Ultimate Guide to Travel Photography
So you booked your next trip(s) and you want to document it with some travel photography. But how?
When I started myself, as a beginner, I had so many questions.
What camera should I use, what is the best setting, how to spot the best places, what makes a great photo composition, how to approach locals in the street?
This is what this ultimate guide to travel photography is all about. An answer to the most common questions.
I started this guide a few years ago and it’s regularly updated since. And now you can also find links to specific travel photography guides to the countries I have been visiting. With maps of the top photo locations too.
- 1 FREE Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Travel Photography PDF and JPG papers
- 2 What is Travel Photography?
- 3 Travel Photography gear: best cameras, lenses and how to set them
- 4 Photography holidays [get ready in 7 steps]
- 5 Travel photography tips for beginners [the essential 17]
- 5.1 Do Travel Photography with somebody else
- 5.2 Take it easy
- 5.3 Look around you
- 5.4 You can’t take masterpieces every day
- 5.5 Add a person to your photo
- 5.6 Smile, smile and smile again
- 5.7 Golden hours, Sunset/sunrise, blue hours
- 5.8 Be creative with your photos
- 5.9 Travel Photography during the day
- 5.10 Print and leave a copy
- 5.11 Pay or not to pay
- 5.12 Post-production
- 5.13 Use a local guide
- 5.14 Create your story
- 5.15 Backup, backup, backup and once again backup
- 5.16 Photography and airports
- 6 Advanced travel photography tips and tricks [including local people portraits]
- 7 Master travel photography – More than the rule of thirds
- 8 Editing tools (free and not)
- 9 Travel Photography ideas & shot list
- 10 Learn from the best travel photographers
- 11 Free city or country guides for Travel Photography tours
- 12 How to make a living from travel photography
- 13 Make videos when travelling
- 14 Download FREE the Ultimate Guide to Travel Photography in PDF format
Photography is a form of art, and like any form of art, it can be subjective.
All of the suggestions and tips in this guide come from my personal experience in travel photography and obviously can be debatable, it’s my personal opinion.
However, I believe this guide is a good starting point from which to expand your experience.
And most importantly, add a comment below with anything that I have missed, anything that needs to be better explained, anything you would like covered, any suggestion you may have.
FREE Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Travel Photography PDF and JPG papers
I have written and drawn these PDF and JPG papers as a good reference to use before or during your travel photography. I usually give them away in my workshops and I suggest to keep them stored in the mobile and go back from time to time to have a read.
- “Cheat Sheet to Travel Photography” a JPG file you can also print and fold it in your camera bag
- “How to excel with your Cheat Sheet” a PDF file you can read to understand how to use the cheat sheet and how to better use your camera and your daily travel photography
- “Photo Equipment Insurance” you may need it or not, however, this quick guide will help you to understand the value of your gear, with a practical spreadsheet, and what an insurance could help with. It includes also a quick reference spreadsheet and links to a free app to at least register your gear worldwide. All genuine tips, no affiliation links
- “50 Tips to Make Money with landscape and travel photography” yes we all need to pay the bills. This paper covers my best tips on monetizing the photography work and how I structure my photography work.
I write these papers on a regular basis. If you are interested to receive them as well as other exclusive tutorials and travel stories, join my free newsletter.
PS You can unsubscribe whenever you want
Later in this post, you will find the possibility to download this Ultimate Guide to Travel Photography as a separate PDF file that you can read whenever you want, even offline.
What is Travel Photography?
This is a fair question.
What is travel photography?
Is there any description, or reference definition?
Easy question = difficult answer
Why? It’s very subjective. In saying that, I tend to agree with the Photographic Society of America on most of its definition. And let me go through the most important points:
- a travel photo has to “expresses the characteristic features or culture of a land as they are found naturally“, I love to document the place I find, who doesn’t. I think, however, we should always try to make photos from unusual corners, unusual situations, unusual people. A travel photo becomes great when it makes the place unique
- “Images from events or activities arranged specifically for photography, or of subjects directed or hired for photography are not appropriate“, I am sure you have been to many local dance events. They are organised but not directed for photography. That makes the difference. This definition also takes most of the Instagram photos out of Travel Photography, here I mean the millions of photos including a traveller well-positioned for example on top of a mountain, inside a van, etc.
- “Close up pictures of people or objects must include features that provide information about the environment“. Sometimes the face or the hands of a person say more than a thousand words. I am not sure I really agree with this definition, 100%. Indeed, sometimes we need to include features to define the environment, but not always.
- “The only allowable adjustments are the removal of dust or digital noise, restoration of the appearance of the original scene, and complete conversion to greyscale monochrome“. This is the point where I find myself a bit in disagreement and let me explain why.
I do use Adobe Lightroom to improve my photos. I usually start on shadows, highlights.
Sometimes I replicate an old film output (Kodak, Fujifilm).
Why this should not be considered anymore travel photography meanwhile a greyscale monochrome conversion is.
The majority of the people are not colour blind and a b&w photo is much more unusual, and far from reality, than a photo with a higher dynamic range, like our eyes are actually seeing the place.
Travel Photography gear: best cameras, lenses and how to set them
You may already know there is no best camera for any photography type.
