Travel Photography Tips for Beginners
I started photography 13 years ago using a borrowed camera on my trip to the African Sahara. It wasn’t the best camera I had, a basic simple point and shoot camera, but it did the job. Now I’m still looking at those pictures I took and I’m wondering why I didn’t pick another spot? Why I didn’t adjust the light? Was it better to use a DSLR to capture those night scenes?
Therefore I’m writing this article to include simple travel photography tips for beginners to take outstanding pictures and improve the quality of those called souvenirs.
CHOOSING A CAMERA
I can’t suggest or recommend any kind of camera because I don’t know about your budget or your photography style.
I can recommend one thing: get a camera if you don’t have one. It doesn’t matter if it’s mirrorless or DSLR, or which brand you like, but consider getting something durable than the basic point and shoot cameras. All this depends on your budget and how much you are willing to invest to capture good moments and convert those souvenirs into pictures.
Trust me you’ll remember the first picture you take with your camera, you would be very excited and start shooting pictures of people you know, the street light by night, or even trying the macro feature focusing on a flower.
The process of taking pictures is really different from creating pictures, to make a photo you need to have some travel photography basics, and we’re not talking about developing an eye for photography or going to be a professional and selling your pictures to National Geographic magazine.
We’ll be talking about getting the necessary skills for framing and composing we need in every picture.
You can start with your actual budget camera to practice more using those tips, than move forward and buy a complex camera like a DSLR.
The first tip will be knowing your camera, taking the time to learn about your camera I took it out the option you have or don’t on your actual camera. And figure out about the buttons you have on the camera and why are they so important.
Start with the buttons then scroll to the menus, changing the settings on the camera, and keep experiencing new modes and testing features.
All this in order to reduce time when you’re trying to take the best picture you want because you already know the menus and the modes so it will be easy for you to choose which one to pick when it’s time to take the picture.
Trying to figure out the limits for your camera, does it to work well capturing night scenes or indoor pictures (low-light), portraits or it’s just a camera to play with when taking outdoor pictures. It’s critical to know if your camera has some functionalities like digital stabilization or Optical Zoom.
I know what that information may be overwhelming but we’ll be talking about every one of them on the next parts.
BEST GEARS FOR TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY
Tripods are one all of the essential accessories that you need to get for your camera, it doesn’t matter if you are shooting family photos, landscapes or adventure images, and you’ll need to keep your camera steady.
A Tripod will truly help you choose the best spot and gives you more potential in low light. Traveling with a tripod gives you the opportunity to be creative and gets you to the next level by trying long exposures photography, slower shutter speeds, especially if your camera doesn’t have the built-in stabilization mode.
We already mentioned that you need to use the manual settings, so using a Tripod will help you get the perfect composition.
Choosing the best Tripod for your travel photography depends on your budget, other things to keep in mind when choosing a Tripod is the weight, Lightweight tripods tend to be more convenient for travel photography, you can pick a tripod who’s made from Aluminum or carbon fiber, and it’s more resistant and lighter. Also, the Folding Size of the tripod is something you need to check before packing your tripod.
Filters are basically designed for lenses, most photographers use one or more of those filters:
UV filters: mostly used by photographers to prevent the lens from scratch, also to absorb UV lights from the scene.
Polarizing filters: designed to control the color and contrast of the picture, to reduce the lights in a scene, and manage the reflected lights. Can be used for landscape photography (get a perfect blue sky), used for street photography (to remove the glare effect and get the best saturation)
Neutral Density filters: ND filters used to reduce the amount of light without changing colors, perfect for long exposures, daytime shots, and to capture beautiful landscapes. Also to shoot portraits and control the depth of field.
If you are using a point and shoot camera you should be using in-camera filters, it works almost the same as the physical filters but produce less quality.
I am myself a Light Traveler, so when it comes to packing I prefer lightweight gears, but I can’t travel without packing spare Memory Cards and a spare Battery for my camera, also I pack a Power Bank to charge my phone and camera at the same time.
Also, I make sure to carry a headlamp, I always pack a flashlight and to make sure it’s fully charging before I go on a trip. It’s going to be really helpful if you are not carrying a tripod and want to take shots in low lights or night photography.
The first camera professional camera I got was a Canon, that comes with an 18-55mm lens, after a while, I invested in a 50mm lens, mostly to get the best depth of field when taking portraits, also I got 70-300mm lens to try zoom capabilities and features.
