6 Ways to Capture More Unique Travel Photos

6 Ways to Capture More Unique Travel Photos

A Guest Post by Neil Ta.

There’s something to be said about having a nice collection of travel photos. They document not only your personal journey in other cities and countries, but also showcase the artistic side of your photographic abilities. Throughout my recent travels through Southeast Asia (and many smaller trips in years past), I’ve been able to capture some images that I’m quite proud of. The following tips have helped me take better and more unique photos when I am traveling or when I’m home:

1. Always Be Ready

You can’t take pictures if you leave your camera at the hotel! So the most fundamental thing is to bring your camera out with you. If a DSLR is too bulky, invest in a smaller point and shoot or micro 4/3 system. Your Canon 5d Mk II does you no good if it’s sitting in a bag at your hotel.

Not only do you need to bring your camera, you need to be ready to shoot. Many images happen spontaneously and disappear as fast as they appeared. If you’re too busy fidgeting around in manual modes and miss the shot – the moment is gone forever. Shoot in a mode that you’re comfortable with. If I am leisurely taking shots, I typically shoot on Aperture-Priority mode and adjust the exposure compensation as needed. You may be more comfortable in one of the creative modes, which is perfectly ok! If you’re shooting in RAW, it will enable you to do some post work to process the image if it isn’t perfect straight out of the camera. Remember, it is better to capture an image slightly under or overexposed than it is not to capture an image at all.

When There’s Nothing Left to Burn, You’ve Got to Set Yourself on Fire

2. Don’t Do What Others are Doing

Are you ever in a situation where you’re at a popular tourist attraction and everybody is jockeying for position to take the same picture from the same location and angles? Well, it doesn’t take a lot of creativity to find different shooting perspectives – you can go higher, find other angles off to the side or below, or incorporate other photo enthusiasts into your shot. I find those types of images to be much more creative than ones taken from the most popular traditional angles and perspectives.

This is Puzzling

3. Do Some Research & Make Connections

It is a global world out there! Flickr and other photo sharing sites (like DPS!) have made it easy to find interesting locations to shoot. You can search the most popular photos from a certain city or landmark and try to replicate or put your own stamp on some of your favourites. These are also fantastic forums to reach out to other photographers. I’ve had the great fortune of meeting and shooting with a number of well respected photographers from Detroit to Kuala Lumpur! They often know the best places to shoot, and if they have a specialized niche, you will be exposed to things that you’d be hard-pressed to pursue on your own.

Most of the personal connections I’ve made through photography began with a simple Flickr message.

Urbex Superheroes

4. Take Risks

Often, taking calculated risks pays off! It is a simple risk/reward calculation that we all have to consider. You really want to take that picture of an angry butcher at the market? Well, what’s the worst that could happen and is it worth the risk to you? I specialize in urban exploration (urbex) and am very meticulous when it comes to the risks I take associated with getting into an abandoned building or onto a rooftop/construction crane. This is especially true when I am traveling and dealing with different sets of rules. Generally, the greater the risk I take, the better the photos (and stories) are.

This is not something isolated to urban explorers either. Some of my most iconic images came after being on the front lines of the G20 Summit last year in Toronto when my fellow photography enthusiasts got more tear gas and rubber bullets than they bargained for. You need to ask yourself “how far will I go to get the shot?”

Power to the Peaceful

5. Get Off the Beaten Path

There’s nothing wrong with tourist sites! However, it does become increasingly difficult to get unique images from them. Luckily, it doesn’t take much effort to get off the beaten path. It could be as simple as getting out of your resort and visiting the local town, walking a few kilometres to another part of the beach, or doing a bit of research into some lesser known sites that you may find interesting. Getting off the beaten path even just a little can expose you to more unique and memorable experiences; oh yeah – and some cool images too!

On Top of Bokor Hill

6. Take a Timeout

On extended travels or vacations you may feel camera fatigue or a lack of creativity on certain days. For me, I sometimes feel as though picture taking is a chore I need to do! It should never be like that. Remember that you’re there primarily to experience another culture, its people and their city, photography should really be secondary. On days where I just don’t feel like shooting, I trade my Canon for my iPod and find creativity and inspiration in the lives that pass me by. One way I’ve been able to keep inspired is to do some volunteer photography work wherever I can. This could be something you run into coincidentally during your travels or prearranged with an NGO, charity, or other organization. The next time I reach for my camera following a good deed, I feel much more refreshed and energized.

