Tips for Travel Photography
Are you trying to step up your travel photography game? We’ve got you covered. Van life gives you access to some of the most beautiful places imaginable, but you might find yourself feeling like your photos just don’t do the locations justice. Luckily, incorporating a few simple tricks into your repertoire will help you take your photography skills to the next level. Looking to go from so-so snapshots to masterpieces you’re proud to hang on your wall? Read on.
- LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Your photo will only be as beautiful as what’s in front of your lens, so put some thought into visiting photogenic locations. It’s natural to want to capture some of the world’s most photographed spots for yourself. However, your photos will really stand out if you seek out locations off the beaten path. You can do this through a combination of online research, asking locals, and simply wandering. Van life makes this easy because you aren’t limited to the spots on a tour; you are in complete control of where you go and how long you stay there. Remember that people viewing your photos want to feel like they are traveling vicariously through you, so show them something they’ve never seen before!
- PREPARE, THEN EXPERIMENT
While we’re all in favor of getting a little lost in search of unique scenes, you should still do some research beforehand. That way you’ll know if one state park is known to have taller waterfalls or bluer lakes than the neighboring one, and you won’t waste time on suboptimal spots. After you’ve decided where you’re going, your process can become more flexible. Experiment with different vantage points of the same scene. Get up high (maybe even stand on top of your van) or down low to change the camera angle. Play around with your camera’s settings. Take shots with people in them and ones without. And don’t forget to photograph details—the peeling paint of a colorful doorway or dew drops on a leaf will go a long way in capturing the feeling of a place.
- SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE
Sure, it’s easy to get to a pretty location, whip out your phone or camera, and take a photo. But what separates snapshots from professional photography is patience and attention to detail. The time of day makes a huge difference—aim for golden hour (right after sunrise or before sunset) for universally flattering lighting, or capture the spectacular colors of a sunset. Cloudy weather also usually creates softer, prettier photos than the harsh light of a midafternoon sun. To capture a location at its most beautiful, you’ll have to be patient and plan your visit around light and weather conditions. Similarly, you might have to wait a while for the shot to be clear of people, especially at popular landmarks. Luckily, having a van makes this much easier as you can often park close to locations and visit spots before or after the tourist crowds, plus you can relax and wait out any non-prime conditions in your van.
- THE GEAR
Many people think the camera and equipment make the photographer, but this tip isn’t first on our list for a reason. You can take professional-quality photos on most modern smartphones; it is the artistic frame of mind—and following the tips on this list—that will make your photos sing. However, if you’re looking to get into travel photography and want to invest in a quality digital camera, we’ve included a list of some of the most popular models below.
Best Travel Photography Cameras for Beginners
- Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III
- Panasonic Lumix GX80 / GX85
- Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / 250D
- OLYMPUS Tough TG-6
- Nikon D3500
- Fujifilm X-T200
If you do buy a new camera, make sure to familiarize yourself with its settings before you go out on a major photo adventure. Using the camera in manual mode will allow you to adjust settings like aperture, shutter speed, and ISO and exert the most control over your final image. A collapsible tripod is also useful for things like long-exposure photography, timelapse videos, or getting yourself in the shot. Back your photos up regularly and make sure your camera batteries are charged before going out to shoot. Lastly, invest in good insurance to cover your camera and any other equipment.
- COMPOSITION 101
Photographers get an intuitive feel for composition through practice, but if you’re just starting out, it may be helpful to follow a few simple guidelines. First, the rule of thirds. Break the scene in your viewfinder/on your screen into three equal segments both horizontally and vertically. Place items of interest along one of these dividing lines, rather than centered, for an artistic composition. Second, take advantage of leading lines to make visually interesting images. These lines can include roads, rivers, mountain ranges—really anything that draws your eye from one part of the frame to another. Third, incorporate depth into landscape photographs by including things like grasses in the foreground in addition to larger scenery like mountains in the background. If you’re taking photos primarily to share on Instagram, keep in mind that the platform’s allowable dimensions are different from the camera’s, so you may have to crop your images. If you leave a little extra room on the edges of the frame as you take the photos, you won’t have to ruin a great composition later on.
- MAKE IT POP
Editing is a crucial part of the process of creating beautiful travel photos. Plenty of apps and services exist for this very purpose—VSCO and Adobe Lightroom are some of the most popular ones. Things you might consider when editing are whether your eye is drawn to the right place (cropping distracting things out of photos works wonders), if the colors pop as much as you want them to, and if you’re achieving the overall feel you’re aiming for. If you plan on posting the photos you take all in one place like Instagram or your website, choose a cohesive way of editing images so they all look good together. Try out presets or create your own. The popular travel photography accounts on IG all have a signature style, which is often achieved partly in post-production by editing their photos in a similar way.
- BE RESPECTFUL
When taking photos of people, their communities, or landmarks with important spiritual significance, be respectful. These people and places don’t exist just to be photographed. If you’d like to take portraits of people, be friendly, strike up a conversation, and know how to ask “can I take your photo?” in the local language. If they say yes, great! If not, don’t push. Tourists can also be obnoxious when trying to take photos of themselves with local scenery, so be mindful of whether it’s an appropriate situation to stage a photo shoot. Being a travel photographer is not just about how the shot will look on your social media, but the overall experience of being in a place and capturing it with admiration and nuance.
- ENJOY LIFE SANS CAMERA
While you should always have your camera with you to capture random moments of beauty, make sure your quest to get the perfect photo doesn’t overshadow the opportunity to experience the perfect moment. One trick is to take photos at a location when you first get there, then put the camera away and soak in the scenery with the knowledge that you already have the shot. Other times, you simply can’t capture the beauty of a scene as it looks in real life. While editing these lackluster shots afterward can help, sometimes you have to recognize that it’s more of a “mental photo” kind of moment. Taking photos should enhance your travel experiences, not detract from them, so keep that balance in mind.
Whether you want to take up photography to capture all of the wonderful places you’re visiting on your van adventures or you’re a photographer craving the freedom to see the world on your own terms, van life and travel photography go hand-in-hand. You can control your itinerary, get to locations early and stay late, avoid crowds, and get off the beaten path in search of mindblowing locations to photograph.
If you’re interested in capturing your van adventure memories in another medium, try landscape painting and check out our tips and tricks. If you want to know more about being a van life artist in general, read our post. For the vans to take you there, visit Rec Van.