Sometimes I am surprised to read or hear someone, even in an authoritative position, saying “The best camera for wedding photography is the Canon XYZ” or “The best camera for sport is the Nikon ZXY”.
I wonder if there is any sort of compensation, or affiliation, behind it.
Back to travel photography. There is no unique model or brand. It mostly depends on you, what kind of trips you usually do, what is your budget (very important).
I personally suggest travelling as light as possible. There is no need to take 6 lenses with you. There is no need to have a “big” camera.
I myself prefer to have an interchangeable lenses camera, however, there are nowadays a few compacts for travel photography in the market which are such a great value.
Here below a list of guides and tutorials that I wrote and will help you not only to buy a camera but also to use it in the best way:
- “Best travel cameras [with tips on what to look for]“: I update this guide quite regularly. You will not find just a list of cameras but also what are the important features to search for. I explain how this or that particular camera can help you in your daily travel photography.
- “Best lenses for your travel camera“: this post is as popular as the previous one. Why? Because it explains what to look for even before listing a lens. And most important, based on the budget you have. My tip here is to read both articles before buying anything.
- “Best Compact cameras for travel“: the compact cameras are so convenient. Small and light. But what is the drawback and why?
- “Second-hand cameras and lenses: how to choose them“: this may save you quite a bit of money
- “Understanding focal length“: to read before buying any lens
These guides below will help you with your daily photography. Few of the travel photography tips below may make a huge difference, especially the light usage.
- “Full guide to ISO in Travel Photography“: it’s not just about how ISO works. It’s about the creativity you can get through it.
- “How to use the Natural Light in Travel photography“: who said that photography is all about controlling the light? Well, in travel photography we have only natural light. This is a guide on how to use it to improve our shots.
- “Camera focusing techniques“: how to be in control of the camera focusing and how to use in your favour
- “Photographing moving water: the guide“: who does not love that nice silky effect or the artistic movement
- “Shooting moving objects in travel photography“: have you ever heard of panning?
- “Capture movement in the landscape“: simple and easy photography effects
- “Three easy steps to shoot light trails“: how to impress with less
- “How to use lead-in lines in travel photography“: one of the most effective way to compose your photo
- “7 steps for your best misty and foggy travel photography“: I used all of them in foggy France and misty Malaysia
- “Top suggestions for sharp travel photography“: it’s not all about a tripod. There is much more than that
- “Essential tips for better Landscape Photography“
You can see here all the cameras and lenses I have used and reviewed.
If you are after an amazing photography course, that explains everything you really need and so much more, then have a look at the incredible videos of Marc Levoy, retired from Stanford and now working with Google on their photography technology.
Maybe he goes down too much in details but it’s all free, just filter out what you do not need.
Marc used to teach Digital Photography at Stanford and he has generously recorded and posted for free his entire course.
It can be quite technical in some points (he was made for University students) and this may tire you off quite quickly.
After all, it’s a 20 hours course, not the typical YouTube video.
Photography holidays [get ready in 7 steps]
Even before you start your trip there are so many things you can do to get ready. You will better enjoy your photography and travel experience if you have everything ready for it.
I am not talking here on suggestions as “Make sure your batteries are fully charged” and the likes. There is much more than that.
Here below my 7 steps to prepare my photography holiday. I suggest doing that even if you are going on an organised photography tour.
You get used to the process and you get familiar also with the places you will be visiting
Travel photography Gear and apps
Build your own gear list with all you think you are going to need. With the time you will be able to optimize it
Once you decide/know the location to visit, look online for inspirational photos. Add them to your personalized map.
Check the light in the photos and how you could improve the composition.
You will spend 3-4 hours for each location before your trip, however, you will be fully rewarded once on site as you already know what to expect.
The number of uncertainties will be much smaller.
Here below few posts I wrote on this subject, apps and websites I usually use:
- “Travel Photography Gear Guide: my Essential, Suggested and Nice equipment list“: This is a full list of photography equipment I usually bring with me, organised in essential gear (always in my bag), suggested (whenever I can I take it) and nice to have (when travelling but not moving constantly and the weight is not that important)
- Google map builder: This is a great map builder to record all the planned sites to visit, photos to be inspired, information on the sun and so much more
- Sunset/sunshine planner: although we can’t dictate the sunset/sunrise time, we can still check on Suncalc what are the best sites for sunrise or sunset. There is also an app version to download here. It’s available for iPhones too
- 500px: this is my absolute reference for the highest quality photos. The standard is usually very high, which works great as inspiration, but do not to replicate someone else works. Try to add something, change the composition or the time you visit the site. In the search field just type in the place name.
- Instagram: the quality is not as great as 500px however the quantity is just outstanding. Look for a place and be ready to scroll through saving your favourites.
- “Best Apps for travel photography“: all you need to download on your mobile. The best? They are all free
Flying with camera equipment [tricks that will help you]
Nowadays most of the airline allow 7-10kg carry-on luggage which is, I know, nothing. And now you cannot pack batteries in your checked in luggage.
I usually take a laptop and my photo gear. That is usually over the 10kg. I have reduced my essential kit to my laptop, camera and two lenses. All charges in the other bag.
