Facebook Pixel 12 Travel Photography Composition Tips (to Instantly Improve Your Shots!)

12 Travel Photography Composition Tips (to Instantly Improve Your Shots!)

travel photography composition tips

If you want to capture stunning travel photography, you must master composition.

A thoughtful composition is a key ingredient in every great travel image, so if you can learn to create beautiful compositions, you’ll be well on your way to shooting gorgeous photos of far-flung cities, landscapes, and more. (Of course, you don’t want to forget about other key elements of travel photography, like camera settings and lighting – but mastering composition really will make a huge difference to your travel shots!)

In this article, I share with you my top 12 travel photography composition tips, from the basics to more advanced techniques that will help you refine your skills. Note that the advice that I offer can be applied to a wide variety of travel sub-genres, including landscapes, cityscapes, street shots, architecture, and more.

Bottom line: Whether you’re a beginner looking to get a solid understanding of the compositional basics or an intermediate shooter looking for a deep dive into travel photography composition, this article shares everything you need.

Let’s jump right in.

1. Use frames to emphasize architectural subjects

One of the great things about towns and cities is the beautiful buildings and structures they feature, many of which sport interesting pillars and arches.

Fortunately, as a travel photographer, you can use such elements to capture beautiful frame-within-a-frame compositions. In other words, you can position one subject within another, just like this:

frame within a frame composition technique

The result is gorgeous because the “frame” directs the viewer’s eye toward the main subject, plus it provides interesting context and contrast. The frame can also provide scale (or even produce a fun false sense of scale, where the frame looks much larger than the subject, as in the image above).

So when you find a building you would like to photograph, look around for potential frames. Note that you don’t always need to frame one building within another. You can frame a building within itself, or you can capture a building framed by trees, bridges, car windows, etc.

2. Use symmetry to create balance

Travel photography composition techniques are often excellent tools for shooting familiar subjects in different ways. One of my favorite techniques is symmetry, where you find a point of reflection and mirror half of the image across the composition.

Symmetry can work well for many travel-related subjects because there are reflective surfaces everywhere, but I highly recommend you look for interesting structures near water. This might be a beautiful building overlooking a pond, though you can also create amazing results with puddles, car hood reflections, and handholdable mirrors.

a symmetrical reflection adds balance to a photo

When you include symmetry in a composition, the shot will often contain good balance and a feeling of harmony (and reflective symmetry in a body of water also lends a sense of calm and peace to the shot).

3. Look for leading lines to draw in the viewer

As the name suggests, leading lines help guide the viewer’s eye through the frame, generally from the bottom of the composition toward the main subject in the middle or top (though leading lines can also move horizontally or diagonally across the frame). Leading lines also add a sense of movement, or dynamism, to a composition, which is always a good thing!

Often, when traveling, you’ll come upon footpaths or cobblestone roads, and these look amazing as leading lines. Simply position the path at the bottom of your composition, and watch as it draws the viewer straight into the frame.

(For extra oomph, try getting down low with a wide-angle lens; this will magnify the leading lines to great effect.)

Really, you can find leading lines pretty much everywhere, as long as you take the time to stop and look! Rivers winding toward mountains, light trails winding toward buildings, jetties heading out to sea – every travel destination has a few, and if you can search them out, they’ll guarantee a beautiful image or two.

leading lines draw in the viewer

4. Zoom in close, then back up far

Sometimes, we photographers find ourselves stuck in a routine, capturing subjects from a very standard distance – the same distance from which we might view a subject with our eyes – which can lead to a relatively monotonous series of images.

To counter this, challenge yourself by altering your proximity to the subject. Perhaps start by taking a conventional shot to establish the scene. But then make a point of moving closer to uncover and document the intricate details that give the place or subject its character. This closer inspection might reveal textures, patterns, or elements that aren’t obvious from a distance, and ultimately offer a more intimate glimpse into the subject.

Travel photography composition tips

Then, after exploring the details, step back, back, back – farther than you might typically do. That way, you can capture a shot that encapsulates the subject within its wider context. This change in perspective can reveal how the subject interacts with its surroundings, helping viewers understand its role and significance within the broader landscape.

