3 Simple Ways to Take Better Photos on Your Next Trip

3 Simple Ways to Take Better Photos on Your Next Trip

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I love to travel. To me, nothing compares to living on the road and waking up to new places every day. All the different photographs I’ve made during my journeys are the most rewarding part of it all.

Making photos while traveling or on vacation has a special quality because you’re seeing your subjects often for the first time. Travel also presents unique challenges, though – unfamiliar landscape, climate, and culture can easily throw you off. However, it is those very things that can also make beautiful, one-of-a-kind photographs!

Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick

Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick

When travelling to new places, you want to create photos that express the way you feel about the place. You also want to make unique images that are unlike anyone else’s. The sense of wonder you feel when seeing beautiful places for the first time can easily translate into the images that you make with these three simple tips to help you take better photos.

1. Plan, plan, plan

Once you decide where you’re going, read up on the area and educate yourself about the place and what kind of conditions you can expect. What will the weather be like? Are there any special events taking place? Will the flowers be blooming? If you’re traveling internationally, is there a language barrier? If so, try to learn a few key words and carry a phrase book with you. No matter where in the world you go, locals are always more helpful when you make an effort to speak to them in their own language – even if it’s just a few words.

Find out what else is around that you might be able to see during your visit. If you’re photographing nature, you can find great locations by studying maps. Photography websites and forums are full of advice and examples of interesting places to shoot. Learning about the location’s history and culture will also help direct you to unique and interesting subjects.

Sanibel Island, Florida

Sanibel Island, Florida

Find out as much as you can about the places and subjects you’ll be photographing, so you can prepare for them. For instance, if you’re going to be shooting in the desert, near the ocean, or in very cold, wet, or humid environments, you’ll know to bring protective gear to shield your camera from damage caused by moisture, salt, and sand. If you expect temperatures lower than -10c or higher than 40c, extra batteries will be needed as they drain quickly at extreme temperatures. You might consider renting a particular type of lens that is perfect for your subject like a super-telephoto or a tilt-shift. You’ll also need to know what sort of clothes to wear for the weather.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend National Park, Texas

2. Don’t let your gear drag you down

No matter where you’re headed, there are some things you’ll need no matter what. When packing your gear, make a checklist to ensure you don’t forget anything important. It should include:

  1. Your main camera
  2. A backup camera
  3. A normal focal length lens (around ~50mm)
  4. A long focal length lens (~100mm or more)
  5. A wide-angle lens (~35mm or less)
  6. Your favourite, most-used lens
  7. A polarizing filter
  8. A battery charger
  9. Spare batteries and memory cards, and a place to backup images (computer, external drive, the cloud)
  10. A lens cloth and/or air blower to keep your equipment clean
  11. A comfortable camera bag – preferably one that doesn’t stand out as a camera bag to avoid making yourself a target for thieves.
  12. A good, sturdy, but lightweight tripod. Many manufacturers such as Manfrotto, Giottos, and Benro (among others) make special travel tripods that are made of strong, light carbon fibre and fold up into a small carrying case.
Strathcona Provincial Park, British Columbia

Strathcona Provincial Park, British Columbia

Be selective with your packing. Don’t bring things you probably won’t use because camera bags can get very heavy, very fast. Use lightweight luggage and never check your camera bag, since checked luggage can be mishandled or lost. If you are flying, check the size and weight restrictions of carry-on luggage so you don’t get an unwelcome surprise at the airport. If you leave your home country, purchase travel insurance that will cover your precious equipment from loss, damage, or theft while abroad.

3. Seek the unique

When traveling, try to avoid the mass-marketed tours and biggest attractions. Not only are they full of people that get in the way of your shot, but they’re also full of people getting almost the exact same photos that you are. Instead, search for places that are beautiful but overlooked. You may be able to find this information online, but the best way is to be open and talk directly to the people who live there – start with your hotel staff, be friendly, and ask locals where the most beautiful places are that most people don’t see.

Goblin Valley State Park, Utah

Goblin Valley State Park, Utah

This can even start when booking your accommodations – instead of staying in a generic chain hotel, look for places with more character such as cabins, villas, or bed and breakfasts. Or, if you’re like me, you can find an RV site right in the midst of the beauty to call home base. This way, the place you spend the most time can present its own photographic opportunities.

Remember to give yourself time to experience the place before you start photographing. Give yourself a chance to find out what is special about the place first, and then try to convey that in your images. If you are photographing something common like a famous monument or national park, try to find a new perspective.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park, California

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the exotic nature of new places. But always remember that good light is a photographer’s best friend. A new place may look fascinating to you in the middle of the day, but it will look magical during good light.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Anne McKinnell is a photographer, writer and nomad. She lives in an RV and travels around North America photographing beautiful places and writing about travel, photography, and how changing your life is not as scary as it seems. You can read about her adventures on her blog and be sure to check out her free photography eBooks.

  • Nicole Phillips

    On my trip last year to italy, before going, I went on Pinterest and hunted out photos of the places we were going and pinned them on a map and if I had time, would try to find the spot…my best was in Ravello. I had seen many pictures of this old door and said..I have to find this. So we are sitting in the main square having lunch and I’m like…I have to find this door…and there it was right across the square staring me in the face…lol. Currently pinning photo place ideas for NYC! I also like trying to find different perspectives and angles, which is why I love looking at other pics.

