6 Reasons Why Your Travel Photos Don’t Look Like the Ones in Magazines

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Have you ever looked at your travel photos from somewhere and thought that they didn’t do that place, or your experience there, justice? It’s one of the big frustrations that newbie travel photographers face, that they feel their photos don’t look as good as the ones in travel brochures or magazines. Travel photography is a rewarding hobby or profession but it’s also challenging. Here are six reasons why your travel photos don’t look as good as the pro’s shots.

Travel Photos - London

1. You’re Not Patient Enough

Often one of the biggest differences between professional and amateur photographers is the time spent waiting for the perfect photo. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I have been waiting at a location for the perfect light only to see a host of people turn up with the latest camera equipment, take a couple of photos and then leave.

Ask any professional travel photographer and they will usually tell you that they spend as much time waiting and looking as they do taking photos. Yes, you might get lucky sometimes and the conditions, composition, and subject are all in perfect harmony for you to take the photo. But that is luck and it doesn’t happen often. If you want the best travel photos possible you have to be prepared to capture them at the best possible time and conditions. Usually, this only happens by being patient and waiting.

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2. Too Safe

One of the big drawbacks of digital photography is that it’s so accessible that pretty much everything you can think of has been photographed. So, the challenge for you is to try and constantly evolve and find different ways of capturing the same subjects. It’s easy to fall into the trap of photographing everything in the same usual way that you’ve seen for years. Take any landmark for example. They’ve been photographed hundreds of thousands of times and most will look similar, taken from the usual viewpoint. But the ones that really stand out are those that give the viewer a new look.

The key is to really try and push your own boundaries and to look at things in a different way. Take risks and try new angles, techniques, or even shooting at different times of the day. After all, the worst thing that could happen is that the photo doesn’t work out and you have to delete it. But every now and then you might end up being surprised by the results.

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3. You Don’t Do Enough Research

Travel photography involves an incredible amount of research and preparation. Most of the time on any given assignment, you will be short of time and will have to factor in unforeseen circumstances, such as traffic or the weather, that can wreck your plans. So the more you can plan and prepare the easier you will find it when you get to a location.

The amazing travel photos that you see usually don’t happen by accident. The photographer would have planned and researched that location, the light at different times of the day, and he knew where to be and at what time. So if you want to capture great travel photos, you need to start before you have even left your house. Have a really detailed plan and always make sure you have a contingency strategy if your plan A does work.

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4. Missing the Moment

For all the preparation and planning that goes into travel photography, sometimes you just need to react to the situation in front of you. Every now and again you are presented with a moment that is perfect. You need to act fast because often these will be fleeting moments and then it will be gone forever.

The key is to know your camera inside out and know exactly how to set and change settings in the blink of an eye. You won’t have time to mess around and look in the manual, so the only way is to practice enough times so that the camera becomes an extension of your body. Once you have mastered that part you then need to master the part that allows you to know the settings that you’ll need for any scenario quickly.

You will also need to factor in the lighting conditions, not to mention what you are photographing. The good news is that with enough practice all of this will become natural to you and you won’t even have to think about it.

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5. The Lighting

Light is one of the key components of any photo and it can have a huge impact on the way the photo looks and the feeling that the viewer gets. But understanding light and being able to use it to bring your photos to life isn’t always straightforward. To really capture beautiful photos you need to photograph the subject or scene in the best possible light whilst considering the direction of the light as well. If you can learn to use the light available to manipulate your images not only will it take your photography to the next level, but it’ll also give you much more creative control.

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6. No Story

Travel photography is about being able to transport the viewer to that location and often the best travel photos do so by telling a story. The great thing about travel photography is that any location you visit is teeming with all of these stories. So the challenge for you is to not only spot them but also to be able to capture them in a way that does the story justice. Most of the time these stories are just minute moments. It could be the interaction between a merchant and a customer, a performer getting ready before a performance, or locals simply going about their daily life.

Whatever these moments are, they are often the photos that tell us the most about a location beyond the famous tourist places and landmarks. The best way to capture these moments is to simply walk or sit and look around. They will be all around you so just be ready to capture them.

