6 Professional Travel Photography Tips for Beginners
A guest post by Zach Atrieu
As a professional travel photographer and writer for a photography website, I spend the majority of the year on a plane with a camera in my bag. I’m fortunate enough to have visited hundreds of different cities around the world and have the photos to prove it.
Here are my six travel photography tips to improve your pictures and your efficiency while travelling with a camera, no matter what your photography skills are.
Travel Photography Tip #1 – Stay Lightweight & Nimble
As a camera gear reviewer, you’d probably expect me to love carrying around all the latest cameras, lenses and other accessories when I travel. The opposite is true though.
After spending the first few years of my job lugging around a couple of bulky DSLRs and lenses, I had an epiphany. What if I were to try and capture the same images, but with only one camera and a lens? I still have backup gear back at the hotel. But I make a point to travel as light as possible with regards to my photography set up: one lightweight mirrorless camera, and one small prime lens.
I recommend you try the same – not only does remaining lightweight.
Travel Photography Tip #2 – Leave the tripod at home
This ties into tip number 1, whereby having a lighter bag makes travel more efficient and enjoyable. When it comes to your photography gear, it’s important to pare down your gear selection to the bare minimum.
Tripods are one thing I often see being lugged around by travellers and it makes me cringe a little. Unless you need one, you can usually find somewhere stable to rest your camera for that slow shutter speed shot. The image above was taken by placing my camera on a rock.
If you really must take a tripod with you to achieve a perfectly stable shot, I’d highly recommend nothing any more significant than a ‘tabletop tripod’.
Travel Photography Tip #3 – Backup to multiple locations
As a professional photographer, I know full well the importance of backing up the photos I take. Even when I’m travelling for pleasure, I usually try and apply the same backup methodology to my photos, and I recommend you do the same.
Until you’ve exported your photos to another device, you’re taking a significant risk with your precious memories. We’ve all heard horror stories of cameras being lost or stolen, and entire trips photos lost forever.
I’d recommend you download your photos to a computer or portable backup drive every night when you return to your hotel. I’d also suggest you sign up for a Dropbox account (or similar service) so that when you export your images to your computer, you’re also backing them up in the cloud.
Upload speeds even in developing countries are usually excellent, meaning that you can back up your photos overnight via Dropbox, and never have to worry about them again. Even if you lose your camera and your laptop, your photos will still be safe ‘on the cloud’.
Travel Photography Tip #4 – Experiment with Depth of Field
With the advent of ‘Portrait Mode’ on the iPhone and other popular smartphones, everyone seems to be able to produce a photo with a ‘blurry background’ nowadays.
I admit that blurring the background (aka creating ‘bokeh’) is a shortcut to making your images stand out from the crowd, but the longer I’ve been a photographer, the more I’ve come to appreciate using a more considerable depth of field.
‘Depth of field’ refers to how much is in focus in a shot — a photo with blurry background or foreground elements exhibits ‘shallow’ depth of field. This is the type of shot that beginner photographers strive for, usually, but unfortunately, lenses that produce this kind of image are traditionally more expensive.
For travel photography, I try and use a considerable depth of field as much as possible, since this is a great story-telling device. If everything is in focus in an image, you can tell multiple stories in one shot, which is often perfect for all the new sights while travelling.
So switch your camera to ‘Aperture Priority’ next time you travel, and choose an f-stop of f/5.6+ to ensure more of the scene is in focus, and see what you can capture 😉
Travel Photography Tip #5 – Use the sun to your advantage
The position of the sun when taking an outdoor photo can make or break an image. While it’s certainly possible to take a good shot at midday when the sun is directly overhead, it’s usually most favourable to shoot in the light that comes right before/after sunrise and sunset.
The time in the early morning which is great for photos is known as ‘blue hour’, and ‘golden hour’ is used to describe the gorgeous golden tones that usually come around sunset.
If you’re on holiday and wanting to photograph an iconic landmark, try and plan your day around being there for either sunrise or sunset.
Bonus Tip: I use an app called Sun Seeker (available for iOS and Android) on my phone to calculate the sun’s position at any future date/time. You can even point your phone’s camera at the scene to see an augmented reality view of the sun’s position.
Travel Photography Tip #6 – Pack a 35mm lens
35mm is a classic focal length loved by photographers all over the world. It’s defined as a “wide angle” but offers a field of view that’s great for all manner of things, from portraits through to landscapes.
If you have a camera with an interchangeable lens, I recommend you invest in a 35mm ‘prime’ lens (i.e. one with no zoom capabilities).
Each of the camera brands offers an affordable 35mm lens, but if you’re using a camera with a ‘crop sensor’ lens, you may have to look for the ‘equivalent focal length’ – popular beginners’ cameras are usually all crop sensor format.
If your camera has a fixed lens (such as most compact cameras), you can usually zoom in or out until your field of view matches approximately 35mm. It’s a great focal length to use while travelling as it’s typically wide enough for everything but still doesn’t distort much when shooting photos of people.
Limiting yourself to just one focal length such as 35mm is also a great way to help improve your photography. By using only one focal length all the time, you’ll eventually be able to envisage your scene before even lifting the camera to your eye and take better travel photos.
About this Guest Author: Zach Atrieu is a travelling photographer and writer at Shotkit. In his free time, he loves kite surfing, crosses fit and hanging out with his wife and kids.
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