Raise your hand if you’ve ever gone to a new beautiful and exciting place, taken hundreds – if not thousands – of pictures, gotten home and hated almost all of them. I know I am not the only one. And I get it, taking stunning, Instagram worthy shots while on the road is hard. Especially for those of us who don’t get to travel that often. When I was a younger photographer I wish I’d had learned some tips and tricks for taking better travel photos.

Why is Travel Photography so Hard?

In my non-travel life I make my living as a photographer. I shoot houses for real estate agents and I’ve been told I’m pretty good. When I’m not doing that, I’m shooting what natural landscapes I can find in the middle of suburbia. Why do I mention all of this? Because those skills I use literally everyday should transfer to travel photography, right? Nope! Most of the basics of photography stick around, but in my experience, everything else exits my head the second the plane hits the tarmac.

Why is this? Why is it so hard to take amazing travel photos sometimes? I’m sure there is some kind of scientific explanation for this phenomenon. For me, it comes down to several factors. First off, there is just the general stress and anxiety that comes with travel. There also always seems to be a lack of time to really settle in and set up the shots I want. Oh and the lack of research.

Well, here are some things I wish I’d learned sooner and hopefully if you follow some of them you will be able to get better travel photos on your next journey.

11 Tips for Better Travel Photos

Know Your Camera

Hiking in Colorado

And your lens(es). You might be thinking “of course I know how to use my camera.” But I’m not talking about how to shoot. I’m talking about the camera itself. You don’t have to know every technical feature your camera offers. You don’t have to know what every little thing in the menu is. All you really need to know are the basics: how to get in and out of auto mode, how to change settings like ISO and aperture, where your most used settings are in the menu, etc. And if you have multiple lenses, you’ll want to know which ones work for which situation and how to change them quickly.

Things get stressful while traveling. Your destination may be super packed. You may only have a few minutes to snap a once in a lifetime shot. The weather could be changing by the minute or the sun setting quickly. Knowing your camera helps you react to these situations quickly and can make all the difference in getting better travel photos.

Get out of Auto Mode

Okay, now we are talking about how to shoot. If you found this blog because you are new to photography I have a handy-dandy guide all about the basics of shutter speed, ISO and aperture. If you’re a little further along in your photography journey, then you already know the importance of getting out of auto mode.

Shooting in manual modes can be confusing and challenging at first, but I know we are all up for a good challenge. Here’s why you should try getting out of auto mode: manual modes give you way more control over your final image. Do you need to be perfect at picking your shutter speed or aperture? No. Do you even need to shoot in full manual? Also no. But having some control in your camera’s settings can make a huge difference.

I shoot almost exclusively in aperture priority mode. I also manually set my ISO. This means I get to choose how high my ISO is and how wide my aperture is while the camera picks the shutter speed. Most of the time aperture priority works great for me.

Bring A Tripod

Small waterfall in Colorado

Every time I travel somewhere without a tripod I wish I had brought one. And sometimes even when I have one and don’t use it, I regret it afterwards. Your style of photography may not need a tripod. Or traveling with extra gear may not be your thing, and that’s totally okay. However, as someone who shoots a lot of landscapes and waterfalls and the occasional night sky, having one available is necessary.

The good news is you don’t have to bring a regular, cumbersome tripod. Travel tripods are a good and often less expensive alternative to the normal ones. Most are fairly light weight and pack down small so you can strap them to your carry-on. In my experience they can be a little harder to work with than my normal tripod, but being able to travel with them makes it worth it. I use this guy here any time I travel by plane.

Research Your Locations

Tips for Better Travel Photos at Vestrahorn, Iceland

I am not great at research, I’ll admit that now. Typically what happens is I see one picture of a place online and decide that’s where we’re going. Sometimes this works out great, and sometimes it’s an utter disaster. I’ve gotten better throughout the years and now try to actually research where we’re going before hand, so we’re not completely lost when we get there.

What’s great is there are hundreds of ways to do this now. Instagram is a good place to start. You know all of those photos and reels you’ve been drooling over? Jot them down and see if they fit into your itinerary. Google maps is also a great resource – just look for the little camera icons around your destination. Others include Atlas Obscura, Trip Advisor and the myriad of travel blogs and tiktoks that exist.

Make a Plan – and TRY to Stick to It

Some of you are probably thinking this is obvious. You’re might be thinking “of course I have a plan. I know exactly where we are going, when we will be there and how long we will be staying.” This section is for the rest of us – those of us who are thinking “what plan? I’m just going to wing it.” I am definitely in the latter category.