If you are still over. Here is a little trick. Put something in the pocket of your jacket.
They will check the weight of the carry on luggage at the check-in. After that, the gear can go back to the bag 😉
Another trick I use is to wear my camera with the heaviest lens I have. They never asked me to pack it.
And lastly, I took sometimes my laptop out of my bag and put it in a small bag (I use one of my cycling food bags, check a few photos here to have an idea).
I reckon you can also use one of the heavy paper bags they give you in the clothes shops, so it looks like you bought something at the airport.
Believe you me, I was able to take with me the unthinkable. In my last trip, I had also my drone with 3 batteries and the GoPro with 2 spare batteries.
I use protective cases for all my equipment, except the main camera which has to be ready to shoot 😉
Rucksack or roller bag
Roller bag is great when you move to the airport and from/to the hotel.
They are a real pain in any other cases. Walking in the street of Athens can be a real nightmare where the pavement is irregular if existing.
And how many places like Athens in the world?
And how many cities worst than Athens?
Try the roller bag in a place with snow (I had one in Siberia). Wrong choice!
I tried the roller bag but I eventually gave up. Presently I use a Timbuk2 which is more of a Messenger Bag.
Should I join a travel photography tour?
It’s a personal thing.
The travel photography tour will make your life so much easier, besides the ton of useful information, you will be able to get from your tour leader.
You will improve your skills and share the trip with other people with the same passion.
The drawback is that you have to follow the program and the timing set by the tour.
You do not want to be late as you do not like to wait I guess. Basically less flexibility.
Should I join a generic tour for my photography?
I would not suggest it.
It will be impossible to organise your photography as you would like it.
There are too many people around and, even worst, a schedule to stick with.
You can’t just wait that 20 minutes more for the golden hour. The guide will implore you to leave.
Again take it easy, if you decide to go with a group, it is absolutely fine, just do not expect that everybody else will wait for you and your photography
Learn a few words before leaving
Few words can take you a long way with the locals. In any kind of trip, photography or not, organised or not.
I am sure you appreciate when a foreigner is able to communicate in your language when you are in your home country.
That works the other way around as well. It is not like English should be spoken by everybody. English is just one of the many languages in the world.
What are the main words you should learn, or at least write on your mobile so that you can use it later on:
- thank you, many thanks
- where is (and be ready with an address/map to show) – that works very well when you look for a place
- Yes, No
- chicken, fish, vegetable, meat
- beautiful eyes/face (very useful for portraits) and you show your camera LCD
- Hello, good day/morning/afternoon/night and goodbye
This is really a basic vocabulary you can build and use during your trip
I have also two apps to suggest and an important trick to use
- Google Translate App: amazing app when you consider there is even an automatic scanner that translates on the fly (just what you need to read menus)
- Microsoft Translator: it’s more reliable than Google however it does not have all of its features
- If you visit countries where it’s very hard to communicate, especially countries that write with symbols (China, Japan, etc), store on your mobile photos or draws you may need in your trip. For example, if you are a vegetarian, store a photo with meat and a red cross on it. If you are allergic to chicken, apply the same system.
Both apps above can be used offline once you download the dictionary on your mobile
Be ready for the bad time
Unfortunately, things may go wrong and insurances may help. The essential kit is
- “Photo Equipment Insurance” even if you do not have the money for travel insurance on my article I write also this ultimate free service to register your equipment worldwide so that you may be able to trace it in the black market in case your equipment is stolen
- Travel insurance: you may not know it, however, most of the credit cards nowadays include one already and it may cover more than you think. If that’s the case you will be able to save quite a bit. I mostly use my Mastercard and American Express insurance. They are all very similar.
If travelling alone, take always with you a business card of the hotel or/and a number of family members that can be contacted in case.
If travelling to China, make sure the business card has both Chinese symbols and Pinyin.
If travelling to Cuba and you are a US citizen then double-check with your insurance if you are covered.
Most probably you will be not. You can read more about travelling to Cuba in my post here. You will be absolutely surprised by what I experienced.
Important. The travel insurances included in the credit cards may not cover you when travelling to the US.
Best travel lens to take on a photography trip
This is a 1 million dollar question without an answer.
You will have to give up something whatever choice you make.
If you decide to take all the lenses you have at home you will give up in manoeuvrability as you will have to carry lots of equipment, and pay attention to it.
The alternative is a superzoom lens, say 18-200, but the photo quality will not be as great
My bare minimum is a prime (35mm) and my beloved zoom lens (24-105).
I would use the prime for street photos, markets and places I do not want to get noticed that much (the 35mm is really a small lens).
Everything else is for the 24-105mm
Travel photography tips for beginners [the essential 17]
When on the road there are a few simple things to take into consideration.
Here below you will find 17 travel photography tips, from beginners to advanced, to use on your next trip.
And even if it’s not your first time you travel with a camera you may be amazed by a few suggestions you actually never thought about.
You may also skip this section and go straight to the more advanced section that will surely help in your travel photography career
Jump to the more advanced section, please
Do Travel Photography with somebody else
Travelling alone, especially in some areas of the planet may be dangerous.
Besides, your mate can help you during your photography, if she/he feels like.
