7 Travel Photography Mistakes to Avoid


Travel photography has been captivating people for years. But capturing unique travel photos isn’t easy, and often people who are starting out make the same mistakes several times. There’s no doubt that a well composed, and well lit travel photograph, with an interesting subject, has the power to convince someone to head to a destination.

Here are seven mistakes to avoid when doing travel photography:

#1 – Taking Tourist Photos

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If you type any famous landmark or location in the world into Google, or any image library, you will likely get thousands of images showing up in the search results. So the reality is that it is becoming more and more difficult to capture unique photos. But that is the challenge for you as a photographer. Most photography editors will tell you that they do not want photos that are the typical tourist photos that you see, simply because most people have seen those hundreds of times. But how do you make yours unique?

This comes down to three things.

  1. Do your research so that you know what already exists. It’s not enough to simply look at a handful of photos; you need to understand everything from the angles, to the weather and the lighting.
  2. Be creative and think of a unique way to showcase the subject. This part comes down to your creativity, and largely to the amount of research you have done.
  3. Commitment to ensuring that you capture the photo, even if that means waiting around somewhere for hours for the perfect conditions, or having to return later until you can get the shot.

Beyond these there is also a fourth way, which is to get lucky. Sometimes, you will get to a location and find something happening – be it with people, animals, or even the weather – that will give you a stunning, but different photo. Unfortunately, those days are few and far between.

#2 – Avoiding People

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A location’s people are as integral to our experience of it as the famous buildings or landmarks. But unfortunately many new photography who are starting out in the travel genre, avoid photographing people because of shyness. Most people are friendly, and if you make the effort and spend the time to get to know them, they will be more than happy to accommodate you taking their photo. So don’t be shy, because all you are doing is denying the viewer a crucial part of the story.

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#3 – Being Lazy or Impatient

I’m always amazed when I see people come to location, take a snapshot and move on. Removing the photography element all together, how can you possibly enjoy and experience a location, if you are simply jumping from one place to another?

As a travel photographer sometimes it’s easy to be lazy and impatient. After all, why wait for two hours for the perfect light, when you can take a photo and head back to the hotel and sit by the swimming pool? But part of the reason that we are fascinated by travel photos is because they show us a glimpse into another culture. The only way to do this is to make the effort and spend the time, not only to understand and appreciate it, but also to execute taking the photo.

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#4 – Photographing from the Viewpoints

This way to “sunset point”. Every traveller and photographer has seen these signs wherever they have gone. Sometimes these “viewpoints” are magnificent, and in some circumstances and conditions they are absolutely the place you should visit and photograph from. But the majority of the time they are simply the most accessible place for the masses, and as a result, a view most people have seen.

So you have two choices, either try to capture a unique photo from that point, or find a unique view. The latter will require more effort, hard work, and sometimes cost more to achieve. The decision will ultimately rest with you.

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#5 – Forgetting the Small Details

One of the great things about photography is that it allows us to capture the small details that are often missed with the naked eye. After all, it’s so easy to get caught up in the big beautiful scenery, and miss the smaller details that often sit around it.

Sometimes, it’s these small details that actually enhance the experience of a location through photos. So always remember to look around for unique moments or details that you can capture on your travels. They will help diversify your portfolio and give a much more intriguing angle to your destination.

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#6 – Travelling with Others

One thing that I learned a long time ago is that photographing while travelling is completely different to travelling to take photos. However hard the latter is, it’s even more difficult when you are travelling with other people. Be it, friends, family, or a tour group, most people don’t have the patience, or the interest, to wait around for you to take photos. You soon end up in a tense situation, which means you can’t get what you want done and other people don’t enjoy their trip.

The best way is to separate the two completely, and either use a trip as a holiday with the focus being on relaxing and enjoying yourself, or consider it work. If you do find yourself in a situation where you are travelling with other people, try setting yourself a few days or even a few hours where you can go off on your own.

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#7 – Forgetting to Enjoy Yourself

As much as you need to dedicate yourself to the photo when travelling, you still need to remember to actually enjoy yourself as well. Like any job or hobby, if it starts to become a chore and you no longer enjoy it, this will reflect in your work.

Ultimately you are in a place that is new exciting so make sure you allow yourself some time – even if it is just small windows – to enjoy the experience of being there.

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Travel photography is a wonderful job or hobby, and most people have a list of destinations that they would happily travel to, and photograph. This means that motivation to photograph it well is usually not an issue, so with a bit of hard work and by avoiding some of the mistakes, you can capture wonderful photographs.

Have you learned from any of your travel experiences? Please share them below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

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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  • Tod Davis

    In September i will going on my first big trip since becoming serious about photography, thanks you for these tips. It is still going to be a juggling act between experiencing the new locations I’m visiting and taking photos. I THINK that my plan at this stage is to enjoy the cities as a tourist but dedicate one afternoon/evening in each city to getting my whole camera kit out and going crazy.

