8 Tips To Take Better Travel Pictures

8 Tips To Take Better Travel Pictures


Ever noticed how some people’s vacation pictures are often an imitation of the postcards they could have easily bought at the airport on their way home? Whether it’s the Eiffel Tower or the Sydney Opera, it’s common to try to capture those iconic images. After all, it’s one reason why we chose to travel to these exotic locales in the first place, right?

Pick a perfect spot and wait for someone to walk by and a story to unfold...

Think about your last vacation – what do you remember most fondly? Those famous landmarks? Or the colorful markets, the fresh pastries in the bakery window, the people sitting in the cafes, the street vendors and buskers, the smell of the streets after a morning rain?

The next time you travel, think “outside the postcard” and create your own iconic images, your own stories and memories.  Here are a few tips to help you get started.

1- Include signage in you pictures. The name and price of the fruits and vegetables at farmer’s market written in the local language, creatively painted store signs, a newsstand featuring local papers, even the city street signs will give your images a lively sense of place.

Include signage in your pictures.

2- Include people in your frames. Try to feature local people rather than tourists. Folks buying their daily paper, selecting flowers at the market, having coffee at the outdoor cafe or chatting as they walk their dogs. And if you have the time for doing some street photography, pick a spot and wait a bit.  Something interesting will surely happen and a story will unfold for you to capture and take home. The human element always adds interest to your images.

Photograph the locals.

3- Create a photo story with a handful of frames. Start by taking a wide shot of an antique market to set the stage, then shoot a few close-ups of items for sale, people exchanging money, children laughing, the old fellow smoking a pipe. These are the travel images that will make your photo album more memorable and more unique.  They can also be an interesting montage if displayed on your walls back home.

4- Avoid those boring family group shots in front of landmarks.  Instead, take action shots of your kids eating the end of fresh baguette in France or your husband playing bocce ball with the locals in Italy. Those are the pictures you’ll cherish for years to come. They will evoke your travel stories and fun memories, making you smile every time you open the photo album.

5- Resist taking those traditional postcard shots. When visiting a famous landmark such as the Eiffel Tower, try shooting a different perspective. Take close ups of the metal beams and the bolts. Photograph repeated patterns. Be creative and tell a story! Shooting lots of architectural details will nicely compliment any traditional picture of those famous landmarks in your photo album.

Pick a table by a window or on the terrace and photograph the local cuisine.

6- Practice your food photography on location. Get a table by a window at the restaurant, and turn off that awful flash. Shoot the local cuisine. Then enjoy your meal!

7- Pick a theme or two each day. This will help keep you focused – no pun intended – and you won’t feel so overwhelmed by trying to capture it all in one day. Feel free to change your theme du jour if you discover something more interesting. Hey, it’s your trip!  So, if you are shooting architectural details in Rome and the perfect street scene catches your attention, by all means, shoot that, too. My point is that when you discover a new place, it’s impossible to absorb everything in a few days.  Besides, if you do, you may end up with boring photographs or nothing at all.

8- Be a gear minimalist when traveling. Carry just one camera and one lens because that perfect shot will inevitably happen while you are switching lens, and you’ll miss it. You’ll thank me and your back will thank you! Every time you change your lens outdoors, dust gets on the sensor and, if you are like me, you don’t carry the highly flammable sensor cleaning solution when you travel. Remember the power of limitations. Want to travel light and use only the 50mm lens all day? You have feet and they make a great zoom!

Think 'outside the postcard' and photograph iconic monuments with a fresh perspective.

To get a real feel for a new travel destination, and capture it through your lens, let your senses guide you. Happy travels and bring back some killer images!

Want More? Check out our Travel Photography eBook by award winning travel photographer Mitchell Kanashkevich.

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Valerie Jardin I live and breathe in pixels! Photography is more than a passion, it's an obsession, almost an addiction. When I'm not shooting or writing, I spend my time teaching this beautiful craft during photo workshops all over the world! I am also thrilled to be an official X Photographer for Fujifilm USA. Visit my Website Follow me on Facebook , Twitter , Instagram. And listen to my Podcast!

Some Older Comments

  • Dan @ A Cruising Couple May 6, 2013 02:04 pm

    Great tips. It is still hard for me to get the nerve up to ask locals for a photo. Especially here in Taiwan where I barely speak the native language. I found most people are pretty excited after you ask them and really appreciate it if you show them the finished product. And don't forget to get yourself in a few shots. There's nothing more depressing than coming back from a trip and you can't show anyone you were actually there :-p. Thanks so much for sharing! I can't wait to try these out.