He/she may even help you transport your gear, although this may be asking too much LOL
At night it is almost essential. It can be really dangerous to go out on its own.
I still remember one night in Queensland, I was out doing star photography.
I was shooting and suddenly I heard a noise…..and ops, a big snake.
Packed up and left in seconds. In case of accidents, nobody really knew where I was.
Avoid these situations.
And I know, the partner usually gets quite bored, wanting to leave asap.
Luckily in these days, there is Instagram and Facebook that helps to pass the time, and not only.
I noticed that my partner has actually started having an interest in photography, just because she can shoot, apply a few filters, add a comment and publish it.
It is a pretty immediate action which is taking millions of people into photography.
There are many photographers that may argue that Instagram is not a photography platform as such.
I don’t want to enter in this discussion now.
I believe anyway that Instagram was and is able to open up the creative side of many people.
And it’s fun.
Take it easy
It is not about quantity, it is about quality.
For example, do not be stressed with a monstrous plan to visit Australia in 1 week, as an example.
Sydney 2 days, Melbourne 2 days, the Great Ocean Road 1 day and 2 days in the Great Barrier Reef ….in the rainy season.
Yes, you have been to Australia, but not really. The best of Australia is the nature and the landscape around and far away from the cities.
This is not just about Australia. What about “Europe in a week trip”. I would not be able to even plan 2 weeks in France LOL.
A friend called me last year for a 2-weeks photography trip to Vietnam. “Vietnam is big!” I said.
In the end, we agreed on visiting exclusively the north, besides around Hoi An, where our international flight was landing (Da Nang Airport)
Otherwise, it is more the time spent on the car or in the airport lounge that actually visiting and photographing a place.
Pace yourself and plan well in advance your photos.
It’s easy to come back from a trip with lots of photos, maybe 200-300/day.
It’s more challenging to be back with just a few outstanding.
Quality over quantity.
When shooting just think you are still using a film, and paying for every single photo you will develop 😉
Look around you
During the planning phase, you built your photography list of places to visit, based also on photos you saw on Flickr or 500px.
Fantastic. However look around you, there is always space for a new corner, a new interpretation, a new site to take the inspiration from
You can’t take masterpieces every day
I would love to but it is a matter of fact that it is almost impossible to make a great memorable photo every single day. It’s the nature of photography.
A great image comes from a combination of factors and the stars do not align every day.
So take it easy, it’s not you, it’s just the way it is.
You are on vacation, after all, relax. In most of the cases, an outstanding photo takes days, with sites re-visits for the best weather condition.
I always think I have a great outcome if I come back from holiday with 5-10 great photos. I rarely succeed.
Travel photography is not just about landscaping. It’s also about documenting the people in the area you are visiting.
Every region and country has the own typical faces that represent the place you are having your trip.
Portraits may be not as easy as landscape photography where you manage your time and you don’t usually need to ask anybody’s permission.
But before even asking the permission, stop, have a chat, start a conversation. You never know what it may lead to.
My experience is that I come out from a portrait not only with a photo but with a story.
I will talk more about portraits in the “advanced section” later.
Add a person to your photo
A landscape photo is about, well, about the landscape of course, about the scene that you have in front of you.
How many times have you read that you should not include people in your landscape photography?
Probably many! There are however few exceptions. First and foremost when you need to give a sense of scale to your photo.
I love vast landscapes as a desert, a mountain chain or a big rock, a cliff but the photo will never give justice to the size….unless you have a person in it
A person can add romanticism to your photo as well as happiness to balance your landscape.
Adding a person in a photo does not mean directing someone, it may simply mean waiting for the right moment when a person walks by.
Sometime this may not be possible, and a friend or the partner may help (although, based on what we talked about before, this may not be considered anymore travel photography, but a great photo anyway)
Smile, smile and smile again
I woke up at 4am, I went for a few photos at sunset at 7am, up the mountain, back at the hotel.
Yes very tired but I would never stop smiling at anybody, even the usual street touter that in some countries may never stop.
It’s all good we are on holiday.
The smile takes you a long way.
Enjoy yourself and make fun of yourself
Golden hours, Sunset/sunrise, blue hours
Yes, these are the hours when you will get the best results:
- Blue hours (dawn and dusk): this is about 1-2 hours before sunrise and for one/two hours after sunset. Which one is better? Usually, the dawn because you will have more freedom, fewer people around and the wind tends to be low. You will get a nice intense blue in the sky and the sea if you are on the coast
- Sunrise/Sunset: the most popular time of the day for photography, with a nice warm light
- Golden hours: this is about 1 hour after sunrise and for one hour before sunset. In this case, I like to have the sun more on my side more than in front of me. I love to have that long shadows.
Be creative with your photos
Try new photographic techniques during your trip.
Shooting moving objects, for example, is a great way to give an idea of movement.
Panning is another way.
Learn this technique on this tutorial I wrote about Shooting moving objects – Panning.
Travel Photography during the day
Yes, it is not the best time of the day. However, you can still plan to do some travel photography as:
- interior photography: churches and amazing buildings around you
- street photography in b&w: colours can also be used but the end image would look flatter
- street markets
- location scouting: take your camera with you, you can check the composition and ….you never know what can happen
- have a rest: because you woke up so early for the sunrise or the blue hour. You need to recharge the batteries for sunset and night photography
Print and leave a copy
That makes miracles in places where you are far away from civilisation.
