Taking Better Travel Photos

On your last trip, you shot 7,218 pictures, but you only found a few that justify what you saw, or how you felt at that moment.  We spend so much time taking pictures on our trips, yet they tend to disappoint when we get home and review.  By following a few easy steps, you can create images that capture the essence of the subject even if you just have a point and shoot.  Remember: as with anything in life, rules are meant to be broken, but only on special occasions.

People Photos

Avoid Cutting off the Head

Consider the Pose-Arms Out Helps Thin Subject, Try not to Shoot Subject Straight on

 Fancy Dog Walk

Centering is Usually not the Best-More Interest can come from not Centering

A Monk Tourist at Notre Dame

Focus on the Eyes


Watch the Light-Make Sure the Subject is Enhanced by the Light, not Blinded

 Day 74-1

Landscape Photos

Don’t place the Horizon in the Center

 Canyon that is Grand

Avoid Photographing the Sky when it is Overcast-Sometimes Clouds can be Interesting, but a Washed Out Sky is not


Shoot Silhouettes at Sunset  Sunset

Basic Rules

Pick a Point of Interest  Winking Pansy
Keep it Simple  Don't Eat Me
Show Contrasting Colors  Burano HDR1
Provide Balance-Make Sure there is not a Big Empty Space in your Photo  Tower
Consider your Viewpoint-The Best Photo May not be Taken at Eye Level or Where you are Standing  Soccer-Crowd
Anything Forming a Line Should be Diagonal  Ready for a Trip
Best Shooting Times are Early Morning and Evening  Haarlem
Consider Composition: Try to have  Foreground, Middle Ground, and Background  Foggy Golden Gate
Avoid Shooting Directly into the Sun  london eye1
Get Creative with your Angles-Don’t Feel Like you have to Shoot Straight on  Vintage Eiffel
Think About the Rule of Thirds-Place Objects of Interest Off-Center

Take the Postcard Photos, but also Capture your View  Waiting

10 thoughts on “Taking Better Travel Photos

  1. It’s interesting when folks see some great shots and ask “what kind of camera are you using?” Give a person who doesn’t have “an eye” a $2000 camera and another “with an eye” a $200 camera and set them loose in the same area and guess what the results will be?

    In fact, NatGeo Traveler magazine did an issue where they handed out basic point n shoot cameras to some pros and set them loose, then printed the results.

    Of course, the images were pretty amazing. In fact, several of them enjoyed the experience much more than they anticipated and felt liberated from lugging around their pro gear.

    Digital technology as really flattened the field in terms of the results you can get from cheaper point n shoot cameras. Even some phones can take some pretty good shots.

    That said, taking a good picture isn’t rocket science, but it doesn’t happen by accident either. If you really want to improve, take a night course on photography at your local high school or community college or just take some time to buy a cappuccino at Barnes and Noble, grab some “how to” and coffee table photo books, and when you see images you like, LOOK at them and ask yourself, what is it that is drawing me into the photo? Go on photo sites like flickr and do the same. AMAZING work being done there.

    As noted, learn and be aware of what kind of lighting can enhance your photos (like late afternoon) and what kind can cause problems (like backlighting), and yes, even look at your camera manual to learn what different settings you can use to compensate for different conditions and force your flash to fire when needed.

    Learn how to hold the shutter button down part way to lock in the focus and exposure in the part of the scene you want emphasized, then re-frame and then trip the shutter. You can trick an auto exposure camera to taking lighter and darker images of the same scene by holding the shutter button down halfway and locking in the lighter sky or darker water exposure, then reframing, then pressing the shutter all the way. This works especially well at sunset or sunset.

    Also take shots of the same thing at different times of the day, especially iconic sights you may see on your travels. I put 4 shots of the Eiffel Tower side by side in a photo book spread taken from the same vantage point (our hotel balcony) with vastly different lighting/clouds/sky etc. and a friend remarked wow that’s really cool – I would never think of doing that. And I thought – how can you not? LOL

    Speaking of photo books, consider taking the time (and it takes a LOT of time) to edit your photos and assemble your very own coffee table book of your trip. It is a very cool way to share and re-live your travels, vs just having them sit in your computer. All of the photo sites have this option – Shutterfly, etc.