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  • Den

    On each of our trips to Europe I was always noticed as the ;haggard in the group having to play catch up with the group as they moved on. It was a compromise but worth the effort when we viewed the slideshow afterwards at home. People would ask how I was able to achieve certain scenes while with the group. The compromise is to take a lot of pictures from different angles, use Av where possible and continuous shooting mode. After the trip, sort out the pictures you like on your computer. sounds simplistic but it works

  • Rashoop

    Great tips, and things to keep in mind whenever doing travel photography. The one that I can relate to the most is the final one: traveling with people. My wife is my favorite travel partner, and she is very patient, but there are times when I forego a shot, or setting up a shot as I really want to, because it would take time, and I don’t want to push her patience. Our last trip, to Grand Teton National Park, we finally decided to let me head out early one morning to get some sunrise shots of the mountains. Mother Nature had other plans for me that morning, but that’s a whole different story!

  • My wife doesn’t approve of #6…

  • Rob Bixby

    When attending a seminar by a prominent National Geographic photographer, he made one statement that fits #4 perfectly. His two work recommendation is simply, “turn around”. Even when shooting the same locations as the masses, look the other direction, and see what they don’t.

  • Inge Leyssens

    Give her a camera. My husband and I both have a camera and sometimes make an excursion just for photographing. Brings in a nice competition, too!

  • I tried, I even have a great point-and-shoot. She has no interest in photography or anything remotely technical :((

  • OldPom

    Being fairly ancient and not a plutocrat my travel is now limited to coach organised tours. Not the best – “please be back on the coach in fifteen minutes” . But I have found a solution. Get up at 5.00 and get in at least two hours – at a good time of day – before the huge buffet breakfast that allows you to get another hour whilst the others are eating a lunch you don.t need. Admittedly at the worst time for light. Then when back at your hotel find out when dinner is no longer served and get out for a ‘city pavements’ candid shoot at what is fortuitously golden hour. Amazing how much better it is without the rest of the mob. You might lose a bit of weight too ! These in Sri Lanka and Thailand

  • Leslie Hoerwinkle

    I enjoy being lazy and impatient.

  • Colin Christopher

    #6 is so much on point. I am always hampered by impatient family members when I to get that right shot for me. Unfortunately I’m not in a position to take a photography vacation. But I wont give up trying.

  • Chad Goddard

    I have the same situation as Rashoop, my wife is very patient with my hobby and even brings a book with her as she knows she will be waiting. In fact, she gets more annoyed when travelling companions don’t let me take time to set up for pics.
    When travelling with others, I get up early and go out for an hour on my own or I do so mid day. I get around mid day light by shooting black and white which uses the harsh lighting to emphasize the contrast which is ideal! A little tip I picked up on DPS!

  • Kav Dadfar

    That’s great advise. Thanks for sharing

  • Kav Dadfar

    Oh dear… maybe compromise by agreeing before you go how much time / when you are going to photograph.

  • Kav Dadfar

    Good advise. Thanks for sharing

  • Kav Dadfar

    I understand that it can be difficult, planning before hand can help. Maybe if they are relaxing by the swimming pool you can head off for a few hours by yourself.

  • Kav Dadfar

    Thanks for sharing your tips. Amazing how much you can get in while others at the hotel. Nice photos as well, just be aware of your horizon line on the beach photo it looks a little off to me (but that might just be my eyes).

  • Kav Dadfar

    Yes unfortunately the weather always conspires to ruin perfectly laid plans. I know how difficult it can be and I’ve been in your shoes. I think the only way is to make plans before you go. For example you could say I will head out 3 mornings or a few hours etc. But everyone is different so that part is down to you guys…

  • Kav Dadfar

    Hi Den, yes even in the busiest of areas it is possible to capture shots without people. But more and more I find myself including people in the photos… that’s what picture editors seem to be asking for more.

  • Kav Dadfar

    Hi Tod, that’s a good plan, but I would suggest you at least carry a camera around with you. You never know what you might see. Even if it’s a smart phone would mean you can capture those moments that may not happen again. Enjoy your trip.

  • Den

    Absolutely, it tells a story. One of my best pictures was taken in Lucca where an old man was playing his accordion with a tin cup on a doorstep in front of a beautiful, old, hand carved wooden door. Or people moving through one of the many outdoor markets in Florence.

  • You don’t know my wife… she’s quarter-Gypsy. Small but deadly.

  • While you are traveling, you are exploring everything that surrounds you. The most important thing of a new country and a culture, like its part, is people. People reflect their country, in their eyes, you may find all the joys and sorrows of a country, news and stories that are not shown on the TV. Nature is always marvelous, but trees can’t tell you the truth.

  • papajon0s1

    Yeah, #6 is a problem but mostly because I feel I am making things worse for others. Tough one to deal with; I would love to take a trip solely for the purpose of my photography hobby.

  • JP

    This was really helpful. Thank you. I just got back from a family trip to Nashville and Memphis, and found myself constantly questioning what I was shooting. It’s just so easy to fall into “tourist shot” mode. After getting nothing special at the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, I told my family to drop me back there during Golden hour. When I had the time to myself, and the right light, I was inspired to find a fresh (or somewhat fresh) angle on the Lorraine Motel. I’m going to try to plan some solo photo trips, because even my patient family has limits.

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