How to Take Better Travel Photos: 7 Tips to Up Your Photography Game

written by local expert Jane Elmets

Jane always knew she wasn't destined for a desk job... She has travelled all over the world and is passionate about noodles, sloths and her hiking boots! When she isn't busy adventuring around the world, you can find her reviewing travel gear and dishing out travel tips to all the places she's visited.

For most people, a huge part of traveling is taking photos. Whether you’re bouncing around the globe with fancy cameras or just documenting a trip with your phone, taking good pictures is key to reliving a favorite trip and sharing your experience with family and friends.

It’s not hard to take good travel photos. In fact, it’s actually pretty easy! Here are seven of our top tips to help you capture your travels in the best light possible.

Seek Out Good Lighting

sun over road between green hills

Our number one tip when it comes to taking good travel photos is to seek out good lighting. The lighting of a scene can make all the difference in a photo, and anyone who takes selfies can back me up on this. 

Head out super early in the morning to catch a sunrise, or stay out for sunset and past dark. Be sure to carry your camera around during the day so you can catch the beautiful golden hour, when the sun hits just right and washes everything in an afternoon glow.

You’ll quickly see the difference in your travel photos if you choose well-lit times to shoot rather than snapping pictures aimlessly, without keeping the sun in mind. 

Although we don’t recommend buying a super expensive camera while you are still learning, getting one which you can manually set is really important. Check out our hand-picked list of the best travel cameras that you can take with you on your adventures.

View Best Travel Cameras

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Remember the Rule of Thirds

camels walking in desert under cloudy blue sky

The Rule of Thirds is a basic fundamental when it comes to photography in general, but it is quite helpful to keep in mind when you’re shooting for travel as well. 

Basically what the Rule of Thirds says is that you should split your view into three equal parts, either horizontally or vertically. Then, you should compose your image by lining subjects up along the lines of thirds. 

For example, when using horizontal thirds, you can have the ground making up one third, and the sky taking up two. This creates an interesting composition for your photo and makes it more compelling to look at than the scene being split in half.

It can be hard to visualize these lines of thirds while taking pictures, but lucky for us, many cameras have the ability to turn on a grid view so you can line things up just right. I keep the grid function switched on on my iPhone camera to center subjects and follow the Rule of Thirds, and it’s helped me take some unbelievable pictures.

If you can remember the Rule of Thirds, you’ll be well on your way to upping your photography game!

Choose Contrasting Subjects

person looking out airplane window

Another way to create interesting compositions in your photos is to choose contrasting subjects to shoot. It’s always been said that opposites attract and this theory stands true with photography, as well.

Think colors here — a person in a dark jacket against a bright wall; a blue sky with the deep, dark earth below; utter blackness with a glint of light… These are some aspects that will create engaging photos to look at.

Beyond colors, you can play around with contrasting subjects quite a bit. For example, the difference between a crying child and a laughing grandmother put together creates a really fun photo. 

If you can find direct opposites for your pictures (or even things that are different), you’ll be able to showcase more than one aspect of a place (or people) in a more interesting way than if it was a single subject on their own!

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Grab Some Great Candids

people getting off train and walking carrying bags

The best travel photos are the most genuine ones, so tip number 4 is to capture those candids.

Candid shots generally wind up being the most compelling ones, as nothing is posed and your picture turns out to be a genuine moment in time. Candids show true emotion and connection in a way you can’t get from a photo that was lined up in advance.

My biggest tip for capturing candids is to be vigilant and keep your eyes open. 

Watch for glimpses of daily life that are often overlooked: an exchange between a customer and a shopkeeper, kids playing in the street, business men on their way to work, grandmas giggling on the porch, tourists consulting a map. 

These are the pictures that tend to turn out the best, as the entire scene is natural rather than designed to be caught on camera, painting an accurate portrayal of where you are and what life is like there. 

Learn How to Stay Hello!

woman sitting in metal convenience store

Candids are fun but learning how to say hello in the language of the country you’re in will go a long way with locals. Even better if you say it with a big smile!

Saying hello, talking to and introducing yourself to locals creates a better chance to photograph them, if you wish to get up close and personal. Plus, once you begin chatting, you can signal to the camera and actually ask permission instead of catching your subjects off guard.

In foreign countries (and in your home country too), it’s really important to ask permission to snap a photo of an individual or groups of people. Of course, we all capture the odd shot here and there, but it’s hard to know the customs in a new place and how people there feel about having their picture taken. It may be totally against their religion or might just make them uncomfortable. 

Either way, it’s much better to ask people before taking their photo directly — and even better if you can build some kind of rapport beforehand!

Local people will be much more inclined to pose and smile for you, if you ask permission and look at them less like a subject and more as a human being. 

Pack a Tripod

long exposure photo of madrid at night

If you already have the basics down and are really looking to one-up your travel photography game, bring on the portable tripod and take things to the next level.

Using a tripod can create really thrilling images in a variety of ways, whether you want to shoot in long exposure, play with lights, take photos in the dark or capture scenes in time lapse mode. 

By utilizing a tripod, you can keep your camera perfectly still while capturing footage that would be a real pain to do with a shaky hand.

Finally (and possibly, most importantly), using a tripod allows you to take some crazy selfies if you’re traveling on your own! Just pick a cool spot, set up your nifty little tripod and line up the scene, switch on the self timer and BOOM! A beautiful picture, for your Instagram and beyond.

Learn How to Edit Your Photos

computer screen with photoshop open

After all is done and dusted, the last step to taking amazing travel photos is to learn how to edit them! 

If you’re anything like me, after a trip you have thousands of pictures to sort through, which in all honesty can be a huge pain. But with some time, dedication, and the right tools, you can create something truly beautiful from all of the moments you spent behind the lens.

Editing photos can be daunting, especially because there are so many ways to do it and so many different tools to learn. Lucky for us, it’s easy to find helpful articles and tutorials on photo editing to make the job a little easier. 

After putting the work in and learning editing basics, you’ll be amazed by how professional you can make your travel photos look!

If you keep these seven tips in mind, I can guarantee you’ll have a leg up when it comes to travel photography. And to be honest with you, it’s not that hard! It takes some practice, sure, but once you have these tips down, you’re sure to see a difference in your shots. 

And once you have those perfect travel photos, don’t forget to back them up!

Want more travel tips? Check out these articles

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How to Take Great Travel Photos | Looking to one-up your travel photo game? Here are our top 7 tips for taking some killer shots anywhere in the world!

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