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8 Elementary Travel Photography Mistakes to Avoid When Starting Out

Starting out in photography may seem like a daunting task. There are so many things to learn and practice that sometimes it can seem like an impossible task. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts and if you want to take better photos then you need to be willing to put the hours of practice and learning in.

The good news is that these days there are lots of resources online that can help you. To get you started here are 8 elementary travel photography mistakes to cut out when starting in photography.

temple in asia in golden light -  Travel Photography Mistakes

Mistake #1 – Setting Your Camera On Auto

It always amazes me when I see newbie photographers with the latest expensive DSLR, using the auto mode. Besides capturing better quality photos from a resolution point of view, the other main benefit of DSLRs is the amount of control that you have over the photo taking process.

Admittedly auto functions on cameras are a lot better these days. But often it means compromises which are not necessarily best for the image. For example, if your camera is setting your ISO too high you will get a lot of noise in your photo. Instead, you may decide that actually underexposing your image slightly, which you can then adjust in post-production, will be a better compromise than extra noise.

But the biggest reason you should avoid auto mode when starting out is that it will stop you from learning. You need to learn to be able to set your shutter speed and aperture. You need to learn when and how much to raise your ISO by because it’s the only way that you can have full control over the final outcome.

auto mode on DSLR -  Travel Photography Mistakes

Mistake #2 – Shooting in JPEG

I can’t see any reason why anyone would want to shoot in JPEG format with a DSLR camera. Unless you are on a specific brief that requires instant upload of the images to the client, capturing JPEGs shouldn’t be an option. The only reason that people use JPEG mode in the camera is to save disk space.

But ask yourself if it’s worth compromising the quality of the photo for the sake of buying a couple more memory cards?

If your camera has RAW files (which all DSLRs and most mirrorless and compact cameras do these days) that’s what you should use. It gives so much more flexibility when it comes to post-processing, supplying images to clients, and even printing them out.

Even if you plan to only use your images on social media you are better off capturing the images in RAW, post-processing them and then saving them as JPEGs.

raw setting on a DSLR menu -  Travel Photography Mistakes

Mistake #3 – ISO Too High

A few years ago I remember bumping into an amateur photographer in Vietnam. As we got talking it became apparent that he didn’t understand what ISO actually was and how it affected his photos. He just assumed it was a number that allowed him to take photos in most conditions. So while his ISO was at 6400, his shutter speed was 1/4000th.

For those of us who were photographing in the days of film, ISO was the sensitivity of the film to light. So if you wanted to capture photos in darker conditions you would use a roll of film with a higher ISO.

This concept is exactly the same now in digital photography. The higher your ISO the more sensitive the camera’s sensor is to light. The downside of this is that the higher your ISO is, the more noise you will get in your image.

So while the amateur photographer I met was able to capture photos in any and lighting conditions, all of his images when zoomed-in were soft and grainy. So one of the biggest tips for any aspiring photographer is to always keep your ISO as low a possible and only increase it as much as you have to in order to get the shot.

The Kremlin -  Travel Photography Mistakes

Image taken at 4000 ISO means noise and an image lacking sharpness.

Mistake #4 – Shutter Speed too Slow

One of the biggest struggles for newbie photographers is often capturing sharp images. One reason could be that the camera has been focused on the wrong part of the image. The other big reason is often that the photographer didn’t use a fast enough shutter speed.

At slow shutter speeds of 1/60th or slower, you simply will not be able to hold the camera steady enough for sharp photos. Even 1/60th for some people might be too slow so it’s worth testing this when you are starting out.

Start capturing photos of the same subject at 1/100th all the way down until the image is blurred. You’ll then know how slow you can go. But your shutter speed is also dependent on how fast the object that you are photographing is moving and the lens you’re using.

For example, you might be able to capture a photo of someone running with a shutter speed of 1/250th. But a fast-moving car would need a faster shutter speed to freeze it. If you’re using a 300mm lens you will also need a faster shutter speed (keep the shutter speed as a reciprocal of the focal length so 1/300th).

With experience you will learn what shutter speed you will need so make sure you practice photographing different moving objects.

blurry trumpet player -  Travel Photography Mistakes

Shot at 1/40th of a second. This was not fast enough to freeze the action so the image is blurred.

Mistake #5 – Photographing at Midday

For any outdoor photography, light is often the key component of turning an okay image into a great image. As such photographing at midday when it’s bright and sunny will usually mean your images will look flat as the harsh light washes out shadows. So try to avoid photographing around midday and instead build your shoot around early morning or late afternoon/evening.

 Travel Photography Mistakes - two guys by a lake

The light is too harsh and so the image looks flat.

Mistake #6 – Not Being Ready

One of the great satisfactions for photographers is capturing those fleeting moments that would otherwise be missed. But to do that you have to be ready.

That means having your camera out of your bag, turned on, with the lens cap off. You should also get into the habit of adjusting your settings as you are moving around to cater for the conditions so that you are ready to capture the image when the opportunity arises.

rural farm with pigs in Asia -  Travel Photography Mistakes

Mistake #7 – Highlights / Shadows Clipped

One of the key tools for you as a photographer is the histogram. Even if you don’t fully learn or understand how to read one, the one thing you should know is how to use it to see if your highlights and shadows are within an acceptable range.

Highlights are bright areas in your photos and shadows are dark areas. If your highlights are too bright they may actually be completely white with no detail at all. Similarly, if your shadows are too dark they will be completely black. This is called “clipping”.

The best way to check this at the time of taking the photo or in post-production is to use your histogram. If any part of the histogram is cut off on the left there are pure black areas in your image and if it is cut off on the right there are pure white areas in your image.

By spotting this on your histogram you can either adjust your settings to avoid clipping or fix any issues in post-production.

photo with clipped areas -  Travel Photography Mistakes

The areas highlighted in red are pure white and the areas highlighted in blue are pure black. In other words, those areas are “clipped” and will have no detail.

Mistake #8 – Photo Not Straight

Whether you are an advocate of post-processing or someone who doesn’t believe photos should be altered, the one thing that you should always do is to ensure that your images are straight.

Of course, it is best to get things right in-camera when you are taking the photo. Some DSLRs have various elements to help you get your image straight when you look through the viewfinder or on the LCD screen.

But if you find that your image is not straight, make sure you fix it in post-production.

grid view on a DSLR screen -  Travel Photography Mistakes


Most people who start out in photography will make some of these mistakes along the way. The important thing is to learn from them and move on. But if you can cut these mistakes out from the start you’ll be well on your way to capturing better photos.

Have you made any mistakes that others should avoid? Please share your experiences 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.

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