I bet those plane tickets were expensive right? I bet you’re also super excited about your upcoming vacation. You’re going to have the time of your life and take some insane photos along the way. As rewarding as travel photography can be, it can also be super stressful. As travel photographers, we are constantly having to think about our gear, where we need to be for our next shot, if the lighting is right. This list goes on and on.

The Travel Photographer Life

My fiance and I spent almost a year traveling through Europe with – you guessed it – me snapping pictures throughout the whole journey. I am definitely not what one would a call a professional travel photographer, but I am a photographer and a traveler. And I learned a ton while we were traveling. Here are some things I learned or wish I’d known to keep you safe, help you have the trip of a lifetime and take gorgeous photos along the way:

Research and Plan Ahead

Cody and I are notorious for doing all of our research and planning last minute. Does this cost us and hinder our travels? Yes. So learn from our mistakes. Have at least a loose plan or itinerary for when you get off the plane until when you get back on. Neither of us are fond of having our whole day planned out in advance. We kind of like to see what we are in the mood for and go from there. However, we do like to at least have a loose schedule and a list of things to see and do that we don’t want to miss. As a travel photographer, it’s a good idea to have a list of things you want to photograph on your trip and an idea of how to get to them and when you would like to photograph them.

Get Travel Insurance

Get. The. Travel. Insurance. All travel photographers need to have insurance. A good insurance plan will help replace your gear if anything happens and can help you out in case of emergency. I hate spending money on something I probably won’t need, but travel insurance is one hundred percent worth it. My camera got stolen while we were in Bulgaria. I lost my favorite camera, my favorite lens and about two hundred photos of a place we may never get to go back to. We also spent an afternoon in a Bulgarian police station filing a report (special thanks to the kind host from our hostel for translating). I wasn’t able to cover the full cost of the lost camera and lens, but I did get enough money back from the insurance payout to get started on a new setup.

Pack Light and Right

You do not need to bring all of your lenses. I repeat, you do not need to bring all of your lenses. The last thing you want while traveling is to be bogged down by multiple heavy bags that you have to keep track of and gear that you probably won’t use. Take your favorite lens. This is the one you are most comfortable shooting on and that you know gets the shots you want. Then maybe, MAYBE, take a second lens that captures subjects the first one isn’t great at.

As for everything else, pare it down as much as possible. For every piece of gear you pack, ask “am I really going to use this?” While traveling, one of the worst things is to constantly be worrying about where all of your gear is and if it’s safe. Carrying too much luggage around is also not fun.

Need some packing tips? Check out our essential travel photographer’s gear list!

Keep Your Gear Safe

Keeping your gear safe is essential while traveling. Here are a few tips to help you do that:

  • Bring your own lock if you’re staying in a hostel
  • Use a camera bag that is inconspicuous but also offers some weather protection
  • Make sure your camera is easily accessible by you, but not by thieves
  • Have a good camera strap, but not the one with the camera’s brand all over it
  • Be aware of your surroundings

Backup Your Photos

Azores Lake. Tips for travel photographers

I could (and probably will) write a whole article about backing up your photos and how and why to do it, especially while traveling (see above about the stolen camera). Just know, that even when you are not traveling, you should be backing up your photos anyways. Anything that can go wrong, tends to do so at some point. Whether it’s a corrupted memory card, a stolen camera, or just plain running out of room on your SD cards, something will happen at some point.

The easiest and probably most familiar way to back up your photos is to transfer them to your laptop, tablet or phone. I suggest doing this as often as you can so you don’t run the risk of running out of room on your memory card and then having to delete images so you can continue shooting. Another good practice is to always have extra memory cards. That way, if something happens, you have one ready to go.

Meet the Locals

I know for us shy types, meeting people can be a challenge, especially if there are language barriers. However, most humans are genuinely friendly. The locals in most destinations hold a wealth of knowledge of their hometowns or countries. They can tell you all about the history or culture of their home from their own point of view. This is something you won’t get from travel guides or history books. They can also offer advice on what to see and do while visiting their homeland, that other tourists might not know about.