Travel photography composition tips

While you can always choose your favorite of the three shots to display in your portfolio, when the different shots are presented together, they can actually create a more compelling narrative that offers extra information about the subject!

And on a related note:

5. Get up high for a unique view

Every travel photographer should follow this tip at least once during their trip:

Get up high and shoot down.

It’s easy to get obsessed with the subjects right in front of our faces, but if you can get above the city or landscape, you’ll often find plenty of interesting elements: building spires, lakes winding their way down to the sea, and more.

Even if your trek up high doesn’t reveal any new subjects, an elevated position can help you think about familiar subjects in new ways, plus the aesthetics bird’s-eye-view photos just look interesting and can help draw the viewer into the frame and toward your subject.

image of the city from above travel photography composition tips

6. Use the rule of thirds for travel landscapes

Yes, the rule of thirds is a fundamental compositional guideline that gets discussed to death, but have you tried it in your photos? I mean, really tried it?

You see, the rule of thirds urges you to position key elements a third of the way into the frame, and I found that it works beautifully for travel landscape shots. Simply put the horizon in the top-third position, and you get a beautifully balanced, dynamic image:

field landscape following the rule of thirds

Of course, if you’re faced with a dramatic sky with interesting clouds, you might try the opposite: place the horizon on the bottom third position, which will emphasize the sky and deemphasize the foreground. This can look stunning, especially when the sky is dark and moody or during a colorful sunset.

(If you’re not sure whether you should place the horizon along the top-third or bottom-third line, don’t fret. Simply try both and see which you prefer!)

7. Go minimalist

Minimalism in travel photography (and in photography more generally!) is about subtraction. It uses simplicity to evoke emotion. And if it’s not already a part of your travel photography toolkit, it definitely should be!

Now, if you’re not familiar with minimalism, it really just involves stripping away the non-essential and highlighting a subject or two surrounded by negative (empty) space, like this:

Travel photography composition tips

Adopting a minimalist approach does require some mental effort. You have to force yourself to look for those unique subjects that, when isolated, tell a story all their own. But if you set out with the intention to capture some minimalist travel shots, you may be more successful than you expect!

One interesting fact to bear in mind: While minimalist travel shots are striking on any platform, they resonate especially well on social media, where their simplicity and visual impact can cut through the noise and capture the viewer’s attention (even when viewed on small devices!).

Travel photography composition tips

8. Place your subject dead-center in the composition

In the previous section, I discussed the value of putting key elements a third of the way into the frame. But sometimes it’s good to break rules, and one of the most effective ways to create unique and striking travel compositions is by placing your subject centrally in the frame.

long exposure of ice on the beach

When a person or object is placed dead center, the viewer will be instantly drawn to the subject. And they’ll immediately understand the main theme and story of the image, thanks to the lack of distractions.

If you’re feeling especially adventurous, take this further; combine some leading lines with your centrally positioned subject to add perspective, dynamism, and energy. For example, you might shoot a road that leads to a car or mountain in the middle of the frame.

9. Create a layering effect

One of the most visually striking compositional techniques in travel photography is the layering technique. This involves positioning various subjects at different distances from your lens and arranging them so they appear stacked (or layered) on top of each other within the frame, like this:

Travel photography composition tips

The nearest element should ideally anchor the bottom of the frame, with each subsequent layer leading the viewer’s eye deeper into the scene, culminating with the most distant element near the top.

Layering is particularly effective in travel landscape photography – for instance, you can capture a series of rolling hills or mountains, each overlapping the next. By adjusting your framing, you can layer these elements to create a sense of harmony, as well as a depth that invites the viewer to explore every part of the image.

But the technique isn’t limited to landscapes – urban environments, with their intricate architecture and bustling street scenes, offer opportunities to use this layered compositional approach (though you’ll need to be a bit more creative and will often need to work the scene to find a nice balance of elements!).

