10 tips on getting better travel photos

How to get better travel photos, how to capture moments and create images that will surprise everyone? Many people have complimented our travel photography, it was noted when we won the National Geographic travel story of the year and met editors in Washington, did a lecture on travel photography during Riga Photo Show and when we post anything on the blog. But everyone, with just a little effort can get better at travel photography! These 10 tips will help you get better pictures even if you are not a photography pro! All of these pictures we have taken on our own.

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1.Before you press the button – figure out the aim and the audience!

Always think about what do you want to say with the image and to whom do you want to say it to. What will do you with them afterwards – show to relatives, post on social media or print in photobooks? Or you won’t be using them anywhere? There has been a lot of displeasure with tourists snapping every corner with an iPad and obscuring the view for others, so don’t be one of them!. But there is no shame in taking selfies or a picture of Mona Lisa, if that’s what you feel like!

The goal of your pictures will determine how high quality images do you need. Also, don’t forget to think about different genres that will make your photography report more versatile:

  • City skylines
  • Nature, animals and their habitats
  • Landscapes
  • People and street photography
  • Photojournalism
  • Abstract

2.Selection of photographs – less is more!

Each of us must have had to sit through a five hour long story night where every single picture shot during a three day trip by your relatives is shown to everyone. Instead of showing thousands of photographs to your family, show a few dozen, each different. The story should not be more than 45 minutes, as that is about the maximum attention span one can focus on these days. Less is more, better a few interesting images and not many and boring. Variate between various genres – granny will enjoy seeing your face in the images as much as the Taj Mahal on its own!

Leave the selection of images to a few days after the trip, not on the same day. Also don’t leave it for months after you are back, as other things and new trips will have come up until then and these pictures will no longer be relevant. Don’t be concerned that you shoot thousands of pictures – even National Geographic selects one spread from 40 000 pictures. Just don’t show all of them!

3. Buy a camera that matches your skills or – the best camera is the one you have with!

We get a lot of questions on what camera do we use that we get such beautiful pictures. Jekabs uses Sony, he shoots with A7RII and I play around with RX100, which we also use for underwater shots, when it’s placed in a special case. But the main thing isn’t the gear, same as you don’t get the tastiest food because of the best pans. It’s how you use the gear you have!

Simply buying more expensive camera will not bring you better pictures! You need to know how to use it, and if you don’t have the skills, there is no shame in picking a compact camera or just using the phone! You can only catch moments with the camera you have with and know how to use!

But there are photography enthusiasts like us who cannot imagine travelling without all of our gear – camera, lenses, laptop, cleaning gear, tripod and underwater case if diving (and you will have to carry all of it!). Speaking about underwater photography, if you are interested in it, you have to learn to be a good diver first – keeping buoyancy well!

4.Wake up early, go to bed late – best times for picture taking

Usually the best time for taking the pictures is +/2 hours around sunset or sunrise, because:

  • Animals are the most active
  • The light is the most interesting
  • City lights are the same brightness as sky
  • It’s not hot

To take pictures after sunset, you will need a certain level of skill. The middle of the day, when most tours take place, usually is not the best time, as it is too hot and there are too many people. The timing is the reason why we come back so exhausted after vacations, as we barely sleep! No dancing til the morning, all the time taking pictures!

A lot of times the pictures can be heavily influenced by weather and not so much the object you are taking pictures of – imagine Kemeri Bog path in a rainy November day! Yet in August during sunrise, with fog rolling over and red sky exposed, it is considered to be one of the most beautiful places in the world!

5.Change the viewpoint

When hiking, often people look just straight ahead – look back! If you can get to a higher viewpoint, do that! Bridges, parking lots and viewing points are good for this. Also change the perspective, look up to a building when sitting on the ground, look at the treetops, skyscrapers, look down to mosaics and insects. If you pay attention and look to the bushes and trees, you will see lizards and birds.

Pathways usually look good, so take pictures of those, but don’t forget to go off road, see the quite corners of monuments and temples, and you will definitely see something amazing!

6.Research the best places in advance

When you are in a new place for the first time, it will be hard to find good spot right away, so research the place already at home! Draw inspiration from the work of others and find out when is the best time to go to the location!

  • Check photography forums and travel blogs
  • Mark the most interesting places in an offline map
  • Check pictures on Pinterest and Instagram
  • Sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset time and direction can be seen in photoephemeris.com
  • Most popular photo spots aggregated – sightsmap.com
  • Google – find out what is happening in town, what it is famous for, where are the market places and crowds! People always look nice in pictures, especially children! You can see the true way of living in them.

7. Plan more time!

One of the reasons why we don’t usually travel in groups is the time we need to take decent pictures. Five minutes and three steps from the bus is not the way. This is also the reason why when we book individual tours, we rarely manage to do all of the itinerary. Sometimes we have had guides come looking for us in temples, thinking we got lost!

If you travel with a group of friends, agree how you will manage this extra time so they are not bored. Since it often means waking up early and going to bed late as well, it won’t be for everyone. Yet, most people will be very happy for those few shots of them that you take in addition to focusing on landscapes and monuments.

