5 Simple Tips for Better Travel Photos


5 Simple Tips for Better Travel Photos

Shoot Wide, Crop TightOne of the easiest ways to improve a shot is to zoom in tightly on the subject and crop out extraneous details. With today’s high-megapixel cameras, you can easily throw away a third of the image and still have enough resolution for a large print.

While shooting, I like to zoom in and frame the shot how I think it should look and then zoom out a hair before I take the photo. This gives me added flexibility when I crop the photo on my laptop, allowing me to cut out small background details that I might not have noticed while shooting — tree limbs, street signs, or unusually bright spots that pull the eye away away from the subject.

Look Behind You — When exploring a new place, it’s easy to get caught up on seeing what waits around the next corner. Remember to turn around from time to time and re-examine the scene you’ve just passed through — there are often angles and details that you missed the first time. Simply viewing a scene from the other side doubles your photo opportunities.

Shoot Doubles — I’ve developed a habit of holding the shutter button down longer and taking two shots in rapid succession. Usually, the second shot will be slightly sharper because my finger isn’t moving and shaking the camera. When reviewing the photos later, I sometimes spot a detail in the background that improves the shot. Simply delete the extras from your hard drive as you sort through your photos.

Shoot When You Shouldn’t — Digital photos cost nothing, so why not try shots that probably won’t turn out? You might get lucky. Photos from a moving bus will be blurred, but sometimes that blur really captures the moment in a way a stationary shot couldn’t. Try shooting from the hip or while the camera is hanging around your neck, without even looking through the viewfinder. You’ll get more candid photos of the people around you and all that’s needed is a little cropping and rotating after the fact. If the shots don’t work, delete them — no one has to know.

A few moments spent with photo-editing software can dramatically improve your photos.

Cheat — Ansel Adams spent far more time in the darkroom than behind a camera, believing that “the film is the score, but the print is the performance.” Why shouldn’t you? A few moments spent with photo-editing software can dramatically improve your photos.

Simple cropping, straightening, and adjusting exposure, contrast, and saturation can help you recreate the image you saw at the time, rather than just what the camera managed to capture. If your camera has the capability, shooting in the RAW format allows you much more flexibility in tweaking exposure, white balance, and more after the fact.

I use Adobe’s Lightroom and can’t imagine shooting without it. At $300, however, it’s certainly not cheap. (Adobe does offer a $99 academic version if you’re a college student or know one, wink wink.) I would not recommend Photoshop if you’re solely using it for photography — Lightroom is a much better choice and cheaper. I once tinkered with Corel’s Paintshop Pro and found it to be pretty capable for a $50 program.

Bonus Tip: Shoot Early — We’ve all heard of the Golden Hour at dawn and sunset, when the light has that magical golden hue. I love a good sunset, but I get better photos in the morning simply because most other tourists are still in bed. Trying to take an evening photo at Angkor Wat without a dozen tourists in the frame is nearly impossible. Get there before the tour buses, however, and you’ll have it all to yourself.

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Abhi July 26, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Great tips Wes! Though personally, I disagree a little bit on the ‘Cheat’ tip.. I feel that editing a photo kind of takes away the originality, and for some people.. I’ve seen it becomes addictive to the extent that people feel the need to change everything from contrast to colors.
.-= Abhi´s last blog ..Namma Bengaluru =-.


wes July 26, 2010 at 12:16 pm

It’s certainly a personal call — there’s no right or wrong. I don’t see it as being any different than using a warming filter, or dodging and burning in a dark room. Some people definitely get carried away, however… Thanks for commenting!


Daniel N. July 27, 2010 at 10:05 am

Also we have to keep in mind that a RAW file is an unprocessed file, kind of like a film roll, it HAS to go through a processing software. When you shoot in jpeg, the camera does internal processing and delivers a finished image, would that be considered cheating? ;)

I can not imagine a “wow” photo without even the slightest curve/contrast/saturation adjustment.

Good post Wes!
.-= Daniel N.´s last blog ..Cliffs of Moher – Ireland =-.


wes July 27, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Good point. Just framing the shot begins the processing — where do you draw the line?

Joel July 27, 2010 at 2:55 am

Great tips for someone who’s striving to do better (i.e. “me”) —

I’m an early riser, so the “golden hour” shots are a natural for me, but wherever I’ve been so far, it’s been overcast in the morning so the shots don’t come out particularly well.
.-= Joel´s last blog ..Brain Drops 3- Amsterdam Edition =-.


wes July 27, 2010 at 9:50 pm

Thanks, Joel. I’ve suffered the same luck, for the most part. It’s frustrating, to say the least…


Andi July 27, 2010 at 4:13 am

Such great tips, thanks!!!
.-= Andi´s last blog ..29 Things To Do Before I Turn 29 =-.


wes July 27, 2010 at 9:51 pm

Thanks, Andi!


