10 Travel Photography Tips to Help Avoid Regrets When You Get Home

10 Travel Photography Tips to Help Avoid Regrets When You Get Home


By Hélio Dias.

I have lost count of how many times I’ve came home and regretted not having done something to get better pictures when I was traveling.

Luckily, each time that happened I learned from my mistakes. Now I want to share them with you so you don’t need to learn the worst way.

The tips apply for professional jobs and for your vacation pictures.

1. Make a List

Search on the internet – Google, Flickr, 500px, etc. – for images of the places you are going to visit and have a first look on them. Pay attention to the light, the colors, the possibilities to explore in the field and find out the best locations to take your photos.

On Flickr, for instance, it’s even possible to check the time in which the picture was taken, so you can know how the light is in that particular site at that time. A little geeky, but really helpful for me.

The possibilities of the research on the web are pretty amazing and endless. For food photography, for example, you don’t need to find a restaurant with pictures on the menu, or spend some time inspecting what people around you are eating before ordering your meal. You can find information and pictures of local food in advance and choose the best looking dishes, so when you go to a restaurant you know exactly what to order to take photos of.

Don’t run the risk of finding out later about a great place you missed when you where there.

Moon Valley, a beautiful place I missed in my first visit to La Paz, Bolivia.

Moon Valley, a beautiful place I missed in my first visit to La Paz, Bolivia.

2. Take your Time

Definitely not something you haven’t heard yet, but sure the most important photography advice I’ve ever got: work the scene.

Spend some time trying to make the best possible photo from something you see potential on. Always remember: it’s not about getting 200 nice snapshots. It’s about 5 to 10 great photos. Invest your time and effort on these few ones.

Don’t rush. Never get satisfied with your first shot. There is a 99,9% chance you will get a better one if you study the scene more carefully.

Try different perspectives and angles. Walk around, get closer, get further. Try other lenses. Pay attention to details – they might be the center of interest you are looking for. Find the best background.

Drain your possibilities to the last drop. Then move on to the next shot.

There’s nothing more disappointing than looking at your photos when you are home and wish you had shot that particular picture from a different perspective.

Dublin, Ireland. This one was about my 15th try. Totally worth the time and the shots.

Dublin, Ireland. This one was about my 15th try. Totally worth the time and the shots.

3. Wait for It

Kind of the same advice as the previous one. Just this time I want to point out the time you spend in a certain location after finding your best angle. You worked the scene, you found your composition. Now it’s time to add a little sugar to it.

There are 2 situations in which you may wait some time to get the best shot.

1) The scene is great, but you think it would be perfect with some random person walking by. Or a dog. Or a bird flying. Or a crowd passing by. Or a woman dressed in red. Wait for it until you get it.

Chefchaouen, Morocco. I wanted to portray someone wearing the same outfit as the people in the painting, so I waited until the perfect subject passed by.

Chefchaouen, Morocco. I wanted to portray someone wearing the same outfit as the people in the painting, so I waited until the perfect subject passed by.

2) Many times you will have to wait for the best light. If that’s the case and it is too soon, take a picture, memorize your position and come back later.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp - Oranienburg, Germany. I noticed the potential for a good picture when I arrived there earlier. So I calmly visited the site and, by the time I finished, the light was already perfect.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp – Oranienburg, Germany. I noticed the potential for a good picture when I arrived there earlier. So I calmly visited the site and, by the time I finished, the light was already perfect.

In both cases, you will need even more patience than when you were looking for the best framing. Now you just wait there, as long as it takes.

It’s really hard to keep the concentration while you are waiting there. But it’s really easy to regret not having waited when you are home sorting your photos later.

4. Don’t be Lazy

Wake up early and take advantage of the early morning light.

It will sound like the worst possible idea when your alarm clock beep at 5 AM, but you will be pleased with the awesome pictures you will take – a lot better than the ones you’d take around noon.

By shooting in the morning and in the afternoon on both golden hours, you raise 100% your photography time with good light. Plus: Other tourists may take pictures at the same sites, but as most of them won’t wake up early and because the sun in the morning lights up everything from the opposite side, your pictures will look different from theirs. Also, you can take advantage of the fact that it’s usually quieter in the morning than it is in the afternoon.

