Travel Photography Guide: See the World Through Your Lens

If you’re a photographer who loves to explore the world around you, why not combine the two loves and try your hand at travel photography? Whether you want to improve your images for personal use or you’re interested in becoming a full-time professional travel photographer, we’ve got tips and tricks to get you started.

This guide will explain what travel photography is; what gear you need; tips for travel photographers; and how to sell your travel photography.

travel photography
Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

What is travel photography?

As the name implies, travel photography is the act of taking photos while you travel. But, to be a successful travel photographer, you don’t just snap photos of smiling faces or pretty places. Great travel photographs are the result of patience, planning, dedication, research, thoughtful composition, and intentional storytelling. Being a travel photographer requires a lot of hard work and know-how. The benefit is you get to travel to new, beautiful, and exciting locations!

Types of travel photography

Any kind of photography can be travel photography, so long as you take the photo while you’re traveling. Here are some common examples: 

  • Landscape: one of the most common forms of travel photography is capturing the unique landscapes around the world, from mountains to beaches and everything in between;
  • Documentary: Use photography to showcase the unique appearance and culture of the people who live in the places you visit;
documentary travel photography
Photo by Vince Russell on Unsplash
  • Architecture: capturing interesting or famous buildings is an extremely popular form of travel photography. Imagine visiting Paris without shooting the Eiffel Tower or Rome without the Coliseum;
  • Food: one very interesting way to document differences in culture is through the food;
  • Wildlife: like giraffes and lions on African safari or penguins in Antarctica;
  • Astrophotography: Many photographers cannot see the Milky Way or the Aurora Borealis where they live, so they travel to places around the world to capture them.

What’s the best camera for travel photography?

When it comes to travel photography, it’s best to keep it light. That doesn’t mean you can’t use your DSLR if you love it, but if you’re in the market for a new camera, consider a lighter option, like a mirrorless micro-four-thirds camera instead. They are significantly less heavy and more compact than their DSLR cousins. You’ll notice the difference after carrying one on your back or around your neck for days at a time! A great option is the Olympus OM-D E-M10 III.

What is the best lens for travel photography?

The lenses you carry will widely depend on the type of photography you shoot. For example, if you only shoot food photography, then you probably don’t need to carry a heavy telephoto around the world! So, use your judgment.

Remember, the goal is to keep your camera bag as light as possible, so you want to have the best quality glass you can afford, but cover the widest range of focal lengths at the same time. When it comes to travel, your best bet is high-quality zoom lenses over primes. That way, you can get away with 2-3 lenses that will cover everything you need.

A wide-angle zoom in the 16-35mm range, an all-around lens in the 24-70mm range, and a telephoto in the 70-200mm or 100-400mm range (depending on what you shoot) are great options to round out your lens selection. 

travel Taj Majal
Photo by Julian Yu on Unsplash

Other travel photography gear

Some other gear that’s specific to travel photography includes:

  • A travel tripod: standard tripods can be really heavy and bulky but there are some really great travel tripods that will keep your kit safe and steady but pack down to fit in your suitcase. Make sure you get one that can handle the weight of your camera and lens.
  • Backup: Always bring some way to backup your photos that doesn’t rely on the cloud, like an external hard drive or flash drive. You never know what the wifi connection will be like when you travel.

Staying safe while traveling with photo gear

Traveling, especially with expensive photo gear, can make you a target for criminals. Here are some tips to help keep you safe:

  • Research the destination for potential areas to avoid and common scams;
  • Know the local customs and respect them to avoid confrontation;
  • Have a plan, and make family and friends aware of your itinerary;
  • Buy camera insurance;
  • When flying, always carry your gear onboard;
  • Never let your valuables out of sight;
  • Stay in a reputable hotel and use the safe;
  • Be aware of your surroundings;
  • Never leave items unattended;
  • If you can, bring someone with you;
  • If it seems too good to be true, it usually is.
travel japan
Photo by Sorasak on Unsplash

Tips for travel photographers

To be a great travel photographer, you obviously first need to be a great photographer. You should master exposure; know how to operate your camera in manual mode; and have an understanding of the rule of thirds, leading lines, the golden ratio, negative space, and other methods of composition. 

