10 Top Travel Photography Tips

I am delighted to welcome back award winning professional photographer Penelope Beveridge as a guest in my Expert Series.

If you would like to find out more about Penelope you can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook at her Penelope Photo blog and at Penelope Beveridge Photography. You can view a lot more of her work, learn which are her some of her favourite images and see news of her latest award by visiting her first guest post at Penelope’s Top Photo Picks.

10 Top Travel Photography Tips

Photography is essentially about capturing a “moment of time”. As soon as your finger hits the shutter release that is the instant that you will preserve, time was stopped for that split second and recorded to hold forever.

The shutter  does not discriminate if you had considered all the facts before taking the shot, this is where you need to have the skill and set up your shot before hitting the button!

Travel photography should rarely be a quick hit or miss capture. Constantly I am asked “Penelope how did you get that shot and those beautiful colors in your image”. In this article I will give 10 tips, trade secrets on better Travel Photography that will improve your travel images.

Tip 1 – Plan your Day

Before I go to a new town, site or landscape location there are a number of factors that I consider like the weather,  the season, the time of day to shoot and where will the sun be when I arrive.

Sunrises and sunsets display magic light for images, beautiful skies, glimmering ripples on water, mountains may have a rim of golden hue capping their peaks and you have approximately 20 minutes of opportunity to capture this amazing light and make an ordinary shot look extraordinary. Be prepared to get up early in the morning and trek to your destination before the sun goes down.

I use a great iPhone app called “Sun”.  The Sun application allows me to type in the location to check the sunset, sunrise, twilight and even has Google maps so you can zoom in and see where the light will be hitting and what the shadows will be covering. This is excellent if you want to photograph the exterior of a historical building. Buildings covered in shadow or having too much light are not generally pleasing to the eye.

A trade tip for sunsets is to check for clouds. Clouds will make sunsets more interesting so check out the type of clouds you have available. Cumulus clouds generally start forming in late morning, peak in development by mid-afternoon and then start to dissipate as sunset approaches. High cirrus or stratus clouds stay around longer and they make beautiful colorful “streaks” across the sky. Their colors are reflected which will make the sky more interesting.

If you want a lot of pink and crisp color lines in the clouds, you will need an atmosphere that is clear with low humidity. If you want the sun to be a hazy large ball with the brightness a bit “tamed”, you need more particles in the air (pollution) and/or high humidity.

Unfortunately there are no easy answers in determining which sunset will be the best, this is up to mother nature.

Tip 2 – Scout the Area

My goal is to capture the essence, the soul of the area. It will be impossible to do this without some knowledge. Initially when I get to a destination I like to scout around the area first. Find the unique characteristics and plan what to shoot. During the course of this action I may take a few quick shots for further guidance and assurance that the position selected is the best spot to set up my gear.

I always travel with a tripod, if I fly to a location I pack a very lightweight one. Getting the feel of a destination and previsualizing your final images before using your camera will make all the difference when the light is at its peak. Things to consider, the composition, should you shoot landscape (horizontal format) or portrait (vertical format), why are you choosing this location, what is the main subject and what is the most interesting detail in this image.

Some of my photography colleagues also use an iPhone application called Sun Seeker. If you do not have an iPhone you can download the software called SunPath used by film makers and photographers. This software will operate on both Mac and PC.

Other handy apps I use are the weather, compass, Google maps, Geolog tag and myPhotoDOF.  PhotoJot is an iPhone application that will record locations, you can take a couple of photos, jot down some notes and have a GPS location, so you can return later.

Tip 3 – Previsualize

Before you start think about the end result. Previsualize your final print. If you are shooting with a digital SLR will your final image be color or black and white.  If you have an interesting foreground subject, could be people, animals or buildings look at the background. Will the background enhance the image or will the background distract from the main subject.

Try not to let background compete with the viewers eye. If your subject is a person wearing dark clothing and they are standing next to a dark building, this can be a tricky situation to get a great image. The subject may become lost in the background. Look through the lens you plan to use. Are you close enough to your subject or do you need a wider angle? Should you blur out the background by using a shallow depth of field and only focusing on the subject? These are issues that you should be thinking about beforehand. Write yourself a brief of what you wish to capture so you do not forget.