The drawback is that you need to carry one of these small instant cameras with you.
Nowadays the size is not that bed
It’s all about leaving a recollection to the locals, it does not happen every day and you will make the life easier to the next photographer, although you are raising the local expectations LOL
Pay or not to pay
You see somebody’s famous photo and you ask yourself, wow, how did he/she make that photo with the subjects just there at the right moment?
You have probably seen the famous photos of the Chinese fishermen with the lamp or the fishermen on the stick in Sri Lanka.
Sometimes it’s just about being lucky to be in the right place at the right moment.
Other times, well, you have to pay for somebody to stay there at the right time, as easy as that. If you do not like that, no worries, move on.
I was recently in Sri Lanka and of course, I wanted to take photos of the famous fishermen on the sticks.
Unfortunately, nowadays the reality is that you have to pay them to go up there ($10).
Paying does not always mean giving cash, although sometimes locals do ask that, it may mean also buying drinks, food or other things to break the ice, have a chat and most probably taking a photo.
Do not stop with your raw images.
Download them on your PC and start the post-production phase, cropping, working on the shadows and the sky, adding brightness and contrast where needed, correcting the white balance.
If you shoot in JPG most of the post-production is executed inside your camera.
Do not leave your camera the choice, you are the photographer.
Rule of thumb: do not go over the top.
If you are asking yourself if you are pushing too much one setting, well, probably you are already doing it.
Use a local guide
It may be expensive as a start but it pays back with the results.
If you are visiting a 3rd world countries, you will end up paying a very small amount of money and he/she will be your PR for you, besides taking you to the asked sites.
He/she can organise the food for you, transportation and much more.
He/she can even introduce you to the family, what a great way to do some more portraits.
Create your story
If the photos are connected to a story they will have a better dimension.
You want to add the emotional factor to your photos.
That is the third dimension.
This explains as well why travel photography is not just landscaping.
It’s about coming back from a trip with a project, a story, a visual story, moments of life with a reason to be connected.
Backup, backup, backup and once again backup
What is the most frustrating thing in travel photography?
Losing a photography trip because you forgot to make a copy. I would smash my….well, doesn’t matter what.
I personally suggest this process:
- shoot on two cards at the same time (my old Nikon D600 had two slots, I have just bought a Sony A7III with also two slots, not that uncommon).
- once back in the hotel download the images on the laptop (I use Lightroom but I am thinking to move to Darktable)
- start the usual tagging and soft post-production process
- in the night, update an external HD with a backup of the catalogue
- once the memory cards are full, store one in a safe place (rigid card wallet) and format and re-use the other one.
In this way I have usually 3 copies with me:
- SD Cards
If there is a good internet connection I upload them on my virtual drive. That is the fourth copy
Photography and airports
Yes, usually you can take photos inside the airports.
Most probably you will not be able to use your tripod and that’s why I would highly suggest taking always with you a small, strong, gorilla tripod.
That will work fine in most of the places where tripods are not allowed
The airport photos are quite interesting and they can be used when you try to document a story that goes through a different location.
Besides we have usually so much time at the airports
Advanced travel photography tips and tricks [including local people portraits]
Is travel photography only beautiful sceneries or is it also about local life and possibly food?
I believe it is all of this and more. I really think that city, street and travel photography are all part of the same root, which I love to call “Travelography”.
When travelling, I spend a considerable amount of time photographing landscapes, mostly at sunrise and sunset.
However, in the last few years, I have started including in my travel documentation also some street and local life photography.
This is actually becoming a real passion and I could see, through these years, also a transformation of my way to make photos.
I have learnt a few lessons along the way and I wanted to share them with you
Mastering Landscape Photography
That’s how I started my photography. That’s how many people start photography. Trying to catch the best sunset or sunrise.
In some respects, it’s very easy, it’s you and the landscape in front of you.
You do not have to talk with anyone, no fear to ask anyone to take a photo.
Once you set your camera, and you know a few tricks, that’s it.
But then comes the weather which may turn a photo from good to magical.
And the weather is of course unpredictable.
And this means landscape photography can be really complicated and disappointing when things turn for the worst.
My experience is to drive or ride to the location even in terrible weather.
That’s actually where I got some of the most beautiful photos.
The sun rays breaking through the clouds are like a gold mine for landscape and travel photographers.
These are a few links to posts I wrote that will help with Landscape Photography
- “Essential tips for better Landscape Photography“: my reference list which I have improved through the years
- “Capture movement in the landscape“: to add an interesting touch
- “Photographing moving water: the guide“: silky water and more
- “50 Tips to Make Money with landscape and travel photography” to start selling and making some money
- “Arts and composition in Landscape Photography“: a great YouTube video from National Geographic Photographer Michael Melford. It’s a one-hour tutorial so set some spare time, grab a pot of tea and enjoy
Legal & Ethic when doing travel photography
In Australia and the USA, as in many other countries, you may take photos of people in public places without asking.
