re using a point and shoot camera, it’s likely there will be a ‘snow setting’ that automatically applies these little tricks to create the perfect image, so use this setting.

For more information on shooting in snowy conditions, have a read of Geoff Lawrence’s photography tutorial site.

Our top photography tips for any travel situation includes beach scenes
Use a polarising filter on your lens for greater contrast and more vivid blues in the sky and ocean

Photography tips for beaches

Sandy beaches on a sunny day present a similar problem to fields of snow – it’s a bright scene that your camera will be predisposed to underexpose. Again, you can compensate for this using the EV dial or experimenting with manual settings until you find the right combination. If you’re using the Auto mode, another trick you can try is focusing on a darker area in the scene (a shaded palm tree, for instance). Hold the exposure button down half way so that the camera is exposing for this darker area and letting in more light. Now move the camera (with exposure button still half depressed) to frame your chosen composition and take your picture. Spot metering can also be used to expose those areas that might otherwise be too dark.

If you’re travelling with a DSLR, consider taking a polarising filter along with you. With this attached to your lens you can reduce reflections and glare, and boost colour saturation, giving the sky and ocean much richer blues. This isn’t an option for point and shoot cameras as they do not allow for lens filters to be attached. However, you can try holding your sunglasses in front of the lens for a similar effect.

For more information on taking pictures at the beach, check out Light Stalking.

Our top photography tips for any travel situation includes landscapes
Take advantage of the soft and warm light of the early morning and late afternoon when photographing landscapes

Landscape photography tips

For your average landscape photography that doesn’t include a thick layer of snow or tropical beaches, there’s a number of stalwart tips that pros use all the time. Perhaps the most important is the rule of thirds in composition. This simply means visually dividing your frame into nine sections of equal size with three horizontal lines and three vertical lines dissecting the frame. The main components of your image should then fall within these lines for greater visual interest and power. There are times when centring the main subject of your shot works better – a great example is the Taj Mahal in order to highlight its perfect symmetry. When symmetry is lacking, placing the subject in these thirds will almost certainly result in more dynamic pictures. The majority of cameras have a ‘grid’ feature so you can line up your compositions accordingly.

Wake up early and stay out late to take advantage of natural lighting, which is at its most flattering in the morning and evening. During the day the sun is highest in the sky, which means strong contrast and harsh shadows. Softer light creates the ideal photographic conditions with warm tones and more eye-pleasing shadows. Another bonus of getting up at the crack of dawn is capturing that perfect landscape shot without crowds of people.

Take a travel tripod with you if you have the space or inclination. It’ll mean you can take much better panoramas, capture low-lighting situations more efficiently and play around with shutter speeds. Opting for slower shutter speeds means you can create different effects with moving water, whether it be in the form of waterfalls, waves or rushing rivers. Generally speaking, you should avoid using a shutter speed lower than 1/90 for handheld photography so a tripod will give you the stability to ensure your pictures are free from camera blur. The minimum shutter speed you can use for handheld photography depends on the focal length of your lens. An easy rule of thumb is this: if the focal length is 200mm, the minimum shutter speed is 1/200. If the focal length is 50mm then the minimum shutter speed is 1/50.

For more tips on shooting better landscape photos, check out the Exposure Guide.

Our top photography tips for any travel situation include tips on wildlife photography
Use fast shutter speeds to freeze quick-moving animals in motion

Wildlife photography tips

If you’re seriously into wildlife photography, you’ll need a DSLR as a standard ‘point and shoot’ just doesn’t give you the tools to professionally capture animals. You’ll also need a good zoom lens to get as close as possible to your subject when you can’t physically be that close.

In an ideal world, animals would sit perfectly still and let us take their portrait. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen so learn how to use the auto focusing feature on your camera before you travel and combine with the burst shooting mode. This will mean you can stay focused on your subject while taking multiple images in quick succession, increasing your chances of capturing the perfect shot of that quick-footed cheetah or tree-swinging monkey. If you want to freeze the animal in motion, select an aperture of 1/250 or if you want to pan with the animal and create a blurred background, select an aperture of 1/15.

