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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.

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Kav Dadfar
Kav Dadfar

is a professional travel photographer, writer and photo tour leader based in the UK. His images are represented by stock agencies such as 4Corners Images and Robert Harding World Imagery and they have been used by clients such as Condé Nast, National Geographic, Lonely Planet, and many others. Kav is also the co-founder of That Wild Idea, a company specializing in photography workshops and tours both in the UK and around the world. Find out more at That Wild Idea.