Photo tips I've learned

10 Tips I’ve Learned For Better Travel Photos

I’m not a photographer but I love taking a lot of pictures when I’m traveling, to the point where it becomes annoying for the people I’m with. Ever since I was little and we had a 35mm film camera, my parents had to tell me to stop photographing landscapes and focus on pictures of us. But it was only about a year ago that I started reading and learning about all those settings that seem overwhelming in the beginning. And of course, by the time that I got my first DSLR in spring I had forgotten almost everything, since my old camera wasn’t allowing me to do much.

A lot of things I’ve read became obvious once I started putting them into practice and some I’ve picked up on after a few (hundred) shots. So I’d like to tell you 10 tips for beginners looking to improve their travel photos.

Before I start, I’d like to say that I assume you know the basic concepts of photography, such as aperture, shutter speed and ISO. If you don’t, then I encourage you to read the excellent tutorials for begginers from Photography Life.

1. For the love of God, don’t forget to change the ISO

ISO, the camera’s sensibility to light, is a very useful thing. In brief, the higher the ISO number, the more sensitive your camera will be to light. Basically, you’ll want to use a higher ISO in a place with low light when flash or long exposure isn’t possible (such as a cathedral) and a lower ISO when there’s a lot of light. Be careful though: With great ISO, comes great noise! You see how it’s important to change the settings according to the conditions.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked out of a cathedral, set the shutter speed and aperture for an outside shot and realized the picture was overexposed because I still had a higher ISO set. And it’s especially frustrating if your subject is moving. In Lisbon, after I visited the Se cathedral, I wanted to take a picture of it and a yellow tram passing by. Yeah…. that didn’t go too well, so I had to wait for another tram. And when I finally got it right, a car had to ruin the shot.

Photo tips I've learned - sometimes there's only one shot to get it right
Sometimes you have only one shot to get it right

2. Composition is key

One thing I’ve realized during my last trip is that you can set up the perfect settings on your camera, but it will all look rather dull if you don’t compose your shot carefully. I usually look for interesting angles, something to make the picture stand out. But I’ll be the first one to admit, I still have a lot to improve in this area. While you can learn the correct exposure settings, I feel like composing your pictures in your own personal way takes a lot of practice and patience.

3. Check the picture after you’ve taken it

While I’ve heard people advising against it, I find it incredibly useful, especially for beginners. For one thing, you can see if the picture turned blurry or shaky. Exposure can be easily corrected afterwards, but if a picture is blurry, there isn’t much you can do about it.ย  Of course, I’m assuming here you don’t aim to put it in a frame and call it “modern art” ;). You may say: “But I’m 101% certain the picture isn’t blurry, why do I need to look at it after I pressed the shutter button?”. Looking at the image helps me to see how to improve and compose the shot differently. That is,ย  if someone isn’t threatening me for spending way too much time taking photos of a tree.

Photo tip I've learned - don't ever forget the tripod
I had forgotten my tripod (don’t ever do that!) and I had to try a lot of settings until I got a picture that wasn’t completely blurry

4. One step forward, two steps back

Related to #3, one thing I’m guilty of is taking a picture in one place, check it on the screen of camera, see it turned out okay and leave. It is when I get home and look at it on the laptop and think “man, I wish I got closer to the subject” or “you are too close, dumbass!”. Don’t be that guy (aka me).

5. Research the place before going

I’ve always researched the place I’m traveling to before I got there. What to see, where to eat, where is the best viewpoint of the city, what’s the UFO situation down there (kidding, I don’t check this one, although come to think of it, maybe I should…). Lately, I’ve also looked for pictures other travelers took of the sights I’m interested in and thought how I can do things differently. Flickr, Google Images and Google Maps are my go-to resources. It’s useful especially if you spend a short time in a city and want to make the most of it.

6. Play with the settings

Like I said, theory is one thing, practice is a completely different world. Don’t be afraid to change the settings of the camera. Go for a larger aperture, see what happens. You can either get a beautiful unique shot, or something as smelly as a politician trying to get your vote. But you never know until you try. Have you got a great picture while testing different settings? I’d love to see the result. ๐Ÿ™‚

7. Changing lenses awareness

If you have a DSLR, you need to be super-extra-mega-ultra careful when you change your lens. Don’t do it on a beach, don’t do it if it’s windy, basically don’t do it if there are chances of dust getting inside your camera. I learned this the hard way when I spent 20 minutes on top of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris to clean the camera. Which reminds me: do buy a good cleaning set, it’s important that you can actually clean your camera with it, not cause more trouble (like the one I have did….)