I like however to be very sensitive with my subjects.
For example, I do not take photos of homeless or destitute people, unless I talk and ask first and I receive approval.
When visiting a country I always suggest to check the local rules and laws
Having people in your photos may be an issue in case you want to sell them in stock photography websites as you need to have a release form if the face is clearly recognizable.
Of course, there may be some locations that do not allow photography, these may be private or even public areas. Or they do not allow tripod/monopod.
I never take photos of children unless I see something interesting.
I anyway introduce myself to the parents and I explain who I am (I give my business card) and I promise to send the photos.
They may still say no of course and that’s ok.
If using the drone, check the country rules even before flying there.
As an example, India and Qatar would not allow entering the country with a drone. In Sri Lanka or Fiji, you would need a government permit to fly it.
Some links here that would certainly help you
- “Model Release Pro“: it’s a simple app that you can keep on your mobile and use if and when required. It’s FREE and it’s so easy to use
- “Can I fly there“: if you have a drone and you fly it in Australia then this is a must app. It tells you straight away if there is any issue (you may not know of small airports for example or state level unusual regulations)
- My guide to “Copyright rights and what you can do“: I got my photos stolen, almost on a regular basis. I had some money paid back from the infringer. Check my process with email examples and companies that can help you to recover your loss
Local people portraits when travelling – how to
I usually run travel photography workshops and one question I am asked quite frequently is how can I make portraits of people I do not know when I travel.
Before going to the suggestions I like to say that people, in my opinion, may add character to the photos.
A photo should be able to talk, either through a great composition, magic colours or people in the image.
A person portrait or a group of people in the working environment or even a close up on a body part can say a lot about the story around the person or even the place where he/she was born or he/she grew up
These are a few of the things I have learnt in my years
- Rewire the brain, taking photos of people may look awkward but it is not
- You are not doing a bad thing, you are taking a photo of a person because there is something nice in him or her
- smile and say thank you
- explain why you are taking the photo, maybe for a photography class assignment, a local website. You need to have a story ready, without hesitation
- remember to make compliments to people, they like that, especially when they are dressing differently or fashionable
- ask about their life, especially with elderly people, you will be amazed to hear unique stories behind a person, especially in Australia, a land of never-ending immigration
- always show the photos to the subject, he or she may be interested in them
- give your business card and ask to contact you if they want a copy of a photo
- follow your feeling, no dangerous situations
- never hide that’s where you get in trouble
- be close enough, if you’re not it means that you are afraid. Probably you need to pass on and go for another photo
- when you make a portrait, try to stay on his/her side, around 20% degrees from the front. Usually, the person will only turn the face but not the shoulders. Overall it will look nicer
- include hands if you can, they usually say a lot
- or shoot just hands at work, that’s another way to say a story
There is still the last suggestion I can give.
be persistent, never give up
Sometimes it just does not work. It’s not the right day. It’s not the right person. It’s not the right lens.
The most important thing is to never give up.
There are always gorgeous days ahead of stormy days.
And here is probably the most important tip.
Practice with your gear and be ready.
There is no worst situation than having the subject ready, maybe after a long talk, and you can’t use the camera quickly and properly.
I am sure you already heard this advice.
Practice at home with an orange or a lemon.
Once you get the right light and, most importantly, the right texture, it means you are ready and confident.
Eight top locations and situations in travel photography
There are situations and locations where it’s easier to make photography when travelling.
- crowded places give confidence. There are locations like markets or local festivals where it is much easier to take a photo, just because people are busy with something else or they are in a festive mood. Train or bus/tram stops can be also interesting locations
- fishing techniques: instead of chasing people, set up a scene (you can stand outside a station with your camera ready for example). It will give you more confidence if someone enters your scene then the other way around. You make sure that your camera setting is correct before you get the right moment, basically seat and wait
- try to be invisible, look harmless, no telephoto or zoom lens
- 20 degrees rule. Be 20 degrees on the right or left of the person in front of you. In this way, he or she does not feel that uncomfortable as standing in front of your camera and looking into it. With a 40-50mm lens, you will be anyway able to include your subject in the photo
- shoot people doing something, you give a story to your photo and most probably they don’t even see you as they are too busy with their own things
- give a context, try to make a photo including the place, if significant to the story
- keep smiling and no eye contact (eye contact can be too confronting in some cultures)
- create an agenda before you go to a place
Master travel photography – More than the rule of thirds
There are so many famous photographers to take inspiration from. I will add a few names later in the guide
And they do not need to be all travel photographers.
For example, I love Cartier-Bresson’s work, a famous street photographer that has done history with his pictures. And he is one of my top inspirations when composing a photo.
Watching photos from these amazing legends help to have a better composition.
Studying from the consolidated gurus always give a big help before you can refine your own style.
And have a look at some famous painters work.
Van Gogh is my number one reference. His study of colours is one of the most interesting, still today.
If in Amsterdam go to visit the Van Gogh Museum, a must.
There are two main components in travel photography
- good content, what is actually happening (the subject)
- good form, how do you frame it (composition)
Content is more important than form.
You can have the best form, however, if there is not a story behind, the photo will not say that much.