When traveling it can be overwhelming visually and you could fall in the trap at snapping everything and anything without any real thought of your story and flow of images. In point form, jot down your main images such as people in the marketplace, the temple with a monk walking past, the bike rider, the food etc.  Of course, those amazing images jump into your sight when you are walking around with your camera, so be prepared and ready for those moments too.

At the location you can use an iPhone application called Viewfinder basic or Viewfinder Pro to help compose your shot, choose your focal length and it supports every digital camera and film based camera on the market.

Tip 4 – No Flash No Tripod

Sometimes we are in places that do not allow tripods or flash. If you are you need a wall, chair, bench or any steady surface to brace your camera against it. If it’s low light you will need to avoid holding onto the camera as your breathing can cause movement blur. Many photographers carry small bean bags, stress balls and backpacks to steady their camera. To ensure sharpness go for a faster shutter speed. If you have a digital SLR with interchangeable lens consider the type of lens you are using.

Long lens, telephotos and zooms need to be very steady. For example, if you are using a 200mm telephoto lens at aperture F8 and shutter speed 1/125s you will probably have some blur. Our trade trick here is never hand hold a lens where the lens size is more than the shutter speed eg you have a 200mm telephoto lens, you want good DOF (depth of field) at F8 or F11 and to achieve good exposure with the available light your shutter speed will be set at 1/125. Take the number of the shutter speed 125 and the lens is 200mm, the shutter speed is less than the lens size.

Its a quick simple way to realize you will probably have a slightly unsharp image and lose the sharpness in the fine detail. Another example you have a 50mm lens and your shutter speed is only 1/25 again you should be using a tripod or steady the camera on a surface. Consider your shutter speed in lower light situations, try and increase your shutter speed or find a surface to brace your camera. You can increase your ISO, although depending on your camera this can introduce noise (a grainy look) into your image.

Another trade trick, is set your camera onto a hard surface, then change to “self timer” approximately 5s and this will prevent any movement that may occur.  Remember trying to hand hold on very slow shutter speeds will result in unsharp images even if you feel you are very steady, even breathing will affect the camera.

Tip 4 – Your Lenses

If you are in very low light situation choose a wide angle lens. With steady hands you can set the shutter speed much lower than the other lens types. I regularly use my 24mm lens and can use slow shutter speeds at 1/15 handheld and get excellent results. Wide angle will allow for more information of a scene although make sure you are clear in your mind what is the main subject of the scene. Sometimes if I am restricted with what I carry, I will choose my wide angle lens.

For shallow depth of fields, closer subjects choose a telephoto lens. Sometimes while traveling these lenses can make you very conspicuous, screaming looking at me I am a photographer. I tend to chose my longer lenses in the right situation. If you do not have a long lens, you just need to get closer to your subject. In many situations with is a great opportunity to meet people and ask their permission to photograph them.

Macro lenses are excellent for extreme close ups, showing fine details, plants, flowers etc.

Tip 5 – Shooting People

If you intend to sell your images of people you will need a model release in most cases. There are model releases available on iPhones eg iRelease and if you do not have a cellphone with this application available, you should print some model releases and bring them with you.

It would be a great disappointment if you have a wonderful images of a person and you are restricted to sell this due to no model release. Most stock libraries, editors and agencies request that you have a signed model release. In some locations a Property release is required as well. This depends on the country and location.

Another iPhone application that is on the market is Photographers Contract Maker, there is a Lite version to trial. You can create custom releases or contracts.  Remember if you have people in your images and wish to sell commercially you need a model release, permission from the people or the identifiable person.

Tip 6 – Continuous Mode

Most DSLR have single and continuous mode available. If you are capturing action, movement or shooting in lower light the continuous mode is a better choice. The amount of images you capture in a second, will depend on the camera and model you are using.

Tip – 7 Look for interesting Angles

Your viewpoint and composition will help give your image that “wow” factor. If you are at a destination that has been covered multiple ways by other photographers, try and compose something different. Whether it means crawling along the ground, hanging from a tree, walking up a mountain and shooting down, images shot differently from the rest stand out.

