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12 easy travel photography tips for improving your photos

1. Choose the Best Light

Are you traveling in a fabulous location but can’t get a photograph you love? Or you had to photograph a specific place, but when you got there your pictures looked nothing with the dozens of others you had seen online? Light could be the issue.

Even though we don’t think about it in our daily routine, light has particular properties that change for many reasons. Some are more subtle, but others are straightforward and easy to understand. If it’s a bright and sunny day, the colors at sunrise and sunset are warm, orange, and silky. On the other hand, when the sun is high in the sky, there is too much light, and you won’t have a beautiful picture.

Cloudy skies also make a huge difference. In overcast weather, it looks like the colors have been sucked out, and the environment around us seems like a black and white scenario. While some photographs work well in a situation like that, others will lose a lot of the impact if their wow factor depends on vibrant colors.

The state of the sky matters a lot. Some people think of a bright blue sky as the best possible scenario, but to get even better results, in most cases, you’ll need more diversity. When you see a photo that catches your eye, try noticing and remembering what the sky looks like?

As a traveler and a photographer, you should weight the lighting conditions and, if needed, postpone the trip to photograph or come back at a different time to get different results.

It’s not unusual to go back to the same place to work with different lights. It’s not about one shot being better than the other, but it’s a matter of just being different. When you enjoy a place so much, you’ll want to return several times to get different pictures with different lights.

Sometimes the change has nothing to do with light. Let’s imagine a beach in Asia. In the morning it may be a calm and welcoming place for a swim, and in the afternoon it may be crowded with fishermen, boats docking, men unloading the cargo, women in bright colors selling fish — the same place with different realities at different times of the same day.

2. Forget the Lens Caps

SLRs lenses come with a cap to protect them from scratches and other potential damages. It’s better to remove the lens and store it in a safe place. Does that mean the lens is unprotected? Yes and no. Without a cap, it’s completely unprotected. However, if you buy a UV filter instead not only will it filter the ultra-violet rays, it will protect as much as the cap would.

And why should you do that? Mostly because you can lose a cap easily and will need to buy a replacement. As for the filter, it’s placed on the lens and doesn’t come off easily unless you remove it. But the main reason behind my tip is about speed. You’re sitting at a café, and suddenly a vehicle driving by is the perfect photo opportunity. You grab the camera, turn it on, point, and shoot, right? Nope. You forgot to remove the lens cap first. Many times when you’re in a rush the lens cap gets in the way of that perfect shot! It’s just a useless obstacle. If you want protection, you use a filter. Nothing more. And the next time you want to take that once in a lifetime shot, you can do it faster.

3. Gray and Gloomy Days? There’s Night… or Black and White!

Sometimes we reach a location, and it’s so overcast, the clouds are so compact and low that it looks like all colors were sucked from the world. Of course, ideally, you’d have the perfect light highlighting all the colors and a bright blue sky with a few clouds to make it more interesting. But if you can’t have that, there are two solutions: you can return at night and explore a different scenario, where there are no gray or clouds in sight. Look for details like old lamps, human lights, urban fantasies. Or look for a simpler solution and focus on black and white photography. Look for contrasts, enjoy the absence of strong shadows, make the best of a dramatic stormy day.

4. Keep the Camera at Room Temperature

Some people advise you to protect your gear from extreme temperatures, especially cold because it drains batteries fast. It’s all true, but you can’t overlook condensation problems. It’s a simple physical event that happens when there’s a thermal shock between a surface and the environment around it, making the water particles in the atmosphere turn from a gaseous to a liquid state.

It’s a nuisance that could be in the way of you shooting a unique photo from a unique moment if you keep your camera in a warm protection and quickly take it out. Condensation takes over all optical parts of your camera, and your photo will be nothing more than a blur of what you saw. To avoid unpleasant surprises like these, I advise you to keep your camera at room temperature.

5. Try HDR – High Dynamic Range

In simple terms, HDR (an acronym for High Dynamic Range) is a technique to prevent a photograph from having too much light contrast. How many times have you wanted to shoot a scene where one half is in the shade, and the other half is too bright? It’s almost impossible, right?