On the contrary, a great story may miss a good form
These are a few tips that may help you to frame a better photo
With horizontal lines things look at rest, they don’t move, they are stable.
Think of a simple photo of the horizon, it calms you down.
Vertical lines are instead more powerful.
Think of skyscrapers or trees, they are less stable, and more dynamic than horizontal lines.
Your eye tends to follow the skyscraper from bottom to top.
Diagonal lines are however the most dynamic and energetic lines that can give more edgy photos.
The first composition rule you learn in photography is probably the Rule of Thirds.
It’s a great start however the issue with this rule is that it is based on horizontal and vertical lines.
The Golden Triangle in this respect works better because it is based on diagonal lines.
Cartier-Bresson used it quite a lot and we can only agree with him, right?
The intersection of the lines creates “powerpoints”.
This is where you may want to put your subject
Lead-in lines help the eyes to focus on the subject.
We had already an extensive talk about leading line and how to use them in landscape photography.
The concept applies similarly to any type of photography.
In this case, back alleys or small lanes work great as lead-in lines as well as buildings do.
Watch out that lead-in lines can work to your advantage or disadvantage, taking the attention out from your subject.
Practice, practice, practice
Figure to ground
Make a nice contrast between your subject and the background so the subject pops out and separates from the background.
The ideal figure to ground is a black dressed person with a white background in this way there is a better separation between the subject and the background.
For example, the separation between the subject and the background makes photos of silhouette working great.
The figure to ground works well also with colours.
If you have people in your photo, they absolutely pop out when they dress in contrasting colours to the background.
Do you remember the first big photo on top of this post, the one with the title (below here for your convenience)?
There is a couple.
She is dressing in blue and she is the ideal figure to ground example.
He is dressing in brown and he is almost disappearing on the sandy background.
Triangles add harmony and balance to the photo.
Try to find 2 of the elements of the triangle (stable ones) and wait until the third element comes into your composition, of course, easy to say, much more complicated to do it.
Try to look for a frame into a frame, this could be a window, a door frame or simply a tree branch
Editing tools (free and not)
There are plenty of editing tools for photography in the market.
My go-to was Lightroom, together with Photoshop for the most challenging editing
In 2020/2021 I have moved to darktable.
There are a few reasons I did that, which I explained in a dedicated post on the differences between Lightroom and darktable.
The 2 most important to me are:
- darktable is free (opensource) meanwhile Lightroom costs $180/year (Australia)
- darktable is more powerful in editing. It works similarly to Lightroom and it includes few of the things that Photoshop has. One platform for all my editing
darktable may be not as intuitive as Lightroom, however, give it some time and you will easily master it.
I have built a full darktable tutorial hub with plenty of information on how to start, edit and export your photos with plenty of examples.
I have also a YouTube playlist with plenty of tutorials that I recorded on darktable (remember to subscribe to the channel)
Here below a great introduction to darktable
I do edit a lot also on my mobile, especially when I want to post straight away on my socials.
Sometimes I find it even easier and quicker to actually edit on my mobile, probably because I am so expired when I do that straight away, just after I take a photo.
In this case, my go-to app is Snapseed, available on both Android and iPhone.
I am organising a few videos on Snapseed which are available on this YouTube Playlist.
Travel Photography ideas & shot list
It’s so important to plan in advance a travel photography trip. If you will not do it then there is a very high probability you will miss out on a few photo opportunities.
Here below 11 ideas that can help you during your trip but the best comes on this list
- Create connections with locals, either before or during the trip. Great stories may come out from it. The ordinary little things can be actually so interesting.
- Use the transportation system as a photography set. Go to the bus and train station.
- Document the food chain, from the raw ingredients at the market to the main dish over the table
- Keep shooting also at night, either short or long exposure
- Focus on a neighbourhood and not the whole city. Document the neighbours of your city
- Take a photo of the iconic sites, but try to add something (using an old postcard for example)
- Portraits of hands to show the people life
- Shoot a common colour you often see in the country
- Visit cemeteries besides churches and temples
- Use the reflection technique with a mobile or prism
- Build photography projects across country or cities
Now the best comes.
I have organised a very long post that goes down to every single idea with a few photo examples.
Moreover, in this article, you will find also a section that explains how to build a shot list for travel photography.
Best of all, you can download for free your shot list template that you can automatically fill in with all the locations you will visit and your ideas.
This will make your travel photography trip so much more effective and efficient.
Read my ultimate travel photography ideas + free shot list template
Learn from the best travel photographers
Everyone has their own style in any form of art.
And every artist needs time to create their own.
This is why I suggest always to explore the work of the great travel photographer of our time and of the past.
Here below a list of my reference travel photographers.
It’s not exhaustive by any mean but a good starting point.
You should build yours and keep updated on their work.
Stay connected with them, either Twitter, Instagram or YouTube.
- Sebastião Salgado
- Elia Locardi
- Chris Burkard
- Trey Ratcliff
- Frederic Lagrange
- Murad Osmann
- Brendan van Son
- Art Wolfe
- Jarrad Seng
- Marsel van Oosten
- Pete Oxford
- Mark Edward Harris
Free city or country guides for Travel Photography tours
These guides are designed to help the travel photographer to achieve the best from the visited country or city.