"Bored Stone" - Jericoacoara, Brazil. Many friends question me why this place looked so different when they visited and why their pictures look so dull. The "big" secret is to go there in the morning.

“Bored Stone” – Jericoacoara, Brazil. Many friends question me why this place looked so different when they visited and why their pictures look so dull. The “big” secret is to go there in the morning.

You will never regret having woken up so early when you get home and see the beautiful pictures you brought.

5. Have Options
It’s always good to explore some possibilities and to have more options when you are sorting and cropping your pictures.

For example, even after composing carefully and finding the best image, shoot a horizontal and a vertical photo of the same scene.

If you are using a random person to help composing a shot, do it with a man, a woman, a kid, a couple, etc.

Don’t shoot too tight. It’s better to have a wider picture and crop afterwards if needed – to adequate the picture to the available format in a magazine, for example. Give your editor (and yourself) room to edit.

Choose the best option later, when you can look carefully at each image, or let your editor choose if it’s a paid job.

Essaouira, Morocco. I waited many minutes in front of this colored plastic boxes wall and took the same picture with other men, women, couples and kids. In the end, the guy in a white dress with a bicycle seemed like the best choice.

Essaouira, Morocco. I waited many minutes in front of this colored plastic boxes wall and took the same picture with other men, women, couples and kids. In the end, the guy in a white dress with a bicycle seemed like the best choice.

6. Ask Strangers to take their Portrait

How many times I have regretted not having asked someone to take his picture!

It’s a big think to step up and go ask a stranger to take his photo. I’ve lost count of the many thousands of great portraits I’ve lost in the past because I was too shy to ask permission.

But what has to be done has to be done. At one point you stop being silly and go ask the first stranger.

The second one will be almost as difficult as the first one. And the third just a little less. But by the 100th time you do it, it will be as easy as 1, 2, 3. The first no’s are very disappointing, but at some point you get used to it. Trust me.

Peruvian man. "Can I take your picture?". "It's my pleasure!".

Peruvian man. “Can I take your picture?”. “It’s my pleasure!”.

7. Check it out Before Moving On

When you finally make that great picture, check carefully on your LCD screen if it’s not shaky or out of focus.

Also check the histogram and observe if the picture isn’t under or over exposed (don’t trust the image on the LCD to check this, especially in a bright day).

8. Always Keep your Gear Clean

Sometimes you’ll only find out how dirty your camera’s sensor or lenses’ glass were when you tweak the contrast of your photos while editing and see the dark spots pop out.

Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island. It's been a while, but I'm still cleaning out all the dirty spots on many pictures from that trip.

Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island. It’s been a while, but I’m still cleaning out all the dirty spots on many pictures from that trip.

Use a bulb blower, a brush or proper cleaning fluid to clean your camera’s sensor, and a clean cloth to clean your lenses’ glass and filters.

You could clean those spots later on Photoshop, but it’s really annoying and will take some time. Better to avoid the extra work.

9. Take Notes

When you get to the PC to sort and organize your travel photos you will want to know the names of the places and landmarks you photographed, especially when you find yourself uploading a picture and need a caption for it.

Take notes or, if it’s possible, take a picture of a sign or plaque related to the subject.

Sometimes you can find the information you need later on the internet, but even then it’s more time consuming than just writing it down in a small notebook.

10. Take Care

Be safe. Watch your stuff.

You can buy new equipment, but the pictures on your stolen memory card are lost forever.
Reduce the risks. Be prudent.

The best picture I've ever taken, from my trip to Colombia. Lost by carelessness. Put the memory card in my pocket, and when I looked for it, it was gone.

The best picture I’ve ever taken, from my trip to Colombia. Lost by carelessness. Put the memory card in my pocket, and when I looked for it, it was gone.

What about you? What have you already regretted?

Hélio Dias is a Brazilian photographer and travel writer. Visit his website and follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at @diashelio.

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  • James Donahue

    Shoot,,,Shoot…Shoot. Do not delete ANYTHING, you can do that when you get home.