Here’s the thing with planning: it doesn’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to stick to it exactly. My fiance and I are notorious for doing absolutely zero planning before the plane hits the tarmac. We do it after; day by day; depending on our mood, the weather, where we want to be by nightfall, what we want to see and what I want to shoot (because he’s not a photographer). I’m super lucky that he understands how important my photography is to me. This let’s us plan for being at certain locations during golden hour or blue hour and occasionally, if we’re lucky, when the weather is just right.

Practice in Different Lighting and Weather Situations

Lake Plitvice 
11 tips for better travel photos

This tip is best done before you leave, so let’s get down to the nitty gritty of it. Weather and lighting conditions will more than likely be different at your destination than what you are used to at home. Time of year, weather patterns and even latitude affect what the lighting situation may be at that awesome landscape you’re visiting. So, you need to be prepared.

Even if the only reason you bought your camera was for your big trip, practicing in different situations beforehand can make all the difference in getting better travel photos. Practice is broad daylight, before sunset, after sunset, on cloudy days, on sunny days, when it’s storming, when it’s snowing. This will help you to not only learn your camera, but learn how your camera reacts to these different situations. It will also help you figure out what kind of lighting situations you prefer, which can make all the difference when shooting in your dream location.

Shoot at Golden Hour

What could be better than beautiful, golden light and soft shadows? Not much, to be honest. Golden hour is that period of time one hour before sunset and one hour after sunrise. The shadows get long and start to soften. The light is soft and warm. Many photographers will tell you that this is when they love to shoot, especially if natural light portraiture is their thing. Golden hour is also great for landscape and travel photography. It can make gorgeous landscapes even more stunning and can add a mystical or whimsical quality to your images. When traveling, I try to shoot at golden hour as often as possible. We will specifically plan our days to be at certain locations just before sundown. This has helped me immensely to get better travel photos. And you may get a chance to see a breathtaking sunset.

Shoot at Blue Hour

New Mexico
11 tips for better travel photos

What comes after golden hour? Blue hour! This is the period of time just before sunrise and just after sunset when the sun is just below the horizon. Cooler tones start to take over here, but there is still plenty of light to create gorgeous images. Blue might be my favorite time to shoot because of all the beautiful colors the sky starts to turn. I also love the soft quality of the light at this time of day and softness of the shadows.

Check the Weather

Scotland
11 Tips for better travel photos

I personally do not like sunny days. I prefer the moodiness of a rainy day, the soft light of thick cloud cover, even a good layer of thin wispy clouds over a bright blue sky. There are a bunch of reasons why, but here are the two main ones: firstly, shadows are much softer; secondly, clouds are just pretty and can turn a decent photo into a great one.

You may not agree with me and that’s totally fine, but that’s why checking the weather is so important when planning out your travel shoots. As I said before, we plan our trips day by day once we get to our destination. Weather plays a huge part in how we structure our days and if we can we try to plan for when the weather will be just how I like it.

Learn How to Edit

Split, Croatia
11 tips for better Travel Photos

There’s no need for filters and you don’t have to be a Photoshop expert to make your good images great. Knowing how to make a few tweaks to your images can make a huge difference in getting better travel photos. Plus there are tons of apps for your phone and your computer to help you do this.

I almost exclusively use Lightroom to edit my photos. And in most cases my editing process is pretty simple. Adjusting white balance, exposure, highlights and shadows, blacks and white and occasionally saturation and clarity is really all I focus on. I also use the crop tool to adjust composition and the healing brush tool to remove any dust specs, and for most photos that’s enough. A few simple edits can really elevate your photography and help you get better travel photos.

Sometimes You Just Have to Go with It

Travel is supposed to be an experience. And for a lot of us it’s supposed to be a vacation. So don’t stress about shooting. Have fun, shoot when you can and enjoy the ride. If you practice even a few of these tips you’ll come home with some incredible images to remember your journey.

Some Bonus Tips for Better Travel Photos

  • Take your camera in for a cleaning to get rid of all that icky sensor dust
  • Shoot in RAW to get the most out of your editing experience.
  • Don’t bring every piece of gear you own. It gets heavy.

Tips for Better Travel Photos Conclusion

Taking amazing photos while traveling can be hard. With these 11 tips for better travel photos you can capture some great images on your next journey.

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Author

Hey there! My name is Leah and I'm a photographer, blogger and wanderer from north Texas. I've been doing photography for nearly a decade now and absolutely love it. My day job is real estate photographer and in my free time you can often find me at a park taking pictures of leaves and flowers. Outside of that my fiance and I love to travel. We spent nine months backpacking through Europe and now spend our free time attempting to plan and going on shorter trips both in the States and abroad.

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