The Art of Travel Photography

The Art of Travel Photography

One of the great things about our forums is the wealth of ideas and experience there. Today I want to share a tutorial on the topic of travel photography written by one of our members, photographer Jim Bryant, in the tutorials section of the forum (I’ve added the images).

If you are like most photographers who takes roll after roll of film or fill up digital cards and love to bring home great travel photographs now is a good reason to get started. Perhaps you’d like to put together a personal collection as a memento of your travels. Or, you might be assembling a slide show of your travels that will wow folks. Maybe if you’re really ambitious you’ve got visions of someday impressing editors and art directors with your picture taking abilities.


Photography by Sukanto Debnath

Whatever your motives, photography and travel go together like ice cream and hot apple pie. And for those of us who like to travel abroad, those faraway places with exotic landscapes and colorful people begin just outside the airplanes door.

At an recent slide show I presented on travel photography, a person asked, “I’ve been to some of the same places as you and have and own some of the same equipment as you do too, but my photographs aren’t as good as yours. Why?”

The only difference I’ve come across between professionals and amateurs are that the professionals think when they photograph. A scene I’ve witnessed more than once depicts the difference: a hurried, harried camera toting tourists with his family, spots a scene worth shooting. He momentarily breaks loose from, throws his camera to his eye, fires off a couple of frames and then dashes off to rejoin the shouting throng.

The difference? A professional photographer will always leave his family at home when he’s out working. Only kidding, I’ve taken my wife and family on vacations from the Grand Canyon, to Hawaii, to Tokyo and Hokkaido Ice and Snow Festival to bullfights in Portugal And they’ve got to be the most patience family in the world when it comes to taking pictures besides It helps to find a hotel with a swimming pool and hot tub.

She’s says I’m interesting to watch while I work. Why? Because, I’ll survey the scene for several minutes or longer, either taking mental notes or writing them down in a notebook, taking time to walk here or there, climbing high or stooping low to find a choice angle and location from which to shoot from before even shooting a single picture and then deciding to return later for the beautiful colors of early evening lighting.

Here’s some tips I’ve prepared by learning the hard way, from experience making “mistakes” in the field.

READ ALL ABOUT IT. Well in advance of your departure date, spend time at your local library or on the Internet and research about your destination. Look for information on cultures, customs, weather, history, politics, wildlife, and festivals. You’ll get an idea on what types of photographs you make be able to take, what gear you’ll need as well as what clothes to wear and how to get around.

GET UP EARLY AND STAY OUT LATE. Light is the strongest element in photography, almost a subject itself. Take a look at any travel magazine and you’ll notice that a high percentage of the photographs are taken either in the early morning and late afternoon lighting. That’s because the quality of light at these times is much more pleasing to the eye, because it’s warmer with deeper shades of red, orange, yellow. Shadows are also longer, adding a sense of depth to two-dimensional (height and width) pictures.


Photography by ~FreeBirD®~

TELL THE STORY. Try to envision slide show or a photo album that will tell the whole story of your travel destination. This means packing your wide-angle and telephoto lenses as well as a macro if you have one. Photograph people, landscapes, wildlife, flowers, markets and buildings. Shoot indoor and outdoor. Photograph everything! Be sure to pack medium and fast speed films so you are ready to shoot in any lighting conditions.

Ask yourself what’s unique about this place. Editors and art directors often look for establishing shots, the trademark that “says Holland, Japan, China or Britain in visual terms. Go to a local card shop and look at picture postcards that highlight the area’s landmarks.

Great pictures are most often specific. A photographer looks at the scene and chooses the elements/subjects to crop out of the scene. Don’t be afraid to crop in your viewfinder, defining your real subject and capturing that only. It’s very tempting to include too many elements (trees, mountains, rivers, lakes) in a picture because they are overwhelmed by the beauty of a scene. Being selective often makes for a more dramatic image. Think about making a picture rather than taking a picture.

Look for different angles in your shooting. There’s no rule that state that all photographs must be shot from eye level, so shoot some from low angles, even ground level if you’re willing to get down on your hands and knees.

Place colorful flowers in the foreground. Check the view from building tops and shoot from your hotel window. Along with changing photo angles and switching lenses will change your photographic view as well.


Photography by Stuck in Customs

KEEP THEM TALKING. Your travel photos most likely will be of people. You’ll find that people make the most descriptive photos and you need to communicate with them. Silence is deadly. I’ve found a good practice to carry a foreign language dictionary for each country I visit and they come in handy when you want to photograph someone. Speaking a few words of the local language gives the subject a chance to warm up to you.