Here are some other tips to help you as a travel photographer:

Do your research

When you’re going to visit a new place, researching ahead of time is key! Not only to ensure your safety by learning what places you should avoid, but also find out what unique and interesting places you absolutely can’t miss. Researching is your time to prepare a shot list, and plan your gear packing list accordingly. 

You can research a location by reading travel books, talking to other photographers, or browsing Instagram and Pinterest. Try to find out things like what time of day has the best light; when certain attractions are open; when they’re the busiest; how difficult is it to get to certain locations; what is the weather like; etc.

travel safari
Photo by sutirta budiman on Unsplash

Wake up early & stay out late

Surely you’ve heard the phrase, “the early bird gets the worm.” That’s certainly the case with travel photography. Early morning “golden hour” light is soft and warm, and the early hours are usually much lighter with tourists and other photographers.

Similarly, if you stay out for sunset and the blue hour, the hour past sunset, you can usually avoid the bothersome crowds and take advantage of pleasing light.

Ask for permission

Before you take a photo of a local person, especially a photo up close, talk to them first, build a rapport, and then ask permission. Sometimes, they will ask for money in exchange. It’s up to you if you want to pay. But, if they say no, smile and move on.

travel photo people
Photo by Ron Hansen on Unsplash

Make photography a priority

Plan photography time into your travel schedule. This can be difficult if you’re traveling with people who aren’t photographers and don’t appreciate the amount of time it takes to create a great image instead of simply snapping a photo. 

This might mean waking up early or breaking away from your group to allow yourself a few hours of dedicated “photo time” if you’re traveling with non-photographers.

Include the human element

Sometimes, including a person in your photograph can make a powerful impact. Whether it’s to show scale, to help tell the story, or to allow the viewer to visualize themselves in the location. Try shooting an image with and without a person and see which one you prefer.

travel antarctica
Photo by Cassie Matias on Unsplash

Use long exposure photography to remove people from tourist spots

Have you ever wanted to photograph a famous spot but couldn’t do it because there were tourists everywhere? If you have your travel tripod with you, you can use an ND filter and a very long shutter speed to make the tourists virtually disappear. With extremely long exposures, everything that’s moving, like the people, will fade away. Any non-moving objects, like the buildings, will photograph crystal clear.

Don’t forget about post-processing

Post-processing, or editing your images is an important step for any professional photographer. It’s the difference between a good photo and a great photo. Some may edit more than others, but every pro photographer does it. 

Use software like Lightroom or Photoshop to add clarity, sharpness, contrast, adjust exposure, crop, reduce noise, and more. If you shoot in RAW (and you should shoot in RAW) you’ll have even greater control when post-processing.

Photo by Erin Song on Unsplash

How to sell your travel photos

In this day and age, you don’t have to be a professional photographer to sell your photos. It’s never been easier to get your images in front of people. However, that also means there’s more competition than ever, so your travel photographs have to be as good or better than what’s already out there.

That means they need to be technically perfect, beautifully composed, properly lit, free from excessive noise, and without errors.

If your photos are great, there are a few different ways you can sell them:

  • Offer them as stock photography through websites like Getty and Shutterstock
  • Sell your photos directly to clients
  • Sell prints, calendars, and photo books

Actively promote your work to maximize your sales. You can do this by creating an online portfolio, building an email list, and growing a social media following.

Final thoughts

As you can see, a lot goes into travel photography. It’s so much more than snapping some quick photos while you travel the world. And, while getting to see exciting and exotic locations is certainly part of the job, planning, patience, hard work, photographic skill, lots of research, photo editing, and even self-promotion are also important aspects, too.

Brooke Arnold

Brooke Arnold is a writer and award-winning photographer specializing in cat portraits. She is an advocate for rescue animals and is best known for dressing up her cats as famous people like Bob Ross and Evel Knievel. Her biggest claim to fame, however, is being child #2 in an orange juice ad that hung in a mall in Miami at age 8.

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