  • Barry E Warren

    Great tips….Thank you

  • Mags

    This is really good stuff to know, thank you very much! Im off to take some shots.

  • Carol Y

    I regret not cleaning the lens and not taking notes too, but I also regret leaving my camera (or any photo taking device) at home because “I want to travel light’, ‘I’ll be too busy’, or ‘I’m just going to the store’. I regret not wanting ‘to waste film’. I regret not wanting ‘to look like a tourist’. I regret not taking pictures because it’s too dark, raining, hazy or otherwise not perfect. I regret being in a hurry!

  • marius2die4

    Yep, excellent tips for travelling photography. In generally, I don’ have a regret form my trip.

    Some of my picture from travelling:


  • Fabio Viero

    To number 10, I always take the memory card out of the camera body after a shooting session and keep it inside a pocket away from the rest of the gear. If it happens the gear to be stolen, the pictures are safe (or at least they have more chance not to be stolen). This a specially good advice if the pictures are for a paid job.

  • disqus_iGMP3wAaFK

    the lens glass nearest the sensor is the one that really needs to be clean. also format the memory card after you have downloaded the images. it is “easy” to recover deleted images from this card. use many “small” memory cards. one lost is not a big slice of the trip.

  • Always in a hurry, that is me.

  • Travel, writing, and photography are my passions, but I so far everything I write and take is just for my blog. I was wondering if along with asking permission, do we need a signed paper or anything if we are going to use the photographs of the people, for blogs, or to sell?

Some Older Comments

  • Rich July 11, 2013 01:20 am

    WOW, really good writeup. The recommendations might sound like common sense but that's because they are - but still not always easy to follow. The hardest one for me is getting up early, you are so correct about having the best light to shoot early in the day. Thanks for the recommendations, I have made a list of them and placed them in my camera bag as a reminder.

  • Andy July 10, 2013 12:57 am

    I just returned from a week in Nicaragua and just now thought of a fantastic photo op that could have happened about 400 yards from my beach house. My tip: Don't be so stubborn!

  • Irene Solmone July 9, 2013 07:40 pm

    Wonderful tips, really useful! Problem is if you're traveling with someone you don't really have the time to wait so long, go back to some places or try a hundred times for the right angle, and that's a pity. I still regret not having taken my time in Paris not to get my friend bored!

  • Kevin July 9, 2013 11:53 am

    I am a amateur landscape photographer. I really don't like taking portraits; however one time there was a very attractive, photogenic girl smoking a cigarette sitting outside a building at my Community College. I was actually just leaving my photography class so I had my camera. There was just something about the whole scene it would have made an amazing photo. I of course was to shy and afraid to ask. I almost walked back and asked but didn't. That has probably been 3 years ago now. Still regret it.

  • Yogesh Sarkar July 8, 2013 03:43 am

    Wonderful tip, especially about getting up early. I often see photogs turning up to shoot a scene or monument, just as I am packing up because the sun is turning too harsh!

  • BENNETT DE JOYA July 7, 2013 02:44 pm

    I regret not including people in many of my travel photographs. I should have included people, including myself in many of my landscape or architectural compositions. That would've made them more interesting.

  • Kailash July 7, 2013 01:04 pm

    Very nice article capturing the mistakes an amateur photographer like me could be making specially while on a trip which you do not hope to make ever again! I could not have read this at a better time than this as I am packing my bags for Canada and Europe. Thanks a lot for the tips!

  • Nitin Bhardwaj July 7, 2013 12:10 am


  • Albert July 6, 2013 10:37 pm

    One thing I do is when I am on a trip or shooting away from home is to have a supply of memory cards. I use 16 and 32 gb cards and I like to use a in camera formatted card for every day or for any place I take a lot of shots. My logic is that if for that slim chance you have a card go corrupt on you, than you do not loose an entire trips worth of photos. Use a card wallet. Used cards go in upside down and all good to go cards will be face up. As I mentioned I format all my cards in camera prior to use, Do all of them before you start your trip

  • Robin Sanders July 6, 2013 01:55 am

    My top tip -

    Always take your camera! How many times has that 'perfect shot' been right before me and my trust SLR at home? I'm learning to love my iPhone and getting pretty good with it.