Abhi July 27, 2010 at 11:39 am

I agree to your points Wes and Daniel! My fear is, my apprehension to ‘cheat’ might be originating from my laziness to do all the editing! :)
.-= Abhi´s last blog ..Namma Bengaluru =-.


wes July 27, 2010 at 9:45 pm

Heh, I can understand the worry. But it really doesn’t take too long after a few times. I only tweak the ‘keepers’ anyways…


bethany July 28, 2010 at 12:04 am

Great tips and yes editing is an absolute must. It is exactly the same as working in the darkroom, just a lot quicker and with less eye squinting. :) Unfortunately it is also a little less magical being hunched over a computer instead of watching a print come to life in the developer. People also over tweak their stuff in the darkroom too. It really just depends what kind of look the photographer is going for with their print.
.-= bethany´s last blog ..Getting Married With Your Sights Set On Long Term Travel Check out The Honey Fund! =-.


wes July 28, 2010 at 9:20 am

Agreed. And I don’t feel like a vampire with that constant red light ;)


Caz Makepeace July 28, 2010 at 12:20 am

I love these tips Wes. I definitely agree about getting up early. On our recent Carolinas road trip, I was kicking myself each day for not getting up early in order to get better shots.
I appreciate the editing advice as I am currently thinking about photoshop, which I’ve had trouble using for other things. I might look into Lightroom.
.-= Caz Makepeace´s last blog ..Leaving Friends Behind- How do You Say Goodbye =-.


wes August 1, 2010 at 8:23 am

I think you’ll love Lightroom. Photoshop is great, but it’s a jack-of-all-trades. LR is devoted to just photography and has better tools for working with photos. File management abilities are great as well.


Dustin Main - Skinny Backpacker July 28, 2010 at 12:56 am

+1 for Lightroom.

Good tips for beginners, and a good reminder for wannabes like me :)
.-= Dustin Main – Skinny Backpacker´s last blog ..Photo of the Day – Death Bed =-.


Emily July 29, 2010 at 3:21 am

I never think to take a bigger picture than needed and crop it later! That seems obvious, but it’s not something I’ve ever really considered. I’m going to try that next time!
.-= Emily´s last blog ..Guest Post- A Call to Smiles =-.


Michael Tyson July 29, 2010 at 4:13 am

Hi Wes, I just discovered your blog. My partner and I have been traveling for a year in a motorhome throughout North Africa and Europe. I’m glad somebody wrote about this seemingly oft-neglected topic by travel bloggers. Looking through your blog posts was so refreshing – possibly the first travel blog I’ve come across that has captured the place in question through photography in an engaging way. I’m surprised how many travel bloggers don’t seem to take their own photography very seriously let alone give others advice about it.

Early on in our travels we decided to start taking photography a bit more seriously – I’d hate to look back at all the beautiful places we’ve been and know that we could have taken some amazing photos with just a little bit of effort.

The only thing I would add to your tip list is to try to take a genuine interest in photography and learn some of the basics – composition, ISO, aperture, etc. My partner Katherine wasn’t at all interested in photography until earlier this year. She said that since then she has gotten much more out of our travels – she notices more details, is more observant, looks at things from a different perspective.

Hopefully this post will save countless family and friends of travellers from agonisingly painful slideshows and “you had to be there” moments!
.-= Michael Tyson´s last blog ..Nettle’s birthday =-.


wes July 29, 2010 at 7:10 am

Wow, what an incredible trip! I totally agree with you — on a trip like yours, not capturing the moments as best you can would be criminal. Really enjoying your blog — thanks for the comment.


Eli July 30, 2010 at 10:02 am

Wes, I’m a huge fan of the taking double or even triple shots theory. I have very shaky hands sometimes, so I often take several of the same pictures when I’m out. I figure the more I take of the same thing, the higher the chance I’ll end up with one really nice shot.


Paul August 11, 2010 at 8:06 pm

I enjoy taking digital photos, but I always have trouble taking them when traveling. For me, it is harder to take pictures that don’t involve people, but I guess that will come with practice.