It took me time understood how each lens works and the better settings for every lens, so I’ll be talking about three categories of lenses that you can choose from depending on your personal style in photography:
Standard prime lenses: those who come with a fixed focal length (you can zoom using those lenses) it can be a 35mm, 50mm or even a 100mm. Prime Lenses works best for street photography, taking portraits, and wedding photography. In some cases landscape photography.
Zoom lenses: I prefer this type of lenses to produce better travel pictures, zoom lenses are not as fast as the prime lenses but offers more freedom using the zoom feature and the dynamic focal length.
Wide-angle lenses: I personally don’t possess any of those, but I tried 10mm (also called a fish-eye lens) to get a wider field of view to capture some outstanding landscape pictures and cityscapes.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT GEAR
Another tip for travel photography is to have the right gear you don’t need to invest lots of money to get the best gear on the market, but at least think of your travel style and which gear you can work with. You can either pick a DSLR camera or a mirrorless camera, combined with a tripod, a couple of pictures and you are ready to start your journey as a beginner photographer.
BEGINNERS TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY RULES
The key element to photography is lighting, or even how to use light to take pictures. Good lighting means having a good picture, the perfect spot combined with the perfect lighting would produce the perfect photo.
The difference between beginner and professional photographer will be knowing how to use the lights. With this comes the best moments of the day to take perfect pictures.
Most professional photographers take pictures in the morning or in the afternoon sun, those are the golden hours. The lights produced at a golden hour is soft and come with a calibrated temperature to get the best picture.
We can’t talk about lights without light sources, another important key, especially when taking pictures indoors or when the natural lights are hard to get.
Let’s keep things simple, if you just start learning photography it’s better to look for easy lights like soft or indirect lights (sunlight is the best source for natural light).
Example if you’re looking to take a picture of a building or landscape (static scene) you can go back to the same spot on a better day when you have better light. Or even go back when it’s golden hours.
The best time to take pictures would be after the sunrise and when the sun is about to set, it’s going to be 1 to 2 hours after Sunrise, and 1 to 2 hours before sunset. It depends on the place you’re visiting and the time of the year (summer or winter).
GOLDEN AND BLUE HOURS
Now we did pack well, and we have the required gear, we need to focus on the best moment of the day to take outstanding pictures, here it comes the Golden and the Blue Hours moments.
Most photographers say that waking up early and staying up late is the best photography advice, it’s all about lights, those moments of the day gives you the best light to take better pictures.
The Golden Hour: it’s that time of the day when the sun is close to the horizon, just after sunrise or just before sunset. The lights produced at the garden hour is warm, directional and with the right temperature to take pictures with the golden effect that you see on pictures created by professional photographers.
The Blue Hour: when the sun is below the horizon, just after sunset and just before sunrise, the blue hour generally lasts for less than an hour. The lights produced at the blue hour are soft and the sky turns to a blue hue.
To be noted that’s the golden hour on the hour basically used for outdoor photography, it can be landscape photography or street photography.
So you just need to set up your alarm and get up early to enjoy the best moments and take the perfect pictures. Because taking pictures in the middle of the day depends on the weather and the lights, use that time of the day to check locations and prepare your photo session.
Photography isn’t an exact science, don’t expect to follow a tutorial and get the exact same results as other photographers, learn some of the rules of photographic composition to get better picture quality and improve your photography skills:
The Rule of Thirds
One of the classic photography tips, it is a simple principle of breaking a picture into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, can be set using your camera settings or via the viewfinder of your DSLR. As a result, you’ll see a grid with four intersections marking the most important parts of the picture.
When taking a picture make sure that the object is placed near or at the line of the intersection to get a balance between the object and the scene.
For example, if you are taking close portraits you need to place the person’s eye at an intersection point. It takes time but keeps practicing the rule of thirds and make it a habit when taking pictures. You can also try editing your past pictures using the rule of the thirds in post-processing.
Check the Horizons
Always make sure the horizon is straight if you don’t have Horizon in your scene, make sure the photo composition include other aspects like symmetry or visual weight.
To make a picture more interesting you can use a human element, unlike landscape photography mountains and valleys doesn’t change, so including human element into a picture will make it more interesting, even if the person would be small compared to the scene but it’s a valuable addition to the picture to get a better sense of scale of how big are those mountains and valleys.
Also when adding a human element, try shooting anonymously and hide the person’s face, in order to give the feeling that you’re experiencing the location yourself.
I remember when I started taking pictures, I always try to show people my work and try to explain to them why the picture is good and which element they should be looking at, It took me some time to notice that it doesn’t matter if you are trying to explain your picture, you need to make it speak for itself. This is why it’s important to capture details and be closer to subjects.