  • Brian July 6, 2013 01:41 am

    Sorry for the double post. I didn't format the link properly...

    All good advice; most people don’t realize how important 2, 3 and 4 are. I had to sit on the beach for six hours to get this shot! What a hardship :-)


    I hope that's right (newbie).

  • Brian July 6, 2013 01:35 am

    All good advice; most people don't realize how important 2, 3 and 4 are. I had to sit on the beach for six hours to get this shot! What a hardship :-)


    Thanks as always! I learn lots by reading the articles and comments but more from applying the advice.

  • Eric July 6, 2013 01:21 am

    Really cool article, and photos!

    CW Bates - I avoid flying whenever possible because of the stupid x-ray machines that can mess up film :(

  • Laurie S July 6, 2013 12:15 am

    Make sure to eject your memory card properly from your computer. Lost the best photographs I've ever taken (and will never have the opportunity again) by pulling the memory card out of my computer without using the eject function. I pulled my card out of the computer, without actually ejecting, and formatted the card. Went back to my computer and NO pictures were to be found. Tried several programs to recover the pictures from my card, but since I had actually done a low level format, they were totally gone.

  • CW Bates July 5, 2013 08:20 pm

    Sorry got cut off there. Anyway, a bunch of my rolls of film are now almost unprintable because they weren't fixed long enough or washed correctly. I was trying to avoid damage to the unprocessed rolls from all the xray machines, but I think you can get a special bag for that problem.

  • CW Bates July 5, 2013 08:16 pm

    One thing I learned: if you shoot film, do not get your negatives developed in the country you're in! Often, the standards for keeping chemicals fresh and protocols for developing, fixing, and washing times can be sorely lacking. I have negatives from a trip to China and especially in Tibet

  • ANurag July 5, 2013 07:47 pm

    Can't Agree more with all those tips...

    I recall from my trips that "Wait for it" && "Don't be Lazy" are the great learning's.... I would add that prepare ur gear for the expected environment @ target location....

    I din expect it raining and found the location more beautiful and yet my gear was unprepared for such situation and end up taking risk (which i did)

  • LuizzeOliveira July 5, 2013 07:20 pm

    Taking good images of your holiday can be simple if you have a few primary photography abilities. In fact, , having a camera is very essential when you are travelling. Anyway, I would like to thank you for share these important and useful tips with us.

  • Kerry July 5, 2013 06:19 pm

    Definitely my biggest regret is not having the guts to ask strangers if I can take their photo. Many missed opportunities...I need to work on this.

  • Mathew July 5, 2013 01:07 pm

    Great tips - they apply equally to photography in the back yard!

  • Marcy July 5, 2013 11:21 am

    I do worry about losing my photos more than anything else when I travel. Sometimes I have been able to upload my favorites and back them up that way. That is becoming more and more common with the Internet so widely available. I backed them up on an iPad on my last trip, but worried that it would get stolen too.

    A photo I missed that I wish I had gotten was in Idaho when I was having a CD made from my memory card because I had run out of room. While I was waiting with my camera (but no memory card), I watched my husband have an amazing mind meld moment with a moose.

  • Barbara July 5, 2013 07:58 am

    I would have agreed with those who said you need to travel alone, until my last overseas trip. The friends I usually travel with are not photographers, but they know I am. I often felt too guilty to ask for another 5 or 10 minutes somewhere when they were ready to move on. (Getting up early was less of a problem as long as you can leave them snoring).
    Last year when we were planning the trip I was upfront that for me the photos were an important part of the experience, and sometimes that meant getting up early or waiting a little longer. My bestie bought a new Nikon for the trip and got some great shots. It was a different experience for everyone.

  • Mike July 5, 2013 07:57 am

    On the subject of stolen or lost memory cards it is worth writing down some contact details on a piece of paper and taking a photo of it on all your memory cards before you go on a trip. If possible make it the first pic on the memory card and make it protected so you don't accidentally delete it. There are still some honest people out there and you may just get lucky if somebody finds it. I lost a small, relatively cheap compact but a couple of weeks later I got the memory card returned to me in the mail. It was minus the camera but at least I recovered the photos.