Speaking with locals can greatly enhance and add nuance to your travels, however don’t force yourself upon them. We found that the greatest advice often came from the people who ran the hostels and their friends, servers at restaurants in non-touristy areas, bed and breakfast hosts, cab and Uber drivers, and convenience store attendants who heard our accents.

Be Respectful

The leave no trace principle applies everywhere. As travel photographers we like to do what we can to get the best shot possible. However, we have to be respectful of the local rules, regulations and culture while we’re doing it. If the sign says don’t go off trail, guess what, you shouldn’t go off trail. If a building says no photography, don’t do photography. If someone doesn’t want to be in your photo, don’t take their photo. Being respectful is easy. Being disrespectful ruins it for everyone else, especially the people who have to clean up after you leave.

Explore the Road Less Traveled

Famous tourist destinations are famous for a reason. They are often filled with architectural or natural beauty or jam-packed with cultural or historical significance. This typically means that they will also be crowded. And that’s fine. Enjoy the famous tourist destinations. However, you can often take your trip to the next level by getting off the beaten path a bit. There are tons of beautiful places in this world with significantly fewer tourists. With a little bit of extra research and planning, visiting these places can tremendously enhance your travels.

Learn Your Camera’s Settings

As travel photographers, ideally we should know our camera’s settings before we head out on our adventures. Before you leave, practice as much as you can in all kinds of lighting situations. Know how shutter speed, aperture and ISO work together and how to quickly change them depending on your subject or available light. Learning these things before you leave will greatly improve your ability to create beautiful images while you’re away.

If exposure and camera settings are things that are new to you, we have a handy-dandy guide that goes into detail on all of this.

Shoot in RAW

If your camera has the ability, shooting in RAW format is the best way to get the most out of your travel photos. RAW format allows your camera to capture the most amount of information per image. This, in turn, allows you a ton of room to edit and post-process creatively. Most DSLR and mirrorless cameras have the capability to shoot in RAW format. They will also let you shoot in both RAW and JPEG if you’re not super comfortable with editing yet or just want decent looking images in JPEG format without all the hassle of editing.

Focus on the Details

Detail photo at Alhambra. Tips for travel photographers

Detail shots are some of my favorites. I love capturing the detail in stone works, or how moss creeps around a rock. Leaves and flowers are some of my all time favorite subjects. Other things like graffiti, door handles and colorful tiles can make for great detail shots. As travel photographers, we do our best to tell the stories of the places we visit. Peppering our bodies of work with photos of the small things helps to enhance these stories.

Adapt to Different Lighting Situations

As a travel photographer, you must be able to adapt to shooting situations quickly and easily. This includes light. A lot of travel photography happens in natural light which we have little to no control over. In many situations the light will not be ideal. It’s imperative that you learn to in many different kinds of light. You don’t want to miss getting photographs of some amazing locations just because the light wasn’t right.

Stick Around For Sunset

Porto, Portugal at sunset at a storm. Tips for travel photographers

Golden hour and blue hour are the times surrounding sunrise and sunset. Golden hour occurs right after sunrise and right before sunset and offers gorgeous warm tones with soft shadows. Blue hour is right before sunrise and right after sunset and offers beautiful, moodier cool tones and almost no shadows. Many photographers will tell you that the hour or so surrounding sunrise and sunset is the best time to shoot. And they’re not wrong. When the sun is near the horizon, your subjects and scenes can take on a magical, almost ethereal quality that you can’t get at other times of day. Plus you might get to see a stunning sunset.

Put the Camera Down

Sometimes, it’s okay to not take the picture. It’s perfectly fine to put the camera down or leave it in the room. As travel photographers we occasionally get wrapped it in trying to get perfect photos. We forget to experience things in real time instead of through the viewfinder. So whether you’re on a short vacation from work or a multi-month jaunt to your bucket list destinations, don’t forget to experience life and live in the moment while you can.

The Travel Photographers’ Guide to Staying Safe, Having Fun and Taking Gorgeous Photos

Being a travel photographer can sometimes be stressful and a major challenge. By keeping these things in mind you can have the trip of a lifetime all while staying safe and getting some gorgeous shots in the process.

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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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