I’m a professional photographer, but you don’t necessarily have to be one to take great photos of your travels. With some easy, simple tips, you can take your photos to the next level and marvel your friends with the pictures of your holidays in that beautiful beach or at that amazing city. Just follow this easy pro photo tips for amazing travel photos!
Rule number one of travel photography is patience and that’s what I always tell my guests when I take them on my photographic tours around Barcelona (if you`re interested you can contact me here!). Especially when photographing in a busy city, you want the photo to show the place/building/view/architectural feature, not all the tourists around that, which besides being distractive, can ruin your photo.
There was a lot of people here, but you are distant enough from them, they not only do not steal the image but also give it the human scale needed so you can actually see how monumental this place was…
Since you can’t just forbid people to be in your photo and shoo them away, what you can do is wait until you don’t have anyone close to your camera, occupying an important part of your frame and taking all the attention of the photo, and then shot. It may take a while, but I guarantee, is not only worth it: Is needed. Unless you want to take someone’s photo, of course.
Here the people were closer, it was a small street with a lot of traffic, but just by making sure the closer subject (the girl in red) was out of focus and not facing me, I managed to not let it steal the main focus on the photo: The buildings and the sky.
Rule of the thirds:
The rule of the thirds is the basic principle of composition in photography. It consists of dividing the photo with 2 horizontal and 2 vertical lines, equidistant, and placing the objects in the photo either inside one of the areas or close to the intersections, like this:
The people are giving the photo the human scale needed, but they’re small enough to not steal the frame. I put them near the intersection of the lines, and the other interesting element of the photo, the volcano smoke, it`s near the opposite intersection, resulting in a well-balanced photo.
Here the upper horizontal third is occupied by the sky, and the lower one, by the water.
Always keep the horizon… Horizontal!
If there’s one thing that makes me crazy in a picture is tilted horizons. In real life this would never happen, so neither it should in photography. No, there`s no excuse for that, unless we are talking about food photography, which is not the case. In landscape photography, the horizon has to be perfectly horizontal, otherwise, your pictures will look amateur.
But it does happen sometimes, especially when the horizon line is in the water, your shot it’s inclined. Lucky for us, this is one of the easier things to correct, every editing program has a tool for tilting the photo and correcting the horizon, either on mobile or on the computer. So repeat after me: I’ll never publish a photo with the horizon falling to one side again!
Be careful to have the horizon straight even when you can`t see the horizon lines.
In that case, make sure the vertical lines are perfectly vertical…
And talking about lines, when photographing architecture/buildings/interior spaces, whenever is possible, keep the vertical lines parallel and… vertical.
Our brain is smart so it already corrects this whenever we are looking at something, but when photographing, you have to do that manually, either at the time of the shot or after, when editing your photos.
Hotel room in Marrakesh. All the vertical lines in the photo are straight, vertical and parallel.
Sometimes this is not possible, like when you’re photographing a big building from a short distance and the subject just won’t fit the frame unless you tilt the camera up. But unless this is the case, always try to keep vertical lines straight and vertical, parallel to each other, so it won’t look like the place is inclined or the building is falling (unless you’re photographing the tower of Pisa!)
Use diagonal perspective lines for interesting composition.
This one is easier for the architects and engineers out there, but you can still see it after some brain training: Using diagonal vanishing points in your perspective makes the eye “travel” through the image and makes it more dynamic and interesting, composition wise.
The pink lines are the vanishing point lines. It`s like drawing with perspective. A photo is just another visual representation of a subject.
Making use of this composition trick also has the effect of bringing the viewer into your photo, like he was walking alongside with you when you shot it. It`s a great way of making people relate to your photos without even knowing why exactly. Have you ever looked at a photo and thought it was “inviting”? Now you know why…!
Using one vanishing point like this gives the effect of walking with me alongside this place, creating a bigger connection between photographer and viewer. This was taken in Pompeii, in Italy, and there`s a whole post about it here!
Tripods are your best friends!
Tripods are a necessity for photographing at night, because without a steady base, your photos are going to be blurry and shaken. Yes, you can always use a high ISO, but then you`ll lose in sharpness and get a lot of noise in your photos. For clear, sharp images, always use a tripod.
