6 travel photography tips that will make you a better traveler

While my camera spends most of its time in movie mode, I always make time for photography when I’m traveling. There are parts of the process that mesh so seamlessly with exploring a new place that I sincerely recommend it to anyone spending time abroad.

Travel photography is driven by marvels of nature and unfamiliar human elements. Great travel photography can inspire others to travel and build empathy for the stories of people around the world.

So to help you level up your travel photography game, here are 6 tips for better travel photography.

Move yourself.

The more locations you hit, the better your chances of landing in an interesting situation. This is true on all geographical levels—spending time in different towns, taking the metro to a new neighborhood, exploring a longer route home, or just crossing the street. If you come across an event, don’t get comfortable with your spot in the crowd. Get moving and find as many different vantage points as you can.

When you’re somewhere you know, it’s easier to anticipate photogenic moments. But when you’re somewhere new, the best way to tune in to the rhythm of your surroundings is to move around more than you’re accustomed to.

But don’t forget to stop.

Once you find a place that intrigues you, apply some patience and see what comes of it. A great street photography technique is to look for frames in the structure of the city—like two street parked cars or a doorway—and wait for the human element to wander into the frame. When traveling, the same technique can help you capture people interacting with their place in unfamiliar ways, which makes for some profound travel photography.

The same goes for what you see in nature. It only takes a few minutes for the sun to break through the clouds or an intrepid creature to flap into frame, like this seagull did on a recent trip to Ireland.

Talk to people.

Not only is it polite to ask permission before firing off some photos of somebody, the people you meet can be a fast track to untold cultural treasures and photographic opportunities. In Anguilla, we became great friends with a local named Shane who tipped us off to both a concert at a shoreside venue called Johnno’s and a festival dedicated to traditional Anguillan cooking, where the islanders cooked buttery pockets of fried dough in metal drums. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the same band was playing at both events.

Even if you don’t speak the language, a smile can be all you need to connect with somebody. You might make somebody feel like a star, and their reaction might be the shot you’re hoping for.

Go behind the scenes.

Most of what people see of other countries is a final product—art, books, food, events. Sometimes as visitors, it’s all too easy to take in just a part of the story. As a travel photographer, try to find the “before” or “during” rather than only the “after.” Rather than a shot of the food, aim for the cook. Rather than the performance, try to find the dancers back stage. By seeking out moments before they’re delivered, you’ll uncover more of the human element that makes travel photography special.

Wake up early.

The early bird gets… Nah, I’ll just say it. Set your alarm and get up before every other photographer. Not many people make the most of the early hours, but if you do, you’ll find a much different world. Empty beaches and streets, fields blanketed in fog, or leftover revelers from the night before make for poignant pictures.

Not that I condone it, but what’s normally off limits tends to be less so when nobody is awake to know. Go explore.

Put the camera down.

At some point, press pause on your photographic pursuits to take in your unfamiliar surroundings. It’s healthy to spend some time away from the viewfinder and with the people around you. Leave your camera at home, or at least in your bag, and let the itch to click build up a bit.

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