They include the best sites with examples of images and a handy map.
Also, it’s listed the best gear to take with you (not the brand but the type of lens and camera that works best).
In some cases, I have also included information on how to move around, the best setting in special circumstances and photography shops that could be handy in case of problems.
It’s a work in progress here. I am adding new ones on a regular basis
Australia and Asia
- Travel Photography in Melbourne, you can also check this guide that focuses more on gear and shopping in the city
- Travel Photography in Sydney
- Travel Photography in Bali
- Travel Photography in Bangkok
- Travel Photography in Vietnam and Travel Photography in Hoi An
- Travel Photography in Hong Kong
- Travel Photography in Sri Lanka
- Travel Photography in Mauritius
- Travel Photography in Reunion Island
- Travel Photography in Cuba
- 55 Photos of Cuba
How to make a living from travel photography
It can be quite complicated.
Travelling, making photography and trying to sell them is probably not the most convenient way, although it can be good fun.
The reality is that it’s very hard to sell photos nowadays.
You may be able to make few bucks on stock photography websites, but certainly not living of it.
Having a blog does help.
You can use it as your own magazine, the media platform.
Once you have the traffic you can sell space, advertising, become influential and possibly organise your photography tours.
Here are a few articles that I wrote and may help:
- “How to work as a travel photographer, with a salary too“
- “11 Top Travel Photography Blogs [with tips to start yours]“
- “Travel blogging for money – An analysis on 50 well-known travel blogs“, a bit outdated but still with some good fundamentals
- “A travel photography salary review“, a great YouTube video from Brendan van Son on how he actually builds his income travelling
Make videos when travelling
Till last year I almost refused to make videos.
There is a lot of work involved, especially in post-production
I have been starting doing that for a few months now.
Do not think featured movies. Just some few seconds here and there. Mostly when we move from place to place, just to have a bit more documentation on the trip.
I use these cuts as b-roll shots for the trip photo-videos.
It does not take too long and they give a nice sense of story.
They do not need to be perfect and usually, they do not need audio as there will be music in the video.
I use them in my social environments, mostly Instagram and Facebook.
They are great for engagement, but difficult to monetize.
It’s more about having a face and a connection, create authority.
After all, it’s not all about money 😉
Download FREE the Ultimate Guide to Travel Photography in PDF format
If you print this guide, or save it in PDF, from the browser you will notice that formatting is not great. You will get a file of other 100 pages with lots of blank lines.
I tried to reorganise the content on a proper PDF that you can download or print. It is around 40 pages and the links work without problems
You do not need to provide an email, it’s free to download. However, I suggest subscribing to my email list for any future release (I update this document on a regular basis)
Download FREE PDF of this guide
I do not like “pushing marketing” and that is why I do not ask email, name, phones, grandpa names etc in exchange.
However, if you want to be updated on the last release of this guide and new similar tutorials, then you can always subscribe to the mailing list.
PS You can unsubscribe whenever you want
Enjoy and let me know your feedback. Leave a comment, I answer all of them.
24 thoughts on “Ultimate Guide to Travel Photography [from beginners to pro]”
Your blog content is amazing.I learn different tips from your blog. Thank You so much for sharing.
Thank you, Adam! Very cool!……………..
This is a very useful post for photo lovers who want to be Pro from beginners.
Thanks again for sharing this.
As a traveller and a beginner in photography, this guide is incredibly helpful. Thank you for sharing, I’ve definitely learned a lot.
Thanks for SO informative post
I took a photo a couple of times while traveling in my own country, but nothing was possible
Maximum 15 photos per weekly tour
You have explained how and what should be done correctly.
Thanks Andrew for your feedback, really appreciated
Thanks Stefano. I really appreciate the time and effort that you put into your website/blog and to make a lot of resources available (I’m already eyeing up some more kit based on your recommendations). As a recent resident of Melbourne, I took my step daughter and nephew on some of your photo shoots around the city as we’re going to Europe at the end of the year. The tips you gave were valuable, as the practice now would mean less wasted opportunities later. I wanted us all to have some experience with using our camera (and *shudder* phones) to take something more than just ‘happy snaps’ and to put some thought into composition, lighting and effects so that we came away with something with some thought and some experience put in.
Many thanks John for your feedback.
This really means a lot to me. These are the comments that push me to keep producing good content and be helpful to other travel photographers. Enjoy your trip to Europe. It will be for sure magnificent 🙂
Thanks Antonio, really appreciated!!
Thank you for this amazing article, Stefano!
I’ve already booked my tickets for Europe in June, and this will be my first trip as a travel photographer. I’m planning to build my portfolio after this trip and bookmarking your article to read it once again on the trip 😛
Just one question, is the 10-20mm wide angle lens and 18-55mm kit lense enough for taking landscapes? I’m planning to take pictures of mountains and seascapes but not sure if my gear is capable enough for it.
Hi Rika, no worries.
Your lenses will cover 98% of the photos you are planning to make. Great choice. No need to carry more gear
Enjoy your trip!! 🙂
Thanks for your website, it is really great 🙂
I really love to travel too because it an amazing experience! I also did a website:
Great work Marianne, awesome website.