  • Sanja December 24, 2012 01:15 pm

    The most important thing for me is that I'm in the picture, posing in front of the most famous building in the city. That kinda proves that I was there... LOL. Taking pictures of local people, market places and grocery stores is good if you're making a documentary, but that doesn't show that I actually visited that place. Pictures like that can be found all over Internet. Of course, whenever I see a nice landscape I take a picture of it, but if I was in Paris, I definitely wouldn't miss taking a picture of myself in front of the Eiffel Tower.

  • cornell August 13, 2012 02:37 am

    Here's a different perspective of La Tour Eiffel http://realitateadecupata.blogspot.ro/2010/02/light-by-night.html

  • F.Zaman May 22, 2012 04:17 am

    I liked the idea 'think outside the postcards'

  • Paul May 14, 2012 06:51 am

    Thanks for this post, nice general but useful tips..... I only wish I had an exotic trip planned to try this out on!

  • Sreelal Viswanathan May 11, 2012 09:09 pm

    These tips found smooth going with traveling anywhere , many specimens concentrating the still aspects of travel, rather dynamic pics as specimens would have been highly appreciated!

  • patricia dugan May 11, 2012 06:06 am

    So nice to see your work and learn from you. I shall try to put these tips into practice.

  • Jason Racey May 11, 2012 04:43 am

    I love your phrase "think outside the postcard". On a recent trip to Utah I was turned off by the army of photographers lined up at iconic locations every sunrise and sunset trying to reproduce shots they'd seen before and I dislike my own copycat images from that trip. I'm never going to make that mistake again.

    Another thing I've gotten into lately is putting people in the frame - especially in locations where it's usually unavoidable due to the crowds. Here's an example of a moment that worked well:

  • Jason Racey May 11, 2012 04:42 am

    I love your phrase "think outside the postcard". On a recent trip to Utah I was turned off by the army of photographers lined up at iconic locations every sunrise and sunset trying to reproduce shots they'd seen before and I dislike my own copycat images from that trip. I'm never going to make that mistake again.

    Another thing I've gotten into lately is putting people in the frame - especially in locations where it's usually unavoidable due to the crowds. Here's an example of a moment that worked well:[url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonracey/6995920824/][eimg url='http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7204/6995920824_5e27d4541f.jpg' title='6995920824_5e27d4541f.jpg'][/url]
    [url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonracey/6995920824/]Starting The Climb[/url] by [url=http://www.flickr.com/people/jasonracey/]jasonracey[/url], on Flickr

  • John Lambert May 11, 2012 03:23 am

    Tip no. 2 is so right. 100 times right. Pictures without people are a waste of time. It is always the people who make a place memorable. A couple of French housewives arguing with a shopkeeper. an Italian cop directing traffic, Buddhist monks enjoying a joke are pictures worth a thousand conventional shots. If you can get your companion in the shot so much the better (husband playing bocce with the locals.

  • Virginia May 11, 2012 01:37 am

    I couldn't have said it bet ter. I love photographing in my hometown but Paris makes my heart sing. I've been fortunate to travel there often since 2007 and never ever tire of the people, the details, the out of the way hidden gems. I have a Paris photoblog that I started after my second trip in 2008. Each day I select a photo is like taking a quick trip back there.

    I am saving your tutorial for use in my photography classes.


  • Anthony Schwab May 9, 2012 07:13 pm

    Thank for the writeup all good things to know. I started uploading a recent trip to Jordan on my website lots of post to come.

  • William May 8, 2012 11:55 pm

    I think you hit on the best piece of info when you said be patient. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of finally seeing one of your dream landmarks or landscapes and just start snapping photos. I try to ask myself why I'm snapping this photo before I press the shutter button. That usually helps me to put on my photographer hat and make me take a breath. This also helps me 'see' other photo opportunities that may be outside the box but unique to me.
    Good ideas in the article. I agree most with the patience thing. People need to learn to slow down the pace a bit and savor what you are seeing. Trying cram all of your bucket list places ten days really isn't all that enjoyable in the end.

  • Carole May 8, 2012 07:48 am

    I love validation! Your article was fantastic! I try and shoot the same kind of pic's and my friends and family look at me really funny until they see the end result! As far as the in front of landmarks, I also try and shoot the unusual angle or incorporate other interesting objects. Thank You!!!

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer May 8, 2012 06:14 am

    I just posted a photography tip last week suggesting that one try street photography to make memorable photos of cities:


    I agree with the opening paragraph of this post that going and making the same shots as on postcards does not seem to be the best way to make it feel like "your" vacation. I mean, I would of course still get those postcard/landmark shots, but make sure they are complimented by things that having specific meaning to you about a city/place/country.