    For iPhone/pad users The Photgrapher's Ephemaris is a great app - especially for making the most of golden hours. You can input a place and date on a world map and it will tell you the times of sunrise and sunset, phase of the moon, direction of sunrise and sunset (overlaid on the map) amongst other things. I don't buying photography apps but this one has really helped me, especially at locations I'm visiting for the first time.

  • Denise Aitken July 5, 2013 07:51 am

    Thank you for the post - I can tick most of the boxes now (a few years back it would have been different). Most holidays are planned around taking photos and I love that it slows me down.

    One I will add to the list Under No 1 is to use Trip Advisor. I post a question explaining that I am an experienced hobby photographer and ask for hints and tips from from others who are like me, I have always received a couple of really good tips.


  • Bonny July 5, 2013 07:06 am

    If the place you spot to take photos of has a sign describing what and where it is, take a snap of the sign. For example seeing insde a Church that has the name of the Saint and the year it was built, will also often have the name of the place.

  • David July 5, 2013 06:33 am

    - While I always do research about where I'm going next (I travel full time), I don't really like looking at other people's photos. I don't want to have their 'ideas' in my head.
    - I don't understand why so many people say they have to travel alone in order to get up early? Why? I have family and friends join me for travels all the time, that doesn't stop me from getting up before sunrise. If they don't want to join me, fine! They can stay in bed. It's not like I'm going to be out there all day, I'll shoot for an hour or two and then return.
    - The Irish photo of the man in the benches: I actually like the idea of that photograph without the person in the bench. Just wondering if you shot it that way also. I guess that's the architectural photographer in me.
    - The only issues I've ever had with memory cards are when THEY fail, because I protect them with my life! I've been twice to a large ancient Native American rock art site near Virginia City Nevada, and both times came back to find the Raw images on my SD card would not open. Something is happening out there.

  • Alberto July 5, 2013 05:47 am

    Great advices. Wake up early and take the time is a must if it is possible. Studying how the light work in other hours is a thing I try and allowed me not to miss aome shots.

  • Sanjeev Mupparty July 5, 2013 05:17 am

    Real awesome and inspiring photographs... Loved each and every idea of yours!!!!

  • Eric Dankbaar July 5, 2013 05:02 am

    Your last tip is the most serious I think, but there is another important detail to reduce the risk.
    My advice is the use of small memory cards (2GB) and change them often to avoid a broken card risk.
    When coming home with 16GB material on a broken card is similar to your last photo.
    If shooting travel pics you can go back, but when shooting a wedding there is no way back.
    Keep shooting!

  • stacie July 5, 2013 04:53 am

    Great article on travel photography. As a primarily portrait photographer, sometimes it's easy to leave the camera behind (since it weighs nearly 7 pounds!) & this is inspiring to get out & shoot!

  • RandyHI July 5, 2013 04:33 am

    The replies regarding "Taking Notes" and especially the suggestion of using GPS are very good. Many cameras now come with built in or attachable GPS. For myself, I still prefer a handheld unit I can also use for navigating. The most important "NEW" thing to report about GeoTagging is LightRoom's "MAP" module which makes everything that has gone before obsolete. One big reason is the Google Maps Adobe has licensed are very good with lots of detail. Another is it is the "MAP" Module makes it very easy to pin the photos to the GPS unit's track log. The final reason I will mention here is the inner-action between the map and the thumbnails in the tray -- just click on an image to move the map for example. If you use GPS you will love LightRoom.

  • Steph | DiscoveringIce.com July 5, 2013 04:13 am

    Great tips! I did the exact same thing as you on a trip to Mexico. Put the memory card in my shallow pocket, as I rushed to change cards and get a shot. Few hours later, I noticed it was gone. At least I only had photos from that day on it, but it was an expensive high performance card for video too.

    I definitely need to learn to ask people for portraits...it's my biggest weakness, my shyness. I could also do with getting up early too!

