There’s no doubt that photography and travel go hand in hand. Many travelers hold their cameras as close to their hearts as their passports. But how do you snap those perfect images to capture the best moments of your trip? We’ve put together a few tips and resources to help you create the best travel photos for your album.

Take Photos of People

People are what make our world go ’round. Without them, there would be no history, culture, or reason to travel to the places we dream about visiting. Try to capture people in their local environment, and look for individuals that show off the special characteristics of the place you’re in. Fill the frame with their face and shoulders. Sometimes older and weathered faces make for the best portraits.

Mursi Woman
Mursi Woman, southern Ethiopia

Capture the Environment

If you’re visiting an interesting place, a photo that captures the essence of the entire scene will quickly tell the story of where you are and what you’re doing. Try to take a wide angle photo with multiple subjects, but at the same time, cut out any unnecessary space or items that don’t add to the composition. Note the lighting and the weather, and take several pictures to maximize the possibilities of a good photo. Sometimes putting an item in the foreground of a landscape will yield good results.

Dogon Country, Mali
Dogon Country, Mali

Shoot The Light

A painter creates with paint, but a photographer creates with light. Watch out for the sun, fog, clouds, or other weather affecting the outcome of your photo. Pay attention to the atmosphere when the sun goes down, as well. If you find yourself indoors, keep in mind how light or dark the room is, and what type of light is available. Look for shadows, contrasts, smoke, and moody situations. Sometimes unique scenes can present themselves, so be ready to seize the moment.

In the medina of Marrakech, Morocco
In the medina of Marrakech, Morocco

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Get Closer

Whether you’re taking a landscape, a portrait, or a close-up of something small, filling the frame with the subject will often lead to a more interesting and engaging photo. Robert Capa said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Think about the amount of space that surrounds the subject in your photo. Should it be there? Does it add anything to the image? If not, rearrange your composition or zoom in.

Dessert in Jerusalem
Dessert in Jerusalem

Don’t Center Your Subject

Various photography rules say such things like “use the rule of thirds” and “remember the golden ratio”. If you’re still uncertain as to what these mean, just remember this: don’t put it in the middle. When subjects are off to the side of a photo, the viewer is drawn in to a more dynamic image. Furthermore, this gives the photo a chance to show the subject within its environment, not just alone.

Istanbul Mosque
At the Eminonu Mosque in Istanbul

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Put Yourself In Position

Bike Delivery
Bike delivery in the souq of Damascus, Syria

The best photos are rarely lucky shots. Planning ahead is crucial. Sometimes you see a scene that’s magical and you grab it. However, if you stick around for a little while, or seek out that special subject, your photos will tell a different story. Look around for interesting people and follow them until they are in a better place. Or, find a spot with ideal lighting and wait for activities to unfold in front of you. By working around a scene and a subject, you’re much more likely to capture an amazing shot than if you just wait for a lucky moment.

Get Off Of The Beaten Path

No one ever won an award by taking the same photo as everyone else on their tour. Go down those narrow back lanes, take the overgrown trail, and run away from the other tourists.

Old Woman, Nepal
Old Woman, Kathmandu, Nepal

Looking for more photography advice? Check out Michael Freeman’s The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos. It covers all of the artistic and composition aspects of photography without getting too technical. With beautiful and easy-to-understand photo examples and diagrams, the book explains what separates good photos from great photos in a language that anyone can understand. It’s a great read for anyone who wishes to learn more and increase their skills in photography!

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Author: Laurie

Laurie is happiest on the road and has visited over 50 countries. She dreams about meeting tribal people, hiking through rice paddies, and driving longtail boats through crystal-clear waters. She enjoys photography, social activism, and helping others quit their jobs to travel. Laurie co-founded Budget Your Trip, and lives the life any nomadic soul would yearn for.

4 thoughts on “Taking Better Travel Photos”

  1. On you first bit of advice on photos of people. Be very careful with this as taking pictures of people can be considered very offensive to your subjects. I personally never take portrait shots for this very reason, and because it feels too ‘colonial’ to me although that’s a personal thing. Suffice it to say I’ve known more than a few travelers who greatly offended locals by taking unsolicited photographs. Think of it this way, would you like it if some random person walked into your city and started putting their camera in your face because you looked ‘authentic?’

    Just be careful and respectful if you must photograph people.

    1. I absolutely agree, being respectful needs to come first. That goes with any aspect of travel, not just photography. Remember, you’re a guest in their country. Getting permission usually means that you’ll get better photos, too!

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