14 expert tips for taking the best travel photos

A lot of elements go into capturing the perfect travel photos. Here's what the experts have to say about snapping the most unforgettable vacation shots
Photographer at sunrise in the Arch National Park. Photo: Dreamstime
Photographer at sunrise in the Arch National Park. Photo: Dreamstime

Whether you're a novice photographer or a seasoned pro, most travellers are always on the lookout for their next best shot. If you fall into this camp, we've got some good news. We reached out to a handful of photographers for their expert tips for taking the best travel photos. Get your cameras ready!

When you're ready to give these tips a whirl, one of Insight Guides' tailor-made luxury trips can help set the scene...


1. Plan photography into your trip

Sometimes winging it makes for the best travel photos. Other times, a bit of planning can go a long way.

"The best way to ensure you’ll get some great photos (and won’t forget to take them) is to build photography into your itinerary," says Angela Ostafichuk, a professional photographer with Dreamstime. "Take photos of the awesome things you already plan to see, and schedule in some time for impromptu shooting as well – you never know what you’ll come across while on vacation!" Insight Guides can build plenty of photography time into your travel itinerary: talk to an expert today to get your next trip booked.

One other valuable tidbit: have a plan for backing up your photos. A good rule of thumb is to back them up after each day of shooting. The last thing you want is to unexpectedly lose your travel pics halfway through your trip.

2. Invest in a solid travel tripod

Nothing spoils a great picture like a shaky hand. Keep blurry photos at bay by including a sturdy travel tripod in your suitcase. Before you object, keep in mind that bulky tripods of years past are no longer the norm. Today's best models are sleek, compact, and easy to toss into your carry-on bag. (Check out our roundup of best travel tripods here.)

3. Snap pics of the local people

In many cases, the key to stellar travel photos is interacting with people who call the place home. Don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and reach out to local folks; they're the ones who most authentically reflect the culture and way of life.

"Always ask locals for their agreement in having their picture taken," says Avichai Ben-Tzur of X Days in Y. "Aside from the ethical aspect, I find that the best 'people shots' happen when the subject knows they're being photographed."

4. Understand the customs and traditions

However, before you whip out your camera, do keep in mind that not all locations are open to being photographed.

"I recently visited the north of India (Himachal Pradesh) and the most important thing I learned was that understanding the customs and traditions of a place is essential," says traveller-slash-photographer Kay Kulkarni. "For instance, it is forbidden to take a picture or touch any of the temples in Malana. Speaking to an elder of the village, who mentioned that his tribe are the descendants of Alexander the Great, helped me overcome this barrier."

Taking photos of local children in Laos.Taking photos of local children in Laos. Photo: Dreamstime

5. Let food inspire you

A quick scroll through your social media feeds will reveal that there's no shortage of foodie shots being taken these days. When it comes to snapping the best travel photos, local cuisine can be a fabulous way to capture the culture.

"When travelling, food is one of the most characteristic aspects of a specific location and culture," says Ostafichuk. "Don’t think of the food you’re photographing as simply something you ate. It represents the cultural heritage of the place you’re visiting, so try to depict it that way. You can even photograph people making and selling food."

6. Reposition your main subject

Who says the person, place or thing you're photographing has to be positioned front and centre in the frame? With regard to where you position your subject, think outside the box.

"Placing the main subject off-centre will draw the person's eye to it in the photo," says Anthony Bianco, the writer and photographer behind The Travel Tart.

In other words, don't be afraid to play with off-beat angles and positions. The final result may be more powerful than what you originally expected.

7. Familiarise yourself with editing

Taking the initial photo is only half of the process, according to Aaron Burchett of Pictrip.

"If you really want to take your photography to the next level, then get familiar with editing applications," he says. "It isn’t as complicated as it first sounds, and there are plenty of apps for your phone that will allow you to get the best out of your photos and are super user-friendly. Our favourite is Snapseed on the Apple App Store and Adobe Lightroom for desktop, both suitable for beginners with a capacity to learn a little, and you will be surprised how much you can enhance a photo with a few adjustments."

8. Get creative with architecture

The Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, Stonehenge; let's face it, famous landmarks are among the most photographed things in the world. But that certainly shouldn't deter you from snapping some shots of your own and putting your own artistic spin on it.

"Find a unique perspective – think about photographing at different times of the day, from different angles, and both with and without people," suggests Ostafichuk.

Photographer Oliver Curtis recently made headlines when he took shots of famous landmarks facing the opposite direction. Find more tips and advice on photographing statues here

9. Take rapid shots

Why restrict yourself to one single shot? Sometimes travel photo genius happens when you take pictures at rapid speed.

"Shoot in burst mode, especially when shooting moving shots such as those of people or animals," says Ben-Tzur. "Sometimes a split second can make the difference."

Improving photo skills during a canoe trip along the canals of Alleppey, India.Improving photo skills during a canoe trip along the canals of Alleppey, India. Photo: Dreamstime

10. Take advantage of local festivals

Instead of staging shots with locals or attempting to grab ordinary candid photos, consider capturing the location's cultural vibe during a local event.

"If you travel in the summer, which many people do, there is bound to be a parade, festival or another event you’ll stumble across. These can be a gold mine for great photo content," says Ostafichuk.

11. Look to social media for inspiration

Instagram is the go-to app for photography buffs. It can also help ignite new ideas.

"For inspiration on the best angle to capture a scene, find the place you’re going to on Instagram and take a look at the photos taken there," says Edwina Dendler of The Traveling German. "It’ll give you ideas on how to photograph a place and get some creative shots that you may not have thought of capturing otherwise. Bonus: it’ll make you look forward to your trip even more!"

12. Play with light

"Light is a photographer's tool just as much as the camera itself," says Burchett. "That light that pierces through New York's Grand Central Station's huge windows has made many a beautiful photo; find it and experiment with it. Once you master it, you’ll become addicted to looking for interesting light and shadows wherever you go."

13. Move around

"Get close, get low, try different angles," says Nicole Smith, CEO of Flytographer. "The best way to take unique photographs is to move around! There’s a saying that you shouldn’t be able to tell how tall someone is by the photos they take. Instead of bringing your camera up to your eye and always shooting from that level, crouch down, stand on a bench, but most of all: move!"

14. Explore your destination when the crowds are thin

When it comes to capturing the best travel photos, the early bird gets the worm (especially if you're looking to take advantage of killer morning light).

"The secret to taking the best travel shot without the crowds is to go when all the other tourists are asleep, early morning, when everybody sits down for lunch or sleeps at nighttime," says Carolin Pilligrath of Breathing Travel. "Don’t be afraid to use a tripod if you are by yourself."


Got any travel photography tips up your sleeve? Put them to use on one of Insight Guides' tailor-made luxury trips: browse suggested itineraries online now


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