I have looked at sea views and decided to actually walk into the water to get my shot. Again, I will hang out of building windows for a great aerial perspective and have crawled along the ground to shoot a monk. The monk was throat playing a huge 8 foot trumpet and the only way that I could get the most interesting angle was down on the ground looking up the trumpet to the monk. This image was widely published by the magazine who commissioned the shoot.

Vary your angles too. Try not to frame all images the same distance, same level, same lens as this will be very boring for the viewer. You need to have close ups, distance shots, mid length, lower angles, high angles and aerials. Mix it up, get variety and your images will be more appealing.

A handy iPhone application is The Photographers Ephemeris as it helps you plan your outdoor shoots, particularly landscape and urban scenes. It is a map-centric sun and moon calculator, see how the light will fall on the land, be it day or night anywhere in the world.

Tip 8 – Storage

I try not to travel without my computer and external hard drive. Deleting any image should be avoided until you return to your computer and check them first. I like to ensure I have my shot, that means I shoot several images of the subject I am capturing. Once you are back to base the moment is gone.

If you only shoot one or two images your risk is higher than it could be slightly unsharp, not composed correctly, horizon in background is tilted or a person has blinked. Take more as insurance. You will be a happier photographer to over shoot than under shoot. Its a very rare circumstance that I take only one or two images on a subject. Its poor practice. Even when shooting film we shoot rolls and rolls of film.

Tip 9 – Get off the beaten Track

Try and discover what the area is really like. Talk to the locals, ask them about their area. You may even hire a guide to take you to locations that are off the beaten track. To get great travel images you need immerse yourself into the area. You have to leave your hotel room, pool, shops and go on an adventure. Its rare that great images come to you, you have to go out and find them.

I have traveled back to the same area a few times to recapture, the first time you can be overwhelmed with the new experiences, new smells, sounds and you can fall into the trap of shooting the same images as the tourists. You get home and there is nothing new and exciting. Go back again and you have a more focused view on the area.

This is why I like my computer with me when I travel. I can gauge if I need to return and recapture before moving on. If a computer is not possible ensure several compact flash or SD cards available. The minimum size I use is a 16mb CF card.

Getting off the beaten track refers to areas less traveled by tourists you can find this in any big city, country or town.

Tip 10 – Bracket your Landscape Image

The eye sees scenes very differently from your camera. Our eyes capture the full dynamic range, you will see the detail in the shadow, the sky and the clouds. When you try to duplicate what you see it can be very disappointing due to the high dynamic range that your camera was incapable of recording. In these cases, most pro photographers will take several images that will be merged together in an imaging editing software program such as PhotoShop or Photomatrix.  This could be a minimum of two images to several images.

Below is a list of the terms to give you a better understanding how to create a HDR image. The final tweaking of a HDR image is very subjective and this will depend on what appeals to you.

When you bracket for HDR only bracket your shutter speed not your aperture. If you are using a program on your camera, use Shutter priority not Aperture priority. Taking two or more photos with different exposures of the same scene is bracketing. When I have a scene that has dark landscape and bright sky, I will bracket my shutter speed e.g. from 1/125 then next shot 1/60 and final shot at 1/30. You can set most cameras onto Auto Bracketing or you do this manually on your camera. Remember best to change the shutter speed not the aperture

Remember most digital cameras have a limited dynamic range (the exposure setting determines which part of the total dynamic range will be captured). Here are some recommendations for taking different exposures for the HDR image:

1. Mount your camera on a tripod, it must be steady. If you have no tripod mount your camera on a steady platform, like a rock etc. Although you must not allow the camera to move during the bracketing stage.

2. Set your camera to manual exposure mode. Select an appropriate aperture for your scene (e.g. f/8 or less if you need more depth of field) and the lowest ISO setting. Only change the shutter speed not the aperture size when you take a series of bracketed images.

3. Measure the light in the brightest part of your scene usually water or sky (spot metering or in Av mode to point only the highlights) and note the exposure time. Do the same for the darkest shadows of your scene.

