10 Best Travel Photography Tips for More Breathtaking Photos

Traveling is one of the best and most important times to take photos. It’s not just because it’s fun to show off to friends and family, but it’s also a way to capture your memories. Travel photography is just like any type of photography, but there are a few things to keep in mind to give yourself the best chance of capturing epic photos. Here are my 10 favorite travel photography tips from my own experiences that will help you take more breathtaking and beautiful photos during your trips!

Tip #1: Shoot at Golden Hour

Travel photography tip #1 is one of the easiest and most consistent ways to get better photos of your travels is to make sure to take photos during the golden hour. At this time of day during sunrise and sunset, the light really is softer, more magical, and more colorful. As any serious photographer will tell you, one of the most important aspects of creating beautiful photos is the light.

If you have a good weather forecast during the golden hours of the day, more often than not, you’ll get amazing light to work with which will make it much easier to capture breathtaking imagery. Yes, you’ll have to get up before the sun rises and you may have to push back your dinner time, but it’s well worth the effort.


Tip #2: Find and Use Foreground Elements

Another one of the best ways to make your travel photos more interesting is to find and use foreground elements in the image. By having a foreground element, you’ll create more depth and layers which will make it more visually appealing to the viewer’s eye. I’ve found the easiest way to do this is to get super close to the foreground element until you see the element start to blur. Once you see the element blurring, you can frame your primary subject with the foreground element. 

For example in this photo, I used flowers to frame the reflection of Mount Fuji. The photo would’ve worked without the flowers too, but there wouldn’t be as much color and it might have been a little flat. Some of my favorite things to use as a foreground element include flowers, leaves, grass, and the ground (if it has more a unique texture).


Tip #3: Invest in a High-Quality Polarizing Filter

Other than shooting at golden hour and using a foreground element another quick way to make your images pop is to use a high-quality polarizing filter. Which brings us to travel photography tip #3: investing in a high quality polarizing filter. Polarizing filters help reduce reflections which will increase the overall saturation and contrast in the image. On sunny days, it can also help bring out the blues of the sky like in this photo.

With that said, what’s important to remember is that there are certain situations when you shouldn’t use a polarizing filter which includes:

  • At sunrise and sunset.
  • When capturing reflections in the water.
  • When capturing rainbows.
  • Indoor or low light.


Tip #4: Spend Some Time to Learn the Basic Compositional Techniques

Before you take your next trip, spend a little time learning the basic compositional techniques. This will help improve your photographic eye which will help you create more visually interesting compositions. Most importantly, by knowing these techniques you’ll also have a better understanding of when and why you should break them.

Here is a brief overview of some of the most useful compositional techniques:

  • Rule of Thirds: This rule breaks your image up into vertical and horizontal thirds. According to the rule, by placing your main subject along one of the imaginary lines or intersections it will create a more balanced and interesting image. If you want to learn more, check out my Rule of Thirds Article which includes 10 examples of when I used this rule in images I have taken.
  • Leading Lines: by using obvious or not so obvious lines in the image you can lead your viewer’s eyes through your image making it more pleasing to the eye. This is a useful rule to keep in mind whenever you see roads or paths when you’re traveling.
  • Rule of Triangles: implied triangles in an image can create a sense of the relationship between the three points of the triangle giving the image more unity. 
  • Symmetry: One of the best ways to use symmetry is to capture reflections in a body of water or even a small puddle. Symmetry creates a more balanced image which will make it more visually appealing.


Tip #5: Mid-Range Zoom Lenses Are Your Best Friend

When you’re traveling, it’s much easier to use an “all-around”  zoom lens with a wide focal range versus having to switch between multiple lenses (if you have a collection of prime lenses). Yes, there are some downsides with all-around lenses such as narrower/slower maximum aperture and a variable maximum aperture as you zoom. However, in my experience the versatility that you get from these lenses more than makes up for it. Plus, it will also minimize the number of lenses you carry which will decrease the total weight of the gear you carry. When it comes to travel, every bit of weight saved is important.

Just to give you an idea of the versatility of different focal lengths, here are just some of the different ways you can use them:

  • Wide Angle Focal Length (think 24mm and below): By using a wide-angle lens and placing it low to the ground or super close to a foreground element you’ll be able to create more depth of field at a unique angle.
  • Mid-Range Focal Length (think 50 mm): By using these focal lengths with a wider aperture you can throw out the background for increased bokeh and separate your subject from the background making the subject pop.
  • Zoom Focal Length (think 70+mm): These focal lengths can be used to compress the background or to selectively compose specific subjects in the composition.