BREAK THE RULE AND DARE TO BE DIFFERENT. “The so called rules of photographic composition are, in my opinion, invalid and immaterial.” Break all the rules and be creative. Shoot your pictures from the heart! Have fun and enjoy the process.

Thanks to Jim Bryant for this set of tips. Got some photography tips to share? – write a tutorial for us and submit it to the tutorials section of our forum.

Read more from our category

Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • tawan February 23, 2009 04:14 pm

    Thanks, that was a very interesting read.

  • dhibin January 24, 2009 01:55 pm

    very nice oictures and useful advices thankssssssssss

  • Strabec December 31, 2008 09:48 pm

    I totally agree with your advice! The 'think before you shoot' rule is one I always obey. The most irratating thing I have found is another member of my family who also likes taking photographs cannot understand why I will only take a few pictues of a scene when he takes hundreds!

    Trust me, it's annoying.

  • Neal McQuaid December 24, 2008 12:54 pm

    Excellent article and pretty apt myself considering I'm traveling right now! Must re-acquaint myself with the idea of planning photographs again....
    Having said that, don't spend too long working out the pictures - you're there for an amazing experience, not to get a bunch of pics for showing your friends back home!

  • Adam Backer December 19, 2008 07:39 pm

    It was really a nice article and i really enjoyed going through them. Practically i would suggest that we go for a one or two lens which would cover all focal lenghts (for eg 70-200 f2.8 and 24-70 f2.8). The reason is that it would reduce a lot of luggage weight that you would need to carry while you are travelling.

  • John December 19, 2008 04:59 pm

    Take famous landmarks when you travel, by all means. Try, however, to get a local or locals in the frame. For instance, if you take a picture of the Eiffel Tower, include one of those ubiquitous sellers of sun glasses snagging a customer. At the Trevi Fountain in Rome, try to include a tourist or two throwing a coin in the fountain hoping they will be back some day. Saying goodbye to Hawaii, as your cruise ship slips gently past Diamond Head, don't forget the flower wreaths people throw overboard to ensure THEIR return.

  • Peter Phun December 16, 2008 11:31 am

    I would add that if you plan on selling your pictures, getting a model release is a good idea. Print up some of those before you leave to shoot.

    Even if you don't plan on selling those pictures, getting a name gives you a reason to approach your subject and get their name, possibly their age to go with your picture.

    That can sometimes go a long way in getting better pictures if you go back. It shows you care enough to engage them in conversation instead of just "stealing snapshots" like a tourist.

    Here are my tips:

  • Sarosa December 16, 2008 12:39 am

    Great article, thanks. For me to practice more is the "Think when you shoot." I believe, that makes all the difference for me. But what I liked most in the article was the sentence: "Break all the rules and be creative. Shoot your pictures from the heart! Have fun and enjoy the process."


  • Fletch December 15, 2008 11:26 pm

    The think while you shoot point is very valid, especially when the wife/girlfiend/kids are all rolling their eyes and screaming "I wish you'd never bought that bleeding camera"!

    Try sitting down getting a beer or an ice cream and see what comes past. Like this!

  • Mary G December 15, 2008 06:47 pm

    Get excited again to see your world through different photographers eyes. Just guided a photographer and his friends round Lisbon - see his shots on Barcelona here will be waiting on his ones from Lisbon with baited breath! Rick infected me with the photographic bug again so much so that I picked up my snapshot camera and whipped off a Christmas video that is getting a lot of views so Happy Holidays to you all. Now I am all set to start putting my top of the line SLR through its paces in 2009. Think before you shoot, look really look before you snap and remember its what you leave out not what you manage to cram in that counts.

  • Siletto December 15, 2008 10:34 am

    absolutely LOL, Greg

    and true, step 2 not necessary if you're single. You may even want to drag a friend or 2 into the trip. Hard part is always the first step

  • Greg December 15, 2008 03:58 am

    Step 1: Find money to pay for travel.

    Step 2: Convince your family that they need to stay home cause you could only scrounge up enough money for ONE person to travel.

    Step 3: Take out a big life insurance policy when you travel to the middle east so that your family can travel when you are a victim of a car bombing.

  • Sven Blom December 15, 2008 02:05 am

    I have been travelling for 10 months with my camera on my site...tried to combine nice photography with photograpy for personal reasons. Really like to combination of it...