8. Dress appropriately and don’t go hungry!

Since photography takes a lot of time and is often around sunrise or sunset, think what you will do if it get’s cold. On a cold day I usually pack at least 2 sweaters more than I think I will need! In warm places pack insect repellent and sunscreen (both of these are really bad for your camera gear, so keep separate!). A snack and some water or thermos will be very good for those long hours as well. If you feel comfortable, you will be in a good mood and get better pictures!

9.Think about back up!

I have heard so many stories about stolen cameras, broken phones and lost photos! Don’t keep all your precious pictures only in one copy! As soon as you get back to hotel, make a backup. We keep two – either on both of the external hard drives (to be kept separately at all times), or on a laptop and external drive. If you don’t take a lot of pictures and have internet, uploading them to a cloud service can be an option too. Think where you will keep your pictures at home as well, so you can still see them after a year or two! It’s not a question if your hard drive will break, but when it will break!

10. Safety first

There is no picture in the world worth it for you to take your life or health! Never climb rails, fences, don’t take pictures of people and animals who don’t want to be taken a picture of, don’t walk alone in unsafe areas with our without your ear. Don’t break “no photography rules” as you will get kicked out of the zoo if you start flashing that flash in the eyes of the animals, and cause stress for those precious creatures too! Don’t trespass, as you might get taken to police station or even deported. If you take pictures of vendors, it is good tone to buy something.

Don’t advertise your camera gear to everyone, wear an inconspicuous bag, and never ever check it in! Always hide your gear if you have to leave it in the hotel room, better lock it inside a suitcase. Check local laws on photography in public spaces. If someone offers to take a picture of you, refuse, as this is the quickest way to lose your camera to thieves. And please be considerate when asking others to take pictures of you, if they are obviously busy doing the shot of the lifetime, better ask someone else!

Before you pull out your camera on a windy day on the beach, on a cliff or on a boat, remember that sand, water and falling down will damage your camera. Also, buy insurance.

Follow Jekabs pictures also on Facebook!


28 comments

  1. You’re pictures are simply stunning and these are some great tips. I agree with taking a lot of photos but only showing a small selection to family. It makes each one stand out more and stops the family from getting bored looking at them! That’s a good point you made about not accepting people taking photos of you, I’ll definitely keep that in mind.

    1. Glad you enjoyed my article! I have had some shady characters offer me to take pictures of me, and once I asked myself just to end up with a group of guys following me all over the place! Creepy 🙁

  2. Your photos are absolutely stunning. Great tips and they are definitely things I can try to incorporate into our photos. I am definitely guilty of taking too many photos and not editing them down. Thanks!

    1. Picture selection is the hardest bit! We are stuck at about 900 pics from Paris at the moment, selected from 4600 already… so I know what you mean! 🙂

    1. Planning definitely is a good point! Whatever time you spend planning at home is time saved during travels!

  3. You’re pictures are simply stunning ! I fully agree with you when you mention that the best time for taking the pictures is +/2 hours around sunset or sunrise: the light is so beautiful ! I also try to select a few number of photographs to show to my friends and family. For the other tips, I will take some of them and put them into practice during my next trip. Thank you for sharing your experience 🙂

    1. What do your friends and family say about the pictures? I have seen that family usually likes them all, the friends – a few have patience even for 20 pics! 🙁

    1. Thank you! I have some fun stuff planned for the upcoming week or so, if I manage to follow the rule and select a reasonable amount if pictures to share 🙂 Otherwise it’s just too many! 🙂

  4. Thanks for the tips, very useful! I am also very into photography albeit not being a professional by any means. I agree with your tip on light – I try to chase golden hour whenever I can (I’m not an early bird hahah)

    1. I hear you about the early bird! I can think of only one vacation where we woke up for almost every sunrise, and that was in Palau – it became customary to go to bed at 8-9 pm and wake up at 5! Since we did not have AC in the room, it was nearly the only time to make pictures outside without having to go to a shower right afterwards 🙂

    1. Thank you! 🙂 The Taj Shot is actually during Full Moon viewing tour, shot from a “tripod” made out of the shoe, and settings done by asking a Japanese guy to shine his camera screen light onto ours, as no items except for cameras were allowed in (no flashlight, obviously!).

  5. The tips are good, and no matter how good photographer the reader is, your hubby is an amazingly talented and it’s always worth to see his pictures 🙂

  6. These are such amazing tips! Especially the one about buying a camera for your skill level. When I first started I really wanted an expensive DSLR but was talked into a CSC by the guy at the store. I’m so grateful because the camera took amazing photos on automatic and now that I’m more skilled I can play with the manual settings and buy lenses. These are all great tips to keep in mind.

    1. Rather than spend a ton of money on something you might no know how to use, a compact lets you learn it gradually. I have seen some very quick moves from small compact to fancy DSLR and people even becoming photographers with their next camera. But at first it would have been overwhelming 🙂

  7. #5 was super helpful for me since I’ll be visiting different nature parks during the summer! This was great!

  8. Amazing photos and what an incredible achievement winning the Nat Geo award! I loved your tips on photoephemeris and sightsmap, I’d never heard of them and absolutely need them for my upcoming trips, especially since I’m getting way more into photography. Also good tip on safety, I think after all the thought you put into photography it’s so easy to forget this essential step – and when you do it can pretty much undo all your efforts1

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