    And speaking of photo editing, consider using photo editing software to do simple things like cropping out stuff in the image of limited interest, straightening the horizon (a pet peeve of mine) and do stuff like lighten up underexposed photos or adjust the blue tint of underwater photos.

    You don’t have to spend a lot of money or time on that either – Picasa edit software downloaded from Google is free, and you can get pretty good color and tint corrections from just using their all-in-one “I’m Feeling Lucky” button under “Basic Fixes”.

    When you shoot something (landscape, person, anything), take a shot wide, take a shot zoomed, take a shot with the camera held vertical (or “portrait” position). Crouch down to get a different angle. As noted, use the “rule of thirds” when framing (or later while cropping your shots) i.e. divide the frame into thirds and try to have something interesting in each third of the frame.

    As noted, place your subject off center and don’t ONLY shoot people full frame. Also frame them from the knees up and then from the waist up – but put don’t put their heads smack dab in the middle of the frame – keep their faces in the upper third.

    With landscapes, as noted, don’t always put the horizon smack dab in the middle of the frame on every shot. Do one with more sky, then one with more water or land. Maybe try it with something in the foreground off to the side to give it scale.

    Taking more shots will enable you to do a better job selecting only the best ones to keep/print/show to others, but please, BE A HARSH EDITOR. It can be a bit painful when somebody shows a virtual slideshow or an actual stack of their vacation photos that still includes ALL the crooked, blurry, dark, or crazy red eye photos.

    That said, take some time to think about COMPOSING your shots as noted in this blog entry – the framing, points of interest, the lighting, the angles etc. and maybe it will become second nature to you and you will actually become confident enough to take LESS shots.

    Back in the film days, when I was younger and on a tighter budget, I could only afford to shoot and develop maybe 1 to 1.5 rolls of film per day i.e. 36 to 50 shots PER DAY so I really had to make them count by paying attention to composition etc. I see lotsa people around me taking shots willy nilly with their digital cameras and I am thinking wow that image is gonna suck – why are you taking that shot?

    That said, I am often accused by my family of going overboard with the camera while traveling. However, I find having a camera in hand and being in “photographer mode” i.e. on the outlook for interesting shots can actually make you appreciate some big and small things you might’ve otherwise overlooked i.e. patterns, colors, lighting, architecture, juxtapositions of stuff, etc. BUT, I also agree that there is a danger to slipping into the mode of seeing the whole trip through a lens, which certainly isn’t ideal either.

    Happy Travels!

  2. This post is very helpful. Your pictures inspire me to take more artful pictures. Thank you for giving us your secrets.


  3. Thanks for the great post. Some of the best sunset photos I have taken were from a small

    Bridge in Florence. I was alone, and moved from one side of the bridge to the other to capture 2 different views of the river in the changing light after sunset. Patience paid off. I probably could not have done this with someone else, not sure a companion would have waited 2 hours for me to photograph! That is a great part of solo travel.

    1. I definitely think there are some advantages to traveling solo. Even if I’m traveling with a group, I try to experience the solo travel moments also. There is something that happens when we are on our own. I think I’ve grown and learned the most about myself in these situations. I’d love to see some of your pictures. Is there a link I can visit?

  4. Excellent tips! I have been thinking about what kind of photos I want to take during my tour this summer. I hope taking photos on my iPhone will be able to capture my memories My digital camera is six years old, and my iPhone actually takes some very nice pictures!
    Melissa, I love your blog and look forward to receiving all your posts in my inbox. You have truly inspired me. If it wasn’t for our conversations, I might not be going to Scandinavia this summer!

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words, Faiza. I think your iPhone will work great. I’ve seen some amazing photos from the iPhone. Maybe you can practice with it some before you go. Plus, you can use instagram, so there are tons of cool filters you can try. I can’t wait to see your pictures! Scandinavia is definitely an item on my list of places to go.

  5. Good morning, and thank you for visiting my blog. I notice there are some shots of the most beautiful city in the world on this post!

    Thank you for your tips, and thanks also to JohnM for his pointers.


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