  • Peter May 8, 2012 02:28 am

    Valerie, you continue to be an inspiration to me. It is the simplicity of your pictures that make them some appealing. Keep taking pictures and keep writing.

  • Mridula May 8, 2012 12:59 am

    I got the moon today with the Petronas Towers!


  • Coy May 8, 2012 12:04 am

    Great article! I've been practicing many of these tips and techniques for years especially with people. Sometimes, when I'm afforded time I would wait up to 15 minutes for the right combination of people to leave or enter my perfect shot. However, for me I have bad habit of hauling around too much gear. Always thinking when if only I had my other lens I could late gotten that perfect shot! But that does come with a price of much hassle and aching shoulders.

  • Cammi May 7, 2012 11:13 pm

    just a note - its 'Sydney' Opera House, not Sidney.

  • CJAYJR May 7, 2012 11:00 pm

    Great tips Valerie. As a retired military member who lived in Germany for 3 1/2 years and had the good fortune to visit France, Belgium, Luxemburg, Holland, and Switzerland back in the late `70's; it's good to know that I was doing things right back then. I remember one shot in particular where my wife is standing next to one of the round columns in Paris which had a number of newspaper headlines plastered all over it. Also taking photos of the Cath├ędrale Notre Dame while enjoying a river cruise down The Seine. We tried very hard not to take the typical "postcard" photos you mentioned. After five days in France we cherish all our photos to this day and truly understand about creating themes. Thank you for bringing some of our great memories back to life.

  • Jeff E Jensen May 7, 2012 10:47 pm

    As always, great tips, Valerie. I especially like #7. This is something that I've used on multiple occasions, it can really help you to avoid getting into the mode of just taking tourist snapshots.


  • Elizabeth May 7, 2012 04:12 pm

    Great article and tips! Its always great to add unique shots to the more iconic ones. Variety is the spice of life, right? Thanks!


  • raghavendra May 7, 2012 12:40 pm

    Good tips for travel photography,
    i took a picture of my hometown in the street,
    that covers the people and what their doing!


  • Kevin D. Smith May 7, 2012 11:55 am

    For me it's all about the discovery.
    [eimg url='http://29.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lxhw26E4Jr1r3637ao1_1280.jpg' title='tumblr_lxhw26E4Jr1r3637ao1_1280.jpg']

  • Mikhail Anand May 7, 2012 10:49 am

    good tips. agree with going light in terms of equipment, especially depending on how much you're walking around. can get tiring walking around with four or five lenses.
    some of my travels around india

  • Scottc May 7, 2012 09:45 am

    All are great tips, among many that are related to travel photography.


  • Alexx May 7, 2012 04:58 am

    Great post!

    I'm a Disney world photographer so I'm practically taking vacation photos every time!

    Check out my photoblog: http://disney-photography-blog.com/

  • Jess May 7, 2012 04:45 am

    I like most of these tips, except I see no reason to avoid things like group shots in front of the eiffel tower. Go ahead and take one or two - having one good posed family photo at the end of a trip makes for a great christmas card or something like that. It only takes a minute, so go ahead and take it, just make sure that's not all you do. When you're walking towards the Eiffel Tower why would you NOT take that one iconic shot - its a digital camera, its not costing you anything. But THEN start taking all these other more creative shots.

  • steve slater May 7, 2012 04:15 am

    The style and emotion of the area. For example Marbella in Spain - pure affluence - so include a Ferrari in the shot :)

  • Jim Hunt May 7, 2012 04:10 am

    Not bad tips. The only one I wont agree on is carrying minimal equipment, for me. I carry my backpack that weighs 30 pounds but I shoot all kinds of different styles including long exposures. I carried my backpack through Disney world, through my local zoo, etc. I needed my 11-16 and my 70-200. I needed my 10 stop nd filters and tripod.

    So being a minimalist when carrying is never going to happen for me. If I did I wouldnt be able to get this...

  • david May 7, 2012 02:08 am

    These are great, especially agree with the idea of minimalism with gear. I think you learn more about photography carrying less and forcing yourself to get to know a lens. I took my X-Pro1 to London and only carried one lens. Initially it left restrictive but soon I began to spot situations ideal for the set up. Photos from the trip are here. http://www.flixelpix.com/featured/33-x-pro1-photos-of-london/

  • Gustavo J. Mata May 7, 2012 02:02 am

    Thanks for the advice!

    Gustavo J. Mata