Big Ideas

Neil Ta is a Toronto based Photographer, Traveler, Urban Explorer and Gentle Lover. You can view his daily blog or his website.

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Some Older Comments

  • Anna Patrick June 4, 2011 02:40 am

    Travel photography is my favourite, and I especially enjoy the sea photographs. This is my collection of the fantastic Greek Blue photographs http://www.photographymojo.com/2011/06/looking-for-the-true-blue-greek-islands-photography/

  • Neil May 21, 2011 08:42 am

    Mindee -- I had previously wrote a lengthy response and the internet connection here in Australia cut out!

    Basically, my points were:

    - There's really no camera that can be everything to everyone. A superzoom will sacrifice quality but give a lot of flexibility, however, may not be fast enough for capturing that toddler of yours!
    - Battery: try picking up an extra third party one through Focal Price or Deal Extreme
    - Memory: get a larger card!
    - Resolution: remember that megapixels mean very little. More MP will generally handle high ISO noise poorly (too many MP on a smaller sensor)

    Good luck!

  • mindee May 19, 2011 05:21 am

    help! i'm an Nikon DSLR user but have the same problem- dont' want to lug it everywhere. But there are SO many point and shoot options out there... any recommendations?

    - i'm photographing a toddler most of the time (fast moving!)
    - would like highest resolution possible with greatest zoom without sacrificing picture quality
    - rechargable battery with a decent life (dont' want to be a noon on vacation and have it go dead)
    -large memory capability
    -HD video capability a plus too

    i was looking at a Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-TX10 16.2 MP Waterproof Digital Still Camera with Exmor R CMOS Sensor but just not sure of the quality of it....

    Any help is greatly appreciated- love your website and your pictures are fantastic. Neil, your artistic ability is exactly why I've been inspired to pick up this expensive, addicting hobby. Only wish I could make it my job too !

  • Julie May 17, 2011 01:36 am

    Thank you very much for sharing,Neil! I like it very much to improve my knowledge of Photography. I'm in Berlin now for such long time and i'm quite much doing the traveling. Thanks!

    A Newbie

  • Neil May 16, 2011 04:17 pm

    Gloria -- sounds like you need faster shutter speeds. Try to shoot at a high ISO or wider f-stop (lower aperture).

    Thanks again all for the comments! I think one more thing I can add is to use whatever equipment you have. Often times, people ask "what lenses should I bring on this trip?". Well the answer would be "the same lenses you would normally use!". Unless you're going on a specialized trip (like a safari that would require longer focal lengths), you would pretty much shoot with the same lenses you typically shoot with. Travel does not change the type of photographer you are. If you only bring one or two lenses with you, it will force you to look at shots differently in order to create uniqueness, rather than just throwing on a new lens to get different shots.

  • Iris May 15, 2011 10:32 am

    Thank you for the advice! Like you, I always try to find a different angle when shooting photos. I am also very impressed by the photos you displayed here. They are absolutely breath taking!

  • DaniLew May 15, 2011 06:07 am

    An excellent article with great tips! And some of the replies above had good advice as well.

  • Gloria Schwartz May 14, 2011 11:18 pm

    Oops "can only" is what it was supposed to say. Modern technology

  • Gloria Schwartz May 14, 2011 11:17 pm

    Thank you for your response Neil, I try to be prepared but they seem to be blurry when I cannily take a moment as opposed to being able to tale some time and take a few shots. Practice practice practice :-)

  • vi May 14, 2011 11:09 pm

    Nice pictures and great tips. I usually take to cameras with me when I travel - DSL and small P&S - and depending where I go I use one or another camera.

  • dan May 14, 2011 10:36 pm

    Thanks Neil !!

  • Neil May 14, 2011 01:26 pm

    Gloria -- on Aperture Priority, just make sure you're at a comfortable f-stop based on what you're shooting. If I am shooting outdoors, I might set it at ISO 200, f/8 and go from there. If I am walking into, say a dark indoor market, I will crank up the ISO and lower the f-stop before going in.

    Dan -- I am a very "situational" photographer. I often just do the best with the gear I have on hand. I would go with the full frame, and a wide angle.

    Geoff -- about the iPod thing, I would argue that having my iPod on throughout the day let's me interact much better with people than with a giant camera around my neck. There's a completely different dynamic when locals see you brandishing a camera vs. a set of headphones and a smile. I have the luxury of not having to be "switched on" all the time with my travels. There's places I've been to where I didn't take one single photo, and I am ok with that.