Making pictures from a fixed position or from your tour bus isn’t the best idea, move your feet around and you’ll capture the moment as you saw it, and the picture will explain everything you experienced at that moment.
Framing is as important as composition, sometimes you’re taking pictures and when you get home you’ll find out the framing was poor and you didn’t capture all the subjects in the scene.
Photography framing is an important part, it includes composition and other photography rules (like the rule of thirds), so after finding a subject that you want to show try looking around and to make sure to compose and combine with other subjects, move around, zoom-in and zoom-out until you get the best composition.
When looking through your viewfinder try to focus on the subject but not cutting other important subjects like a person’s feet or a passing car that makes a perfect shot.
If you look at a magazine cover and the picture that instantly catches your attention, it’s taken from a different angle than the ordinary eye-level, sometimes mixing things up makes better pictures. Try new perspectives, it gives you a new view of the same scene.
Always try different angles and see which one works, provide a better composition or cover more objects in one single shot. Give your pictures a unique touch and you’ll see how much people will love your pictures.
When traveling and taking pictures, don’t focus only on landscapes, streets and buildings, try taking pictures of the people you meet or those people who make the place unique like street sellers and store merchants in the local markets.
But you can’t take peoples’ pictures without their permission, try to approach the person and try opening a discussion, asking about the place, the best areas, then tell them if possible to pose for a picture, sometimes you can face people asking for money or to by something in order to give you permission to take their picture, I personally never paid to take a picture, but consider this like adding a value to your picture.
Another method is taking their picture without them noticing, it will be a spontaneous candid shot, after taking the picture, make sure to approach them, chat and show them the picture, if they like it they’ll definitely give you permission to keep it, if they don’t, you’ll need to delete it and be professional. Already did that in Milan, a girl was enjoying the sunlight in the Piazza del Duomo, I took the picture and after that, asked her if she likes it, she did, shared an email to get a copy, that’s how you do it.
When started learning photography I used to think that post-processing is cheating, I didn’t like it at first, but when I saw a lot of professional photographers edit their pictures before publishing I thought I may give it a try.
Post-processing gives you the chance to improve some parts in the picture where your camera couldn’t, like contrasts, lights, saturation, and colors.
I don’t recommend using advanced tools like Adobe Photoshop if you are a beginner or you don’t have the budget, you can start using GIMP, Snapseed or any other free and easy tool to edit your travel images.
Once you get more experience editing your pictures, you can take it to the next level and try Adobe Lightroom, and I recommend looking at some YouTube tutorials and choose the software who’s more suitable for your needs.
Also, some professional DSLR have built-in software to edit images, or you can upgrade the firmware of the camera and use an external firmware like Magic Lantern or Cinestyle.
If you are using a phone to take pictures you can find some good apps that help you edit pictures before posting on your social media account.
BEGINNERS TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS
- Before you go on a trip, try scouting the location and identify the best spots take good pictures, also getting in touch with local photographers give you a great opportunity to take a picture like a local, because when is the new place that’s it. Now you’d be taking pictures like a tourist, the results will be one of a million that your picture would be a good and an outstanding picture.
- Keep in mind that traveling isn’t only about taking pictures, sometimes you need to put your camera down and enjoy the moment, you can do both, taking a picture than enjoying the view before leaving to your next destination.
- We already cover light as the most important key in travel photography, when it comes to natural lights weather is the master here, you don’t want to get to your destination and find out that there’s no sunlight and only grey skies with a lot of rain.
- Sometimes you need to get lost on purpose to find good places that tourist doesn’t visit, you’ll find a quiet place with local subjects to compose a very good picture.
- You don’t need to pack everything you have in the house, keep your backpack light and travel only with the equipment and gears you really need for the trip.
Protect yourself against theft: it doesn’t mean that you need to carry on our arms, but at least you need to get insurance for your camera, note the serial number of the camera in case of theft, and keep your gear protected when not shooting.
Always backup your travel photos: even if you are carrying a spare memory card, losing one of them full of pictures is a sad story to tell when you come back home. So make sure to backup your pictures both offline using an external hard drive, or online cloud storage like Google Drive.
About the Author
Ayoub CA is a Digital Nomad who works with TravelEvil to make the travel world more exciting and easy for beginner travelers.
Ayoub believes that travel isn’t about visiting so many places, it’s about having fun and enjoying the trip based on your travel interests and style. Ayoub holds a BA in Architecture and Home design and has been working as a Freelance a for a long time while traveling the world, trying to show people how it can be easy to travel once you begin your travel journey.