  • Romel July 5, 2013 04:10 am

    Beautiful pics Helio and such a nice write-up!

    Good fun :)

  • Duke July 5, 2013 03:58 am

    Most of these have to do with taking lots of time at a location. You've obviously never travelled with your wife!

  • William July 5, 2013 02:58 am

    The note thing is pretty good. I collect post cards for me and not to send home and the little pamphlets in churches or historic buildings to keep up with the info of where I've been. Post cards usually have a small blurb about the photo and it makes it easy to locate where you were by the post cards you have collected. If traveling and sight seeing after a couple days every thing begins to run together. Back in my motel/hotel room I add info to my photos using the notes area in Lightroom. That way it always stays with the photo. Twenty years from now I know I won't remember most places I've photographed but if the data is on the photo then I'm not wondering what the heck the photo was of. I sometimes use a GPS locater called IGO it is about the size of a nine volt battery and works about eight hours taking a GPS Reading every eight seconds. I can sync my camera time to the IGO and have a Google Map of where I took each photo, just in case I want to go back I have the grid co ordinates so I can locate where I want to go back easily.

  • ratkellar July 5, 2013 02:44 am

    Some locations (Cuzco, Peru, for one) have established fees for taking a person's picture. Waking early will avoid the crowd of partiers, especially in Europe. The Acropolis in Athens is almost empty when it opens. The last point, "Be ready" -- you never know when a scene will pop up, then disappear.

  • Miriam July 5, 2013 02:33 am

    Some great tips!! I just returned from a trip to Europe, and want to repeat it as I stuffed up/missed so many shots. Thankfully I got better over the five weeks of practice and my Paris shots are decent, but I'm so annoyed to have stuffed up the Trevi Fountain amongst others....

  • Warren July 5, 2013 01:21 am

    Be sure to use the focus feature on your camera to get good results. Seriously, though, I liked the suggestions very much--especially the first one. I've NEVER thought of looking at Flickr, etc., before a trip! Thanks.

  • Stephane Bon July 4, 2013 04:30 pm

    There are many interesting tips, but, as said by Rick, you have to travel alone if you really want to take time or wake up early.
    If you are near the sea, you also have to pay attention to the tide. Some pictures are better if you take them at low tide.

  • Michel July 4, 2013 04:08 pm

    For #9, I travel now with a GPS all the time (a small one with a long battery life, 20 hours or so). This is particularely interesting with large places where the signs can be far from the point from where you take the picture.

    For #10, as said in a previous article, I made backup every day, and change the memory card at the same time if the remaining space is too low (BTW, since my D700 holds two 32 Go cards, this is no more a problem...)

  • Rick July 4, 2013 11:35 am

    Some great tips here, but 2 through 4 are a little impractical unless you're travelling alone or with a very understanding (and patient !!) companion. Sometimes in the limited time available I do try several compositions before running to catch up ;>)

    #8 is very important - must remember that one.

  • Heather July 4, 2013 09:23 am

    #9 An easy way to keep track of where each of your photos were taken is to write it on a piece of paper and take a photo of the note as your first shot each time.

  • ScottC July 4, 2013 08:52 am

    All are great tips! I've personally found that #4 is most valuable.


  • Steve July 4, 2013 05:35 am

    Certainly the golden hours are well worth the time and trouble


  • Duncan July 4, 2013 04:54 am

    Always try to have something in landscape photos to show scale. while in Antarctica, my best photos always have something human in them .Some photos of icebergs look like ice cubes without some sense of scale.

  • JeffMcK July 4, 2013 04:10 am

    Getting up early. That one always gets me. However, I researched a fashion shoot location in SF via flickr and came up with China Beach. Got there about 1.5hr before sunset... PERFECT!!!!

  • Mridula July 4, 2013 02:53 am

    For tip number 2 there are a lot of times when I don;t have time. So many of my trips are rushed. :( And i still forget to check on the LCD. Loved the post.


  • Serkan July 4, 2013 02:52 am

    Great tips, and do you have any advise for lenses? What was your choices?

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