Night shot of the harbor in Split, Croatia. I used a tripod and long exposure.
And yes, I too have been guilty of tripod laziness, like when you don’t feel like carrying a big heavy equipment around, until I bought a Gorilla Pod. It is small, light, fits inside my bag and can be tied around any surface. This is also great for when you ‘re traveling alone and want a nice picture of you that doesn`t consist of a close-up of your face taken with your phone!
My shooting set when photographing during my last holidays in Umbria. There was no place to put the tripod so
I just tied my Gorilla Pod around the vineyard poles. Worked perfectly!!!
When shooting in cloudy days/with bad weather, wait for the sunset and the blue hour for great pictures:
Cloudy/rainy days don’t have to be a bad thing if you know when to shoot. Even though gray skies can be boring, cloudy skies usually create beautiful sunsets. Whenever I have a day like this, I usually wait for the sunset or the blue hour (that moment after the sun goes down, when the first city lights are on but the sky is not completely dark yet) to photograph what I want, and the result doesn’t ever let me down.
Here are some examples of a day in Tossa del Mar, on a cloudy day. During the day the light was bland and boring, so I just stayed reading on the beach and had a great, long lunch with my friends. As sunset time came, I went up on the hill and the gray sky turned into a beautiful orange/pink sunset…
Sunset in the hills of Tossa del Mar.
After the sunset, but before night fell, I took other shots in the little stone streets, and I love the contrast between the cloudy sky and the warm lights of the city!
If I shot this same scene 2 hours before I would have gotten a gray, boring image with no contrasts.
Waiting for the blue hour gave me this beautiful, warm shot!
Use a polarizing filter for a pro touch:
Especially when photographing water (lakes, sea, swimming pool), a circular polarizing filter is the best tool you can have. With a twist of the ring, you can add or quit the reflexions of the light on the water surface. This is handy when you want your picture to show just how clear the water of that paradisiac beach was…
If I didn’t have a polarizing filter, the camera would not have captured just how transparent the water in this Spanish cala in Costa Brava was … or how beautiful the reflexions of the city looked from the other side of the river!
The perfect mirror, city views in Verona, Italy.
Change the approach: Photograph the landscape but also photograph the details.
Let’s do an exercise: Grab a travel magazine. Inspect the photos. Whenever you have a good travel essay, you have wide angle photos (landscapes, city views, panoramic views) and closed angle photos (architectural details, local objects, some portraits). It is important when photographing a place to show how it is and that includes not only a general view but also a closer, more intimate look.
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One of my favorite architectural details is windows and doors. They can tell a lot about a place, like the iconic blue doors of Chefchaouen. But everything can be a great photo subject, even a piece of wire…
Avoid over-editing and HDR effects.
I’m really glad that the HDR era has passed now, but a couple of years ago it was very popular, and I have to admit that my eyes hurt of seeing all those over-edited, artificial images that look nothing like the real world. I don`t think that you have to publish every photo like they come out of the camera, and some editing is perfectly fine, photoshop existed even before computers were created (but it was called analogic manipulation back then).
Normal photo x HDR photo
The problem with HDR (which means high dynamic range) is that the images end up looking completely artificial, this weird mix between a photo and a render and a painting, and if you like it, ok, but I don’t know any serious magazine that will accept this kind of images, and I agree. I think a more realistic look is always the best option.
Normal photo x HDR photo. Can you notice the “stains” in the second one, especially in the sky and in the cow?
Avoiding HDR doesn`t mean you’ll only get soft, pastel photos. I like colorful, sharp photos with a good contrast, as you can see in this blog. But even though my photos look pretty alive, they are still real. I don’t apply effects on them and I don’t edit them too much. You can still have beautiful, lively photos without using HDR, and that`s what I recommend for amazing travel photos!I hope you enjoyed this post and are now feeling eager to grab your camera and go outside to photograph!
As you can see most of those tips don`t even require having a professional equipment, many of them you can apply even to smartphone photography, and I promise that following them you will come back from your next trip with some impressive, amazing travel photos that will make your friends and family sigh!
Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or suggestions! 😉
For more photography, take a look at my All Time Favourite Travel Photos here!