  • manicdee

    Hello, me again!

    Here is what I take in my camera bag: D7000 with Nikkor 50mm F1.8D, blower, lens cloth, cleaning fluid in a teensy tiny spray bottle, spare 16GB cards, spare battery. All in either a Retrospective 7 or Slingshot 105. And don’t forget to pack lunch!

    If I am planning macro shots, I will take a tripod, flash, the 105mm lens, and kitchen sink. The camera and lenses travel with me in carry-on. The Manfrotto tripod breaks down small enough to fit in my checked bag. Cabin allowance on my usual flights is 7kg. Just my D7000 and the 105mm lens take up half of this already.

    When you are packing for air travel, be especially meticulous about weighing every item and bag and container, and ensure you are under carry-on limits. 105cm vs 115cm external dimensions for carry-on is an important consideration for international travellers too: this basically boils down to 45cm (18 inch) vs 50cm (20 inch) height of typical carry-on bag designs. The “Trunkster” currently running on Kickstarter is too big for Australian domestic carry-on, for example. On top of that, the Trunkster weighs 3.6kg, which is more than half of the carry-on weight allowance. I would not be able to pack my camera and lenses in that bag. The D7000 is 780g, 105mm is 790g, which is already 1.6kg out of the 3.4kg remaining carry on allowance after the weight of that hefty bag. That allowance disappears quickly when packing in-flight items and toiletries. My in-flight includes a laptop or tablet (depending on the trip) and headphones.

    My backup camera is an iPhone 6.

    I should probably upgrade to a lighter body than the D7000.

  • “And don’t forget to pack lunch!”

    I have type 1 diabetes. Even before I pack lunch or my camera, I pack any medical supplies I may need. I also consider the weather conditions to make sure I protect my medical supplies.

    These are all good tips for going places that are well known. For lesser known places — the rains forests of the English speaking Caribbean, etc. — getting to know the place means talking with the residents. Unless you know to ask, you won’t find much about the Falls of Baleine online or how to prepare for the trip there.

    http://www.discoversvg.com/index.php/en/component/content/article/56-general-attractions/256-falls-of-baleine

    http://www.wondermondo.com/Countries/NA/LesserAntilles/SaintVincent/BaleineFalls.htm

  • CoryZ

    Thanks for the tips Anne. This is very timely for me as I am taking my first “planned” photography trip (Vancouver Island) in a couple of weeks and I have a very bad habit of over packing my personal stuff so I was having a hard time with what to bring for camera gear. That’s the amateur in me so I appreciate the insight of others with their experiences.

  • Thank you for your article very useful. Will be going to Italy in April so the timing is perfect.
    I wanted to add for those who cannot afford $800 tripods, I bought a Sirui SIBSRT025X T-025X (Carbon Fiber Tripod with C-10X Ball Head) and I went to Turquey with it and it was perfect, under $300 is all I could afford, but it turns out to be the smallest and lightest (I think) of even expensive ones. At under 12″ tall and very light, it fits in almost all my bags and packs. Also the gorilla with ball head for DSLR. I used them with my Fuji X-E2 with biggest lens 55-200mm. What I like about the Gorilla, I let it hook to my cam, it is so short, museums don’t seem to object, maybe I was just lucky(?).

  • rengesh

    Very nice and informative article. Here is one interesting App that I noticed in Android that helps travel photographers. Anybody used this (or other similar App) and would like to share their experience?

    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.yingwen.photographertools

  • Richard Gunther

    With all that kit I hope you have a Sherpa.

  • Bob Bevan Smith

    Don’t let your gear drag you down! How true! It depends on whether you are travelling specifically to take photos, or taking photos because you are travelling. I find that when travelling for pleasure, it pays to take a smaller, lighter camera, which is usually my alternate camera, not the big multi-multi-megapixel with expensive lenses. It is mirrorless with a 15x zoom lens. That covers nearly all of my photographic needs. Yes, there may be one shot in a million that I will miss, but so be it. I also take a small point-and-shoot that slips into my shirt pocket. These days, that could be a cellphone.
    Consider what shots you are most likely to take. I doubt that I will ever take a formal portrait, or a technical picture of the inside of a watch, whilst I am on holiday. But depending on your interests, you may!
    One further point: ask yourself if you want an underwater camera; if you plan to go diving/swimming for example. That could be your backup camera for everyday shots, as it is good on rainy days too. It is also good on windy, dusty locations.

  • KathyWess

    I elected to add a rider to my renter’s insurance. It covered $5000 without a deductible for $29 annually. I never did lose any equipment leaning over a waterfall, but did trip at a site 30 minutes from home about 8 months later. My camera went tumbling through the air to land on the rock along the river bank. The rider cover the entire replacement cost of my Canon 50D and the 70-300 lens that was attached.

  • Hans Van Welsem

    Thank you, Anne. Your article helps me to plan my photo projects and to realize which are the points I have to care about. It’s pretty complete and realistic!

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