  • Neil May 14, 2011 10:53 am

    Ronit - absolutely correct with engaging in people once there! Though the permission vs. candid debate will go on forever. you get completely different photos once you ask for permission. It absolutely changes everything. I enjoy both, though I've been assaulted in the past for taking pictures without permission (it was of someone's DOG!).

    Chas M - thank you! Sometimes we need to reconfirm what some of us feel is common sense!

  • Lina May 14, 2011 10:53 am

    great article, thanks for sharing your travel tips! Will have to use some of them on my next trip :)

  • Chas. McNamara May 14, 2011 08:06 am

    Most accurate tips. Not just suggestions by ideas I have used and found very helpful. Thanks for confirming what techniques we share together.

  • Sweet Ronit May 14, 2011 02:33 am

    Great article! One tip I would add from my travels is to take the time to connect and engage with people once there, and to ask if it's okay to take a picture. I then ask if the person has email and if not, get an address to mail the subject a print. This is what I did on a recent trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, with Tommy:


  • dan May 14, 2011 12:53 am

    I need advice please , going on a cruise to Turkey and Greece ( late June ) , since its a cruise you loose the sunrise an sunsets of the areas because you have to be on the ship . saying that, what camera should I bring , 5 d mark II with wide angle lens ( filter kit ) - concern very heavy for 12 hours of walking around , or Rebel with a 18 to 55 lens concern not full frame .. ???what about tripod ? gorilla pod ? this is really driving me nuts I could really use a bit of advice.
    thank you


  • Neil May 13, 2011 06:39 pm

    Also, it was shot with a UWA 15mm fisheye lens on a full frame camera.

  • Neil May 13, 2011 06:37 pm

    Todd -- the MBS shot was from the SkyPark. The bottom portion is a reflection of the ground below. I think this shot illustrates what I mean by finding new angles from conventional tourist sites!

  • Geoff May 13, 2011 06:32 pm

    Nice article. Interesting that you "... experience another culture, its people and their city, photography" by imersing yourself in your ipod. I can't think of a better way to cut yourself off :-)

  • Gbemileke May 13, 2011 05:17 pm

    i find this piece insightful, you guys are the definition of next....but i am still thinking of how to make a head way the environment i operate in seems to be photography unfriendly...i keep following you articles

  • Paddy Bell S.A. May 13, 2011 04:55 pm

    It is funny how different people get different feelings different ideas different rewards from different photographers and different pictures.

    Neil Ta Your style is what goes with this different admirer. Your report e is wide


  • Erik Kerstenbeck May 13, 2011 04:32 pm


    Another suggestion is to go Off Season and get to cool places early like this shot from New Zealand's volcanic Rotorua area!


    Cheers, Erik

  • Todd Beltz May 13, 2011 12:40 pm

    Hi Neil..Sorry but just had a look again at your MBS shot. Was this taken from the skypark or was it indeed an aerial shot? Interesting perspective as it seems you hung your camera down shooting on a fisheye or very wide angle lens. Nonetheless, I like it.

  • Todd Beltz May 13, 2011 12:36 pm

    Great article and amazing shot of MBS in Singapore. How did you get so lucky to get an aerial view of this? Very rare, especially in Singapore, to fly in a helicopter above the city. I have shot Marina Bay and Marina Bay Sands quite a few times and I'm always looking for something a bit different. You nailed it with this shot. Well taken.

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer May 13, 2011 10:37 am

    If you ever travel in Japan it is a goldmine for urbanex (what we call there haikyo). In fact, I was able to have an exhibition of those photos when I returned to the U.S.


  • Gloria Schwartz May 13, 2011 10:27 am

    Great tips Neil, from one Torontonian to another, I'm now living in PA. Going to Italy soon and want to get your advice on best settings when shooting quickly and with friends who are impatient. I usually shoot in aperture priority but I'm an amateur and not experienced enough to change proper settings quickly and move on. What would you shoot if that was the case, landscapes and people. All the best to you, wonderful shots.

  • Marc May 13, 2011 10:15 am

    Wonderful article and great tips and photos!

  • Sue Reddel May 13, 2011 09:18 am

    Great article Neil. Love your thoughts about looking at things differently than other people - always great advice. I'd also add take more pictures than you think you'll need or want. Inevitably you get home and think oh I should have taken this or that. Over shooting can sometimes prevent this from happening.

  • Neil May 13, 2011 08:49 am

    Thanks to everyone who got something out of the article! I only have about a month left on this trip, so I best make the best of it!