HDR works as a software, and you’ll almost always have to edit your photos with the right program afterward. But before you reach the editing stage, you have to take two or more shots of the same scenario. Those shots have to be the same, but with different adjustments that impact on letting the light in.

You’ll have a photo where the dark patch is perfect but the rest is not, and one where the bright side is perfect but the rest is not. Then, using the right software, you’ll use the optimized parts of each shot and make a sort of collage where you combined the best of both shots in one photograph: both areas now have the perfect light.

For better results, you should use a tripod to make sure the framing is the same between the first and the second shot.

Have you noticed how I wrote that you’ll almost always have to edit your photos?

Well, not every time.

Some cameras have an inbuilt HDR setting. In that case, the camera takes two shots simultaneously. You press the button and hear two clicks, one for each picture. One is optimized for the dark area, and the other one is optimized for the bright area.

Then it’s the camera’s software that does the collage for you and delivers the final photo, without hassle. Don’t mistake this setting for another feature of the camera where the photo is edited right after the shot to reduce light contrast.

6. Carry Backup Gear

If you’re passionate about travel photography, try to anticipate any mishaps that might happen during your trip. I’ve written about ways to keep your photos safe in case something happens. But what about the gear?

If your camera gets stolen, there’s nothing much you can do. You’ll really have to buy another one or deal with the loss every time you see the perfect photo opportunity. But some parts can malfunction or get lost that are more difficult to replace when on the road.

In some countries, you won’t find official branded stores or technical assistance where you can buy gear. In that case, if you travel to remote areas, you may want to consider taking some backup gear: battery, charger, charger cable. If you’re traveling with an SLR, at least one additional lens.

This is a smart way to plan and to anticipate potential issues.

7. Traveling is Risky… for Gear

I once read someone’s article that said you shouldn’t travel with something you couldn’t bear to lose, whether its value is emotional or financial. Of course, traveling is not incredibly dangerous, but there’s a little more risk involved than if you stay at home.

Especially when it comes to our belongings, exposed on a daily basis to transportation and strangers’ hands, and to the possibility of getting lost or stolen.

So when you choose the kind of photography gear you want to buy, consider all that. Invest consciously considering your gear might be lost in each trip.

Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. And while you’re at it, get good travel insurance that covers photography gear damages, loss, or theft.

  • Read my page: What’s the Best Travel Photography Gear for my Trip?

8. Cameras and Air Travel

I want to say two things about air travel. First, it’s not a good idea to pack your photography gear in your checked luggage, because it’s frequent for valuable items to disappear from checked bags. Second, a camera is a good thing to pack on a carry-on when you’re concerned about checked baggage allowance.  

9. Mind the Dust When Changing Lenses

If you can and frequently change your camera’s lenses make sure you minimize the sensor’s exposure to dust particles in the air. This is one of the frequent issues with digital photography, and although you can’t avoid it altogether, you can do your best to minimize it. Don’t change lenses at times or places where there’s a lot of dust in the air. Do it as quickly as you can with the camera off and facing down and keeping the part of the lens that fits the camera also facing down.

10. When in Doubt, Photograph Everything

Sometimes the photographer is struck by doubt about any of the stages of the photography process. If he should use more or less zoom. If he wants the picture to be more or less bright. If he wants to shoot people or not. If he wants to freeze a particular image of a waterfall or he wants to showcase the effect of flowing water. My suggestion for you is when in doubt, shoot both ways. It doesn’t take too much time, and later you can choose which photo to use.

11. See a Lot of Photographs

I’ve said this a lot throughout this article, but I’ll say it once more: the best way to learn is to see what others are doing, especially the ones who are more experienced. Look for photos with a datasheet and look for all the technical details like lens aperture and shutter speed, brainstorm ideas and see what works for you.

  • Try watching the TV show Tales By Light, a series of short episodes where great photographers show us how they got their spectacular shots. It began production in 2015, and it’s currently on its second edition.

Visit the galleries of well-known travel photographers (I’m giving you some suggestions later).

12. Take Online Photography Courses

The universe of online courses is fascinating. You can find all sorts of online courses in English and, of course, photography is well represented. Most, and probably the best ones, are paid, and it’s up to you to invest in them. Keep in mind that with some research and persistence you can find excellent quality courses for free.

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