4. Determine the number and value of exposures necessary. Take as a basis the exposure time measured for the highlights. Multiply this number by 4 to find the next exposure with a stop spacing of 2 EV. Multiply by 4 successively for the next exposures till you pass the exposure measured for the shadows. (NB:  Most daylight outdoor scenes a minimum of 3 exposures spaced by two EVs are often sufficient to properly cover the dynamic range)

5. You can make use of Auto-Exposure Bracketing if this is an available function in your camera. It must allow a sufficient exposure increment and number of auto-bracketed frames to cover the dynamic range. Generally you need to adjust the shutter speeds.

Once you have all your images you can use an image editing program to merge all these images into one HDR images. You will adjust via tone mapping.  Tone mapping is applied via image processing software like Photoshop or Photomatrix.  It’s used to get the most detail out of the image and maximize the contrast although preserving the image detail and color appearance.

Tone mapping helps address the problem of strong contrast reduction from the scene values (radiance) to a more desirable and appealing range while preserving the images details and color of the original image content.  There are a number of great tutorials to watch on YouTube to see how to process your images into a HDR image.  This takes some practice but the results are worth the effort.

Happy travel photography – Penelope!

Many thanks to Penelope for her amazingly comprehensive guide to capturing memorable images on your travels . Please do let her have your comments.

Thank you for visiting The Top 10 Blog and I hope to see you here again soon.

*All images courtesy of Penelope Beveridge

  • Penelope Beveridge wonder, bonsai pine, pigeons, the Olgas, and others, very beautiful pictures. chance to learn from you.!

  • Mohammad Faizan

    Hey Penelope :D!

    Wow, its amazing & wonderful at the same time to see you being featured once again at The Top 10 Blog. 

    Great job there Tony for giving her such an amazing opportunity to share her experience :D!

    These tips are really great in useful, especially when one’s traveling. At times i’ve myself had a few problems when i had to take photos and didn’t go planned….phew!!!

    A heartfelt Thanks to both of you for sharing such wonderful Photography Tips with us.
    Have a wonderful week ahead :D!!!

  • Mohammad Faizan

    Hey Penelope :D!

    Wow, its amazing & wonderful at the same time to see you being featured once again at The Top 10 Blog. 

    Great job there Tony for giving her such an amazing opportunity to share her experience :D!

    These tips are really great in useful, especially when one’s traveling. At times i’ve myself had a few problems when i had to take photos and didn’t go planned….phew!!!

    A heartfelt Thanks to both of you for sharing such wonderful Photography Tips with us.
    Have a wonderful week ahead :D!!!

    • Penelope

      thank you so much Faizan and Mehmet for taking the time to check out my article also to Tony who patiently waited for me to finish the content. I appreciate all the wonderful feedback and positive comments received from everyone. it’s made the effort to share worthwhile :))

  • Anonymous

    Tony, the upside down, scantily clad, book reading motorcycle rider; this was good. The photos are phenomenal. I think it’s great you take the time to put these lists together so the ‘just show up’ guys like myself can enjoy.

    Thanks for sharing. 

    • Glad you enjoyed them Bill, Penelope did all the hard work, I just put it out there for people to enjoy :-)

  • Guest

    Every single photo in the article is HDR, bordering unresponsible – these colors are not how your eye sees, either. I would agree that this is a form of art, where you create an artificial view, but it is not a travel/photo journalism photography, where you are to display the real world.

    • Penelope

      I am always very wary of negative comments like this the sunsets were not HDR our world does look like this the colors in Whitsunday are brilliant blue and cameras do not have the same dynamic range as the eyes. our eyes see a much higher dynamic range the section o
      I wrote on HDR was to allow people who are interested to capture what their eyes sees. how can you argue that images from a camera is not actual photography that does not make sense to me they were not drawn? if the International Photofraphy Awards of New York with 70 judges considered travel photography successful by awarding these images I think I will take their opinion thanks,

  • Great tips! I just returned from Alaska and wish I would have thought of #10…bracketing would have helped my photos. Oh well, next time ;) 

  • Absolutely beautiful photos!  Great tips, thank you.

  • Absolutely beautiful photos!  Great tips, thank you.

  • Absolutely beautiful photos!  Great tips, thank you.