Tip #6: Use An App Like PhotoPills to Help You Plan

Apps like PhotoPills are almost like a cheat code for photography. With the App, you’ll be able to see the exact time and location of each sunset and sunrise. It also has more advanced features like VR mode which shows you where the Milky Way will be located throughout the night if you want to attempt astrophotography. The reason why these apps are so helpful is that when you’re traveling, you probably won’t be too familiar with the area.

For example, here is a photo of Melissa that I took at Sandy Beach in Oahu. For this image, I used PhotoPills to plan out exactly where and when the sun would rise from which allowed me to capture a sun star through Melissa’s arms. There was no way I would’ve been able to execute this photo without PhotoPills because it was my first time visiting this location.

The app does cost $9.99 and you’ll have to get a travel sim card to use it if you’re visiting another country, but I think it’s well worth the extra cost.


Tip #7: Scout Out Your Photo Locations Online

Continuing on from travel photography tip #4, preparation is always key to capturing memorable images. Another way to make sure you have an idea of all the different angles you want to capture is to scout out the location online before you get there

Take this photo as an example. Do you notice how the image is slightly unbalanced because of the trees on the right that block Mount Rainier? Well, if I had properly scouted this location, I would’ve known that by moving roughly 50 feet to the left I would’ve had a clear shot of Mount Rainier with no trees blocking it. Sometimes a difference of only a few feet can make all the difference in a photo which is why preparation is so important.

Two of my favorite ways to scout a location digitally is to use Google Image Search or Instagram. If the location you’re shooting is even slightly popular, you should be able to put together a list of all the best angles to take the photo from.


Tip #8: Think Twice Before Bringing a Tripod

Although there are certain situations that you’ll 100% need a tripod for, not everyone needs a tripod or would even use one if they brought it on their trip.

Before taking one on your next trip or investing in a new tripod, make sure to think about what photos you’re most likely going to take. Tripods are heavy and can get in the way if you’re not used to using them. Unless you plan to take some of these types of photos, you probably won’t need a tripod:

  • Using slow shutter speed to capture movement.
  • Using a narrow aperture to keep everything in the image sharp in low light situations such as sunrise or sunset.
  • Shooting a timelapse.

Notes From the Field: A good rule of thumb on what shutter speed to use to keep your image sharp without a tripod is to use a shutter speed at or equal to the focal length you’re using. So, if you’re using a zoom lens and shooting at a 200mm focal length, your shutter speed should be 1/200 or faster.


Tip #9: Learn How to Use Your Camera’s Automatic Modes

Travel photography tip #9 is all about the automatic modes on your camera. Don’t just think that the automatic modes on your camera are only for amateur and beginner photographers. In fact, many professional photographers use automatic modes and it’s one of the best ways to make sure you don’t miss out on any moments during your trip.

One of the most important aspects of using an automatic mode is to understand when you should use aperture priority mode versus shutter speed priority mode. Here is some information that might help you:

  • Shutter Speed Priority Mode: Use this mode if the main variable of what you’re trying to capture relies on shutter speed. For example, you might use this mode if you need to shoot at a fast shutter speed to freeze action or if you’re shooting at a slow shutter speed to capture motion blur.
  • Aperture Priority Mode: Use this mode if the main variable of what you’re trying to capture relies on changing the aperture. For example, you might use this mode if you want to blur out your background with a shallow depth of field using a wide aperture or if you want to keep the entire image sharp with a narrow aperture.

Notes From The Field: If you ever find your image looking artificially bright when using an automatic mode, this is likely because the camera isn’t exposing correctly for the highlights in the image. To fix this, half-press your shutter while pointing to the brightest part of the image to expose for the highlights. Then, while keeping the shutter half-pressed, recompose your image before taking the shot.


Tip #10: Don’t Worry About Your Gear. Less Is More.

My last travel photography tip for you is when you’re traveling, it’s important not to worry too much about what gear you have. There is a saying “the best camera is the one you have with you” and this is more true than ever. The reality is that now you’ll be able to create beautiful images with any modern camera or even with just your smartphone. 

To give you an idea of what an older camera is able to do, this photo was taken in low light with a Sony RX100 V which is a 4+ year old point and shoot camera.

Travel is good for your health and having photos to document your trips is a must! With these 10 tips you will be taking photos like a pro in no time.

Tom Shu

Tom Shu