Travel photography is a lot like photojournalism, only instead of documenting an event or story, you’re documenting your own travel experiences. Your trip becomes the “story” you’re photographing. Depending on your trip, you might be photographing wild animals and rugged landscapes, or the nightlife and architecture of a major city.
Travel photography crosses all genres, so if you want to be a professional travel photographer, you have to feel comfortable photographing anything. Instead of perfecting your skills in a specific genre, you work on strengthening your weaknesses. Ultimately, you want to feel confident saying “yes” to any assignment, regardless of the subject or location.
Besides being flexible with your photography subjects, you need to feel comfortable with adventure travel. This type of travel typically includes some risk and physical exertion, like hiking in the Alps or going on an African safari. These adventurous trips are not only more interesting photographically; they’re also becoming more popular in the travel industry.
Just read the CV of a successful travel photographer like Mattias Klum, who works for National Geographic. Klum’s photo and film projects take him all over the world, from Nigeria to Norway’s Svalbard Islands. He’s been bitten by a cobra, chased by elephants, and attacked by lions. He’s also survived a good number of tropical diseases.
If you’d rather spend your time at a nice hotel by the beach, you might still be able to sell your travel photos via a stock agency or create some nice prints to hang on your wall. But you probably won’t end up working for National Geographic.
Travel photography allows viewers to experience epic trips vicariously. They can get a feel for what the atmosphere and sights of a place are, without going there themselves. They might not be athletic or brave enough to climb Mount Kilimanjaro or swim with sharks in Fiji, but they appreciate when photographers do have that strength and courage.
If you’re the type of person who loves diving into adventures and snapping photos of everything, travel photography might be your thing. It takes payofff risk, dedication, and hard work, but the pay-off is a career doing what you love: photography and traveling.
Whether you’re trying to become a professional travel photographer or simply get awesome photos of your trip, here are some tips for getting great travel photos.
Do a lot of research beforehand.
Professional photographers do an incredible amount of research before their trips. Besides reading a couple guidebooks, they browse the Internet for blogs and articles about where they’re going. They might talk to people who’ve visited or lived in that area, too. Of course, they also look through photos on Google or Instagram, getting a feel for what images are already out there.
With this background research, they can write a list of places they want to explore and shoot. Once they’ve created this long “wish-list” of photo locations, they look up details specific to each location, such as opening times, lighting conditions, and potential weather. This extensive research can save a lot of time and frustration, giving them more opportunities for incredible photos.
Record your thoughts and first impressions.
When you arrive at your destination and throughout your trip, spend time reflecting on your experiences. For example, what were the first things that caught your eye? How would you describe the atmosphere? What’s something you hadn’t expected? What do you remember most from your day? Jot down these reflections in a notebook that you bring everywhere. This way, you’ll hold on to your first impressions, memories, and thoughts before they fade away.
These notes can also lead to more photo ideas. Even if you already have a long photo wishlist from your research, you can’t plan or guess everything beforehand. To capture the full experience of your trip, you need both pre-planned photo shoots and spontaneous shots, inspired by your reflections.
Get up early, take a nap, then stay out late.
You want to get up early for two reasons. First, the early morning light will make everything look more beautiful. If you sleep in too late, you’ll have to photograph everything in the bright midday light–not great for photos. Instead of having two Golden Hours, you’ll only have one: the evening.
Second, there are typically fewer tourists in the early morning. You might even have breathtaking tourist sites all to yourself. The crowds you do see will likely be locals, going to work or getting errands done before the midday heat sets in.
Getting up early can naturally wear you down, especially if you’re staying up late, too. Fortunately, most places have a lull in the afternoon that’s perfect for napping. By resting during this time, you can both avoid the worst lighting of the day and store up energy for a great evening out shooting.
Wander away from the (tourist) crowd.
Going off the beaten track can take some bravery since you’re heading into unfamiliar and potentially uncomfortable territory. The risk is worthwhile, though, as you’re more likely to discover unique, unexpected sights away from the tourist crowd.
Sometimes, these wanderings won’t lead to anything–just boring dead-ends or poorly-lit streets. But sometimes, you’ll happen upon a fantastic scene that no one has photographed before.
Get a lightweight tripod.
Photography fundamentals like good composition and lighting remain important regardless of how rugged and far-flung your destination is. That’s why essential gear items like a tripod are worth taking along even for remote hiking trips. To cut down on weight and space, consider getting a compact, lightweight tripods like the BONFOTO B690A or the Pedco UltraPod.
Vary your shots.
There’s a difference between developing a solid photography style and getting stuck in a rut. One means you’re flexible and comfortable shooting any subject with your distinct style and perspective. The other means you’re uncomfortable or uninterested in new subjects, genres, and techniques. If you find yourself shooting the same thing again and again–like only wildlife or only architecture–think carefully about which group you belong in, or whether travel photography is really your goal.
There’s nothing wrong with specializing in a certain subject or genre. In fact, some of the best photos come from photographers who have dedicated themselves to a specific niche. However, to become an excellent travel photographer, you need to have a broader skill set. You have to be able to embrace all subjects, rather than buckling down on one.
In general, the majority of travel photos can be separated into two categories: “Scenery & Architecture” or “Life & Culture.” If you find yourself preoccupied with one of the categories and ignoring the other, try switching your approach. For inspiration, check out the following travel photos from our Flickr community.
Scenery & Architecture
These photos capture the overall environment and beauty of a location. They’re often scenic views of a city, landscape, or seascape, but close-up shots of buildings or trees are also common. Either way, people, and animals are not the focal point of the photo. They’re usually at a distance or totally absent, leaving the viewer with a peaceful, solitary atmosphere.
Life & Culture
These photos jump right into the life of the city, forest, or desert. They let viewers experience the culture or see the wildlife of the destination. Many of these photos are close-ups, but some give a birds-eye view of a big event like a festival. These distant shots can help viewers understand what’s happening and prevent the photographer from getting lost or trapped in the crowd.