    Lucy - regarding volunteer work...I simply message NGO's that might be looking for a photographer. The photos taken can be used on their website, blogged about, etc. to generally raise more awareness of their cause. You'd be surprised at the responses you get!

    Todd - I have a lot of respect for those working on the other side of law :) A few of my friends were officers on the other side during the very G20 demonstration I was documenting!

    Martin and Alan - the lens cap off and camera switched on are definitely high on the "must-do" list!

  • Erik Kerstenbeck May 13, 2011 08:32 am


    I agree with Martin's comment about alwys be ready. After the excitement of a skydiving jump, we caught this one Instructor less than enthused...always keep the eyes open for opportunities!



  • Alan McBride May 13, 2011 08:29 am

    One tip that is very useful is to make sure you leave the camera switched on!

    It's right up there with having the lens cap off and settings ready from Martin. So many wander around with the lens cap on and the camera switched off. The very worst you'd have to do is carry a spare battery although my 5d ll seems to last for days!


  • Paul May 13, 2011 03:55 am

    Cool photos, I liked the shields picture - good use of DOF

  • Martin Soler HDR Photography May 13, 2011 02:52 am

    Excellent article. I love it. There are two tips I would add (ok I'm not your big time street photographer but have got a couple of good shots).
    1. Keep your lens cap off - always when you're out shooting. Protect with a UV filter instead.
    2. Put your settings on automatic or something like this Aperture priority mode with aperture at 5.6 and ISO 400 if it's daylight. It's not the best setting but you're more likely to get a sharp shot quick.

    I managed to take several great shots in theory only to find my iso was too low and the moment was lost.
    Here are my street photos. http://martinsoler.com/category/street-photography/

  • Ansie May 13, 2011 02:38 am

    Really good advice, it is good to be reminded of it all!

  • shane May 13, 2011 02:36 am

    fabulous photos included in the article!

  • Anne May 13, 2011 02:30 am

    The photo of the policeman with the riot shield and the flower is incredible. What a great shot! Thanks for sharing these tips

  • Erik Kerstenbeck May 13, 2011 02:17 am


    I advance of every trip, I research the area to look for things of interest. This will give me a general idea, but he best info is from locals. During a recent trip to NYC, we spoke with the gentleman from whom we rented a condo in The Bronx. he said that a must see id St Johns Cathedral. We were surprised that not too many people had heard about this being such a landmark site.

    Rather than taking the usual shots, I used a camera mounted very low to the ground on a Gorilla Pod.

    Here is the result: http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/05/09/the-waiting-room/

  • Todd May 13, 2011 02:11 am

    I like the crowd control police shot - I've been there myself, as the guy holding the shield. As a cop in the field, in a stressful situation like crowd control, a photographer can do him/herself a big favor by approaching with a smile. We expect our pictures to be taken (we don't like it much, but it comes with the territory). But a friendly face is so welcome when we're surrounded by people who aren't very happy with us - you stand a much better chance of being allowed more freedom of movement if we don't feel threatened and don't feel like you're out to portray us in a bad light. Let us know what you're trying to capture (if the circumstances permit) and with a little rapport building, you may be pleasantly surprised with the response you get.

  • Lucy May 13, 2011 01:57 am

    Neil - I really enjoyed your article!
    I was wondering if you (or anyone else!) could tell me a bit more about volunteer photography work, and how to get involved... seems like something Id enjoy very much :)
    Thanks heaps, Lucy

  • Jp May 13, 2011 01:53 am

    Great stuff thanks... Rookie here :)

  • ScottC May 13, 2011 01:53 am

    A great article and advice all well worth taking, the photos are very inspirational as well.

    Here are a few of our favorites from travel in Africa and Europe:


  • Kathleen Andersen May 13, 2011 01:49 am

    Good points, Neil, especially about the research and getting off the beaten path.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck May 13, 2011 12:49 am


    I always travel with the goal of returning with some nice additions to my portfolio, so I always carry full gear with me. I might not take it all with me when I go exploring but I like to be ready in case I find something I need to return to. I like to research places in advance then talk to people in the area. For example, this picture taken from inside St Johns Cathedral in NYC.


    We were told that this is a must see by the person who rented us their Condo. Surprisingly, many people just dont know about this Gem.

    An Outside view: http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/05/07/the-peace-fountain/

    I try not to get consumed with the photography - it sucks to remember a spectacular adventure only through the viewfinder.

    Regards, Erik

  • Selwyn Uy May 13, 2011 12:42 am

    This is a great article. Thanks for taking the time to share it.