8. Flash can be useful

I used to hate the flash and never used it. Ever! It was the Voldemort of my camera, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Activated. In Portugal, as I traveled from one place to another, I couldn’t afford to wait for the perfect time to take a picture. At noon, the sun casts a lot of shadows and the colors get washed out, but I learned the flash can really bring out the colors and create a beautiful contrast.

9. There’s a reason people are talking about the golden hour

If you can shoot during the golden hour (after sunrise and before sunset), make sure you use it to your advantage. You’ll get to photograph scenery with beautiful colors and little to none post-processing will be needed. You’ll need to be fast though, the term “hour” is used loosely and it doesn’t actually last an hour. But the “golden twenty minutes” just didn’t have the same ring to it, did it?

Photo tip I've learned - the golden hour is wonderful for photography

10. Have fun!

Lastly, have fun with your camera! No, not that kind of fun, who even thinks of these things, God! Photography isn’t a Math exam where only one solution is the correct one and you’ll fail if you don’t get it right. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different angles and exposures, until you find your own style that you are happy with. If all else fails, there’s always chocolate. Then you can get up and try again. ๐Ÿ˜‰

What other photography tips have you learned or picked up on that may be useful for a beginner? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below.

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  • Some good points here! I’m a dedicated non-flash user, but I think I’ll try it out a bit now! I can see how it could be useful for filling in shadows sometimes. And cleaning the camera….what a concept. I should look into that!

    I also play with my settings a lot. I usually end up with at least 5 photos of the same thing, at different exposures/angles/distances. And then I can never decide which one I like best!

    • I do that too, take a lot of photos of the same thing and ending up keeping them all because I can’t decide which one is the best, haha.

  • Great list of points! I completely agree that composition is key. You can have the best camera in the world but if you can’t work with depth, angles, lighting, etc., to enhance your image than your picture will be rather boring.

    • Yup, which is why I’m working the most now on improving my composition skills.

  • Thank you so much for posting this! Great tips – will have to try out soon.

    • You’re welcome, John! I’m curious to see what the results will be ๐Ÿ˜‰ I have another photography post planned in the future too.

  • Love this post. Great tips. I can relate to most of your points ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thank you! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Laszlo

    Great post! Way to go, Vlad! Great pictures, too!!

    • Thank you! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • OMG you are my long-lost photo-twin! I think The Hot German almost broke up w me in Budapest because I couldnt stop with the photos – two days into our trip he was all “oh hey, there’s a tree, you havent taken a photo of it yet!!!”

    I JUST got the DSLR, less than a month ago, and tried it out in London and the Balkans. My biggest issue is the washed-out skies when the sun isnt out… I much prefer my iphone even, because it gives more texture and depth to those low gray clouds. How do you fix that?

    • Haha, yup, that’s exactly how I annoy my friends too.

      I have the same problem and as far as I know it can be solved by either using filters on your lens, HDR or post processing the photo. Here’s an article describing how to correct the skies and another site describing all the options.

      • Oiiii. It’s a decade till I graduate to filters! I guess I will have to do this post-processing style. Thank you!

        • I bought two filters prior to my last trip and they were fairly easy to use. The UV filter doesn’t do much, it’s helpful for protecting the lens, and the CPL filter (circular polarizer) is helpful to darken the skies and eliminate reflections. I’m still learning how to properly use it though, but I have my eyes set on a ND (neutral density) filter useful for long exposure, to get photos like this one

          • WHOA GORGEOUS!

  • Thoroughly a great post well done. I never used to do #5 but it definitely pays off because you get images and then go ‘wow that was so worth the trek’. (See my twitter profile background image for an example of this).
    Can’t agree with you more. I truly believe composition is the key.

    • #5 helps me when I’m in a new city and if I don’t have much time, it may seem overwhelming to find the best picture spots. Thank you for commenting! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • brmsimmons

    Great list of tips, the golden hour can be magical

    • On my last trip, I took more pictures during the golden hour than I did the whole day, the colors are magical! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • We got our first DSLR this summer, and it’s been a fun learning curve to switch from automatic to manual.

    • I agree, it’s cool, yet intimidating at first to have complete control over your photos.