Travel photography composition tips

If you’re looking to create a layered effect but you’re struggling to get started, here’s what I recommend:

First, observe your surroundings and try to visualize how different elements at different depths can be aligned to form layers. Next, consider the distances between these elements and how altering your position or focal length can enhance the effect. (Often, stepping backward while using a longer focal length can be especially effective when you want to layer different elements because it’ll compress the scene.)

Finally, when you have a balanced composition, capture a shot! Review it on your LCD – and zoom in! – to make sure that the image looks good. In particular, check that you’ve achieved sharpness from foreground to background, as you generally want to keep all the layered elements reasonably sharp. If everything is top-notch, then congratulations! And if there are any problems, make the necessary adjustments and capture another photo!

10. Add an interesting foreground element

Foreground elements look great in travel photos, especially when using wide-angle lenses.

Why? Because they add depth to the scene. They show the viewer the area right beneath the photographer’s feet…

…before sweeping the viewer out into the more distant ocean, city, or mountains.

Travel photographers use this technique all the time in seascape and cityscape shots; they find a nice foreground element, like a rock on the beach or a bridge by the water, they position it in the foreground, and let it suck the viewer straight into the shot.

So when you’re next out with your camera and wide-angle lens, look for a nice foreground element to add to the shot – a tree, some flowers, a rock, a streetlight, or even just ripples in the sand. Position it in the bottom third of the composition (see the rule of thirds, discussed above!), then watch as an ordinary image becomes extraordinary.

rock on the beach composition tip foregrounds

11. Use shapes and patterns

Shapes and patterns exist everywhere, and an easy way to create travel images with more impact is to identify and use these features.

Here, I’m really talking about becoming more abstract in your travel compositions. Don’t just photograph your subject; instead, look for interesting shapes and patterns that make up your subject, then compose with them in mind.

Travel photography composition tips

When capturing a compelling tree, for example, most travel photographers will simply shoot the whole tree – but you can elevate your image by framing some patterns in the leaves or roots. Other examples of travel themes and subjects you can shoot with interesting shapes and patterns include water, architectural details, and even food.

Pro tip: While you can always photograph patterns and shapes with a wide-angle lens, it often helps to go longer (i.e., use a focal length beyond 50mm or so). For especially unique shots, consider using a macro lens.

12. Work with a tripod

Travel photography composition tips

The idea of traveling with a tripod might not appeal to everyone – after all, tripods can be inconvenient to carry around, plus they’ll slow down your shooting process. But in my experience, incorporating a tripod into your travel photography can be hugely helpful, particularly when you’re first grappling with compositional decisions.

Why? Well, a tripod will freeze the shot as it is, encouraging you to spend more time thinking about key compositional considerations: the placement of elements within the frame, the shooting height, the camera angle, and the placement of the frame edges. While it might seem frustratingly slow at first, shooting with a tripod will almost certainly elevate the structure of your images by ensuring that every aspect is intentional.

As an aside, the stability offered by a tripod is essential for night cityscapes, silky smooth coastal shots, and travel landscape shots that include beautifully blurred clouds!

Travel photography composition tips: final words

The way you compose your travel shots will majorly impact the final image. By using some of the tips mentioned above – such as framing your subject, finding leading lines, and going more abstract – your shots will instantly improve.

So have fun, and do what you can to explore your different compositional options!

Now over to you:

Which of these travel composition techniques do you plan to use? Do you have any favorite techniques of your own? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Jeremy Flint
Jeremy Flint

Jeremy Flint is an award-winning photographer and writer, specialising in travel, landscape and location photography and is known for documenting images of beautiful destinations, cultures and communities from around the world. Jeremy has won awards including the National Geographic Traveller Grand Prize and the Association of Photographers Discovery Award, besides being commended in Outdoor Photographer of the Year. He has also been a finalist in the Travel Photographer of the year and British Photography Awards several times. He has been commissioned by commercial and editorial clients worldwide including National Geographic Traveller, Country Life, Discover Britain, USA National Parks and Visit Britain and has travelled extensively to over 65 countries.

I need help with...