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Conclusion

It’s a great feeling when you capture a great photo on your travels but it’s even better if you have had to plan and work to capture it. Sometimes you might get lucky, but often it’s the photographers that work hard and are patient enough to wait for the perfect moment who capture the best photos.

Now it’s your turn. Share your photos, experiences, and tips below.

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Kav Dadfar is a professional travel and landscape photographer based in London. He spent his formative years working as an art director in the world of advertising but loved nothing more than photography and traveling. His images are represented by stock agencies such as 4Corners Images, Robert Harding World Imagery, Getty, Axiom Photographic, and Alamy and they have been used by clients such as Condé Nast, National Geographic, Wanderlust travel magazine, Lonely Planet, American Express, and many others.

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  • Toastiejoe

    When I read travel photography advice, what I look for is ideas that will help me as the typical traveler taking photos. Call me a tourist if you like, but my travel is not for purpose dedicated photography, it’s me going to places for experiences, but wanting to take the best photos I can given the constraints I’m under. So let’s say I’m on a river cruise. I can’t arrive at the Iron Gates at the best lighting time of the day, because that isn’t when the ship passes them. So from this article I take two things as key: Know your camera – don’t miss the moment; and find a story, which might be something you only notice as you go, or might be the result of pre trip research. OK, that’s three….

  • leslie fay

    I agree. I am an avid photography fan AND I am traveling with other people who obviously don’t want me to be too patient. Also when you have a certain timeline for your trip that really limits your choices. You are going to be somewhere between 10am and 2pm. as well as Sat/Sun. You can’t come back later when your next reservation is 300 miles down the road. It is frustrating when you visualize what you want but it’s just not going to happen.

  • Sushant Singhal

    This write up is not necessarily for the tourists (read snapshotters). Instead, it seems to be written for those who aspire to take as good pics as they see in glossy brochures and magazines but wonder why they fail to produce similar quality pics.

  • German Ab

    wish i had this article before……….. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/220e7ab8e2f3ce13978619bd16d3c524ce9c527f5e761e7570c4731406b6c384.jpg it took me almost 3 years to get to the point that i got publish by a magazine .
    my advice : Never , never take a guided tour , reserch and do it yourself at your own pace.

  • Stacey

    Point one is really frustrating for the general purpose traveller – Most people don’t have the luxury of the time and money necessary to stay in one place to get “the shot” like a professional might. They don’t necessarily have the contacts to get them up onto the roof of a hotel or similar for just the right angle. They probably don’t have the same gear, and don’t process the same way either.

    I know the reasons why my images don’t turn out the same as the ones in the glossy magazines, but thats OK, cos I am taking *my* images, not replicating someone elses work.

    I would also comment that you can get too hung up on getting a “perfect shot” whatever that looks like for you. The day I said to myself “just deal with the light you have at that moment in time” I was able to relax and enjoy my trip and my shooting so much more. If the light is awful then adapt to suit the conditions – hanging out for the perfect sunset sky when its pouring with rain is an exercise in futility.

    Planning and patience and all that stuff is excellent and certainly helps give you a better chance of a good image. But some of my best images have been completely off the cuff – learning to see whats in front of you and taking advantage of it will give you more keepers in my opinion – yeah they may not be magazine worthy – but I would rather have several really nice images instead of one AMAZING one, if that was my choice.

  • walwit

    I like your article very much and I think other commentators are missing the point, but mine is about your number 4 recommendation.
    I remember a professional photographer candidly saying he uses Automatic mode all the time “because otherwise you can miss your shot” he says as if it were nothing, I was delightfully laughing at this advice.
    Now I’m using this mode although just as a starting point.

  • Kav Dadfar

    Yep, spot on Sushant

  • Kav Dadfar

    Great shot, moody with lots of atmosphere. And well done for keep on going and not giving up

  • Kav Dadfar

    There is nothing wrong with using the Automatic mode on your camera. These have improved hugely in the last few years and are very good. But I think the goal should be to try and know your camera inside out as it gives you more control. It’s amazing how quickly you can change settings when you are fully aware of everything…

  • walwit

    Again, I like very much your answer and I certainly will be looking forward to get that awareness.

  • Amazing shot and article as well. Being a travel photographer is like being an artist.

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