Editing the photos in a photo editor is no problem for me as I have doing it for years, I just need to learn to take great photos as well.
.-= Paul´s last blog ..Do You Want to Take Better Digital Photos =-.


megan August 20, 2010 at 11:13 am

Thanks for sharing these tips! I agree with remembering to look back – if you don’t, sometimes you might miss the best view, especially if you’re not walking back the same way.

I would also suggest taking your time – especially if you’re serious about getting good shots. There’s a huge difference between snapping everything as you’re walking along, and stopping for a minute to really look at the scene and think about what you want to photograph. It’s something I’m always trying to do more of – have to get over the self consciousness of taking photos in the first place!
.-= megan´s last blog ..Photo Friday 9- China =-.


Federico October 8, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Good tips Wes!

I recently published a similar post in my blog, and one golden rule that can help a lot is the rule of thirds. This simple composition technique is very helpful in most cases and makes photos pleasant to the eye- and can be easily applied by novices! It’s obvious you know what it’s about, but if other’s don’t simply google “rule of thirds” for a big step to better photography!



Cornelius Aesop October 28, 2010 at 4:08 am

I would add, read the manual to the camera. While my photos are improving, I still haven’t sat down and really learned all what my camera can do. I’m sure most skilled musicians, artists, chefs, etc know their tools well. If you think of it that way then we too should be an expert with our camera.
.-= Cornelius Aesop´s last blog ..New Brew Tuesday: Metropolitan Krankshaft Klsch =-.


wes October 28, 2010 at 10:56 am

Good point. Really knowing your camera can make the difference between getting a great shot and juuuust missing it.


Natalie - Turkish Travel October 28, 2010 at 9:31 pm

Good points. I am waiting for the day when I can take a picture that makes people go wow. Just one question though.

I always like photographs where people are natural and not posing for the camera. I have learned that if you say you are going to take a photograph, people always react and never keep their natural form.

However I find it rude to take pictures of people without them knowing, especially if they are going to be on my blog.

How do you take natural pictures of someone or people without them turning round and knocking you out for invading their privacy?!

Do you ask them first Wes, or do you just take the photo?
.-= Natalie – Turkish Travel´s last blog ..Turkish Night Tacky Or Tasteful =-.


wes October 29, 2010 at 10:20 am

While I do sneak shots from time to time, I prefer to ask first. I cringe when tourists walk up and stick a lens in someone’s face. I’ve found that chatting a bit or clowning around before I ask really helps. People do tense up — I usually take the shot they expect, then hold the camera where it is and look over the eyepiece and smile — they’ll often smile back and that’s the keeper shot.

So far, it’s been easy in India — everyone here loves to have their photo taken :)


Carole November 6, 2010 at 7:42 pm

Great photography tips, Wes.

I just published something similar on my photo-rich travel blog, Lazy Luxury Travel.

Great photography is an integral part of travel blogging. You certainly do a great job with both.


Dominique November 6, 2010 at 8:43 pm

I often shoot doubles, but never thought about doing it by simply holding down the shutter button…makes sense. One of the ways I try to minimize camera shake is to hold my breath as I take the shot (to minimize the slight movement caused by your breathing).
I often shoot a bit wide for the reason you suggest, and I take a lot of shots when I shouldn’t (in extreme low-light, through windows, against the light) :lol: What I produce isn’t always great art, but it often helps advance my story in an article.


Marvin Lewis December 18, 2010 at 10:27 am

I love good travel photos. Unfortunately I have always been a very poor photographer. But I like the simplicity of what you are saying. I think I was really trying too hard to capture a perfect shot. Thanks.


wes December 18, 2010 at 11:15 am

That’s the beauty of shooting digital — you take as many as you like and try new angles, etc. And being able to view your work on the spot is a real help. Just keep at it and it’ll happen :)


Claire January 23, 2011 at 10:02 am

Great tips! I tend to do a little editing but not a lot. Occasionally I’ll make it into an arty shot using saturation etc. I don’t think it’s such a big deal. After all our memory edits things as well.

I second the taking multiple exposures – I keep my camera on continuous shooting.


Jeff at Planet Bell January 29, 2013 at 5:55 pm

All good tip, but “shoot early” is the best tip in my opinion.

My wife and I try to the first people to arrive at places when they open, and we’ve managed to do this at famous places in India, Egypt and China. Not only do you get the benefit of better light and fewer tourists, but you get to enjoy the place with fewer people.

We go back and nap at the time when the place is getting busy and the light is harsh.


wes January 31, 2013 at 8:40 am

It’s like voting: go early and often ;)