If you are lucky enough to be photographing a lazy animal that seems to be quite happy with minimal movement, opt for a larger aperture. This will create a lovely bokeh effect, which means the background becomes an indistinct blur. It’s the ideal way to make sure all attention is on the animal you’ve photographed, instead of being distracted by its setting.

For more details on improving your wildlife shots, swot up on the tips provided by photography blog Phowd.

Our top photography tips for any travel situation include portraiture
Using a large aperture will create a pleasing bokeh effect but don’t forget to focus on the eyes

Portraiture photography tips

When travelling, portrait photography is likely to be of the local people you encounter along the way. You may prefer a more candid, street photography style, snapping people who have no idea you’re taking their picture. Or you may prefer posed portraits which require the model’s permission and their engagement. Whichever style you prefer, make sure you’re considerate of the people you’re photographing. Not everyone likes to have their picture taken so it’s always best to ask and graciously walk away if the answer is ‘no’.

The bokeh effect is also great for portraits though it depends on the situation – if the shot needs some background to give context and meaning to the image, then choose a smaller aperture for better depth of field. If you’re out and about looking for portraits, use the aperture priority function on your camera. This allows you to preset the aperture and ISO according to how you want your images to look. The shutter speed then changes automatically to expose the image correctly. It means you won’t have to worry about changing settings when the perfect opportunity occurs.

Avoid flash wherever possible. Unless used properly and with professional pieces of kit, it often blows out details in the faces of the people you’re trying to photograph. It also inevitably looks harsh and means the background ends up underexposed, especially with point and shoot cameras. Use whatever natural light you have available to your advantage – ask your model to face towards the sun or bring them closer to a window if shooting indoors. And the number one rule in portrait photography – always focus on the eyes.

For more tips on better portrait photography, check out Light Stalking.

Our top photography tips for any travel situation include tips on shooting at night
For crisp and perfectly sharp details you’ll need to use a tripod when photographing at night

Photography tips for the sky at night

From the Northern Lights to meteor showers, there’s a fair amount of natural phenomena in the sky at night that makes fantastic photographic material. A tripod is a must and you’ll need to use manual settings on your camera. In such dark conditions you’ll need to set a wide aperture, slow shutter speed and high ISO to let in as much light as possible. Slow shutter speeds mean any camera movement will result in a blurred picture and no one wants that. If there are moving objects in your composition then you’ll need to play around with the settings to find the perfect balance between exposure and movement.

Make the most of the timer on your camera and set it to at least 2 seconds. This will ensure that you don’t accidentally move the camera as you release the shutter. Use a wide angle lens on a DSLR or set the zoom to its widest angle on a point and shoot. This will allow you to capture as much of the foreground as possible and give your composition context. Having a silhouette of trees or mountains provides more visual interest.

For more pro tips on shooting starry night skies, head over to 500px.

Our top photography tips for any travel situation include architecture
The shapes and textures of modern architecture allow ample opportunity for fun, abstract images

Photography tips for architecture

No doubt you’ll come across some fine monuments when you travel and many of the tips mentioned here apply just as well to architectural photography. Use the rule of thirds, centre symmetrical buildings and shoot in early morning/late afternoon light. If architecture is really your thing, a wide angle lens is a must. Such a lens will enable you to fit more of the building in your frame and create more dramatic compositions. And speaking of compositions, there’s no hard and fast rules when it comes to modern buildings. Many lend themselves beautifully to an abstract style with extreme perspectives and unusual angles.

As with any form of photography, lighting is important. You want the sun falling on the face of the building or to its side to create interesting shadows. If the sun is behind the building then it will be harder to expose and the face of the building will look rather flat and dark in comparison to the bright back-lit sky. In these situations, crop out the sky altogether and fill the frame with details of the building’s facade.

For more pointers on architectural photography, read Freshome’s handy blog.


Have you been on an On The Go Tours adventure recently and want to share your amazing photos with us? Get on Instagram and #onthegotours for your chance to be featured. 

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