  • I am so with you on the ISO โ€“ can’t count the number of times I have turned it up to take photos inside then forgotten to turn it back down. Someone needs to invent a feature where it defaults back to 200 every time you turn the camera off!

    • Oh my god, I thought I was the only one! It’s so frustrating, but I feel like over time I will remember to turn it back down. It may take a few thousand bad shots to figure it out, though. ๐Ÿ˜€

      • I might have to make up a little note to stick on my camera dial to remind me until then!

  • galanda23

    Excellent tips, Vlad. You have very beautiful photos, so obviously you do what you preach. I love your new banner photo. Excellent!

    • Thank you for the nice words and thank you for suggesting me to add a banner! On the main page there are several different ones, changing with each refresh ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Oh Vlad this post is amazing, beyond useful for me!! I still have so much to learn!! Even though I believe that I am creative with taking pictures, I do also believe that Im really bad with the technical part! And I guess my problem are the basics, after I get that I hope things will improve faster!
    As you used to be, I still hate flash, maybe because I dont know how to use it properly, so its the thing I never use on my camera. However, I love pictures from the night time, but I cant manage to take good ones, only if I really do get lucky! I need to stop being afraid of changing my camera settings ๐Ÿ™
    One thing I learned, take as much pictures as you can from a place, in different angles, at different times of the day if possible, this way, when you get home, at least one will look good ๐Ÿ˜€
    I could keep writing though… but I think I already wrote too much hahaha! Maybe one day we will meet and talking will be faster ๐Ÿ˜€ thank you so much for sharing your tricks, I love it and Im saving them now to help me out! ๐Ÿ˜€

    • Haha, I take waaay to many photos in the same place too. Your pictures are great and the technical part is best learned by practicing a lot! I recommend a tripod, longer exposure and using the timer, it’s super easy to get a nice shot this way ๐Ÿ˜‰ I agree, we should meet some day! ๐Ÿ˜€

      • hahaha cool!! Sometimes Im annoying with taking pictures and my hubby has to deal with it hahaha sometimes he gets annoyed, but sometimes he even suggests an angle ๐Ÿ˜€
        Thank you so much for the tips… the tripod its being arranged ๐Ÿ˜€
        Hey, if you dont go to the TBEX next year, maybe you can go the ITB in Berlin, Im considering going… its in March!

  • MK

    This is great! I especially love your last tip – HAVE FUN with it! I learned all the basics a few years ago, and I remember getting so frustrated because my pics weren’t perfect (and looking back, yes they sucked). I now am very familiar with all the “rules” of photography, but I don’t follow all of them. I just have fun with it — and it shows (at least I think it does) with the goofy pics I take! My favorite vacation pics of all time are the ones that make me laugh ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I feel like if you’re not having fun with whatever you do, then you’re not doing it right! Your pictures are awesome, it shows that you are passionate about photography. ๐Ÿ˜€

  • The best photography tips I’ve seen in a while. I’ve learnt the hard way too about changing lenses and not changing ISOs! If I may add one more piece of advice–a gorilla pod comes in quite handy too, and is far easier to carry than a bulky tripod.

    • I didn’t know about gorilla pods, I’ve checked now and they look awesome! I may get one, since my old tripod needs to be replaced.

  • Great tips! For now, I’m just using my Iphone to take pictures (and some of these rules like composition apply to that as well), but I’m considering buying a real camera…so much to learn though!

    • It’s a lot to learn, but if you’re passionate, it shouldn’t be a problem. And the result will be much nicer too! ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Haha ISO…i’ve had a DSL-R for two years now and am just taking photo lessons now. *loser I know* loving them though and thankfully it’s all making sense ๐Ÿ™‚

    • In retrospect, I should have started learning the basics of photography years ago, even though I didn’t have a DSLR. So I understand you ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  • Tim

    Really great post Vlad and as a relatively new DSLR user I am also on the curve. A couple of tips that have really helped me in the composition of photos is the rule of thirds. Not centering everything. Placing the main subject in one third of the frame rather than in the middle. The other is not to be afraid if taking a photo into the sun.

    • These are great composition tips, I try to follow them as well. Sadly since my time in different places is limited, I can’t wait for the perfect light so I’ve learned that I have to take photos into the sun as well.

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  • Rob

    Great post! Really useful info! I’m still learning how to use my DSLR after 4 years! I forget I’ve left it in manual and end up taking some really blurry photos! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Vlad

      Thank you! When I forget it was on manual mode, I usually end up with overexposed or underexposed photos, haha.

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