As photographers, the images we bring back from a trip are often as important to us as the trip itself. Of course, there are some photographers who instinctively pull off perfect images every time they’re traveling in a seemingly effortless way, but if you’re like me, this is not your reality! I have learned that a little preparation beforehand, coupled with mindful planning and being open to adventure while on a trip, can go a long way in ensuring that you will not only bring back wonderful memories but fantastic photos as well.
1. Map it out ahead of time.
It’s true what they say: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Once you know your destination, you can already start planning what photos you’d like to capture.
I like to research my location and do an image search well in advance; in fact, sometimes conducting an image search is how I choose my next destination! Having an idea of what you’d like to photograph ahead of time can help you plan your itinerary and save precious time once you’re on vacation.
While in India last summer, I planned my visit to the Taj Mahal so it would coincide with the soft late afternoon light. I also knew I wanted to photograph it from the back side across the river, all thanks to research I had done prior to my trip.
Finding a unique and creative way to capture iconic landmarks is also something you can brainstorm ahead of time. I had envisioned this image of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul a couple of days ahead of time. Luckily, I had my travel tripod with me on this trip to capture the motion blur, otherwise, it’s an image that would have remained in my imagination!
2. Create a visual inventory.
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, take some time to get a feel for your surroundings and ask yourself what makes that place special. Are there certain scenes or elements that strike you, or things that are unique to the location that you would absolutely like to remember? I have found it useful to create a mental or written list of the things that strike me as special about a place, that way I can focus on capturing what’s memorable to me and make sure I absolutely get those shots onto my memory card.
3. Hone in on a few special spots.
Unless you are in one place for an extended period, it will be difficult to capture everything about it, and besides, you would exhaust yourself trying to do so. Find a few spots of interest and focus on capturing the feeling of what it’s like to be there.
On a recent weekend trip to Miami, I spent an entire day walking around and photographing one specific area of the city which I found to be fascinating and resigned myself to the fact that Miami Beach and Little Havana would just have to be the focus of a future trip.
4. It’s all about the light.
Beautiful light can elevate your travel photos to a whole new level, so if possible, try to shoot when the light is optimal. The saying “the early bird gets the worm” applies to photography as it does so often in life: if you shoot early in the day you will be rewarded with streets clear of cars, fewer tourists, as well as the wonderful opportunity to see a place slowly wake up.
If you’re not able to get out early in the day, you’ve got a second chance at finding beautiful light in the late afternoon. If neither of those options is available to you, try to infuse your images with interest through other means like motion blur, color play, starbursts, and negative space.
5. Get to know the locals.
The soul of a place is very often found in the people who inhabit it. What better way to get to know a place than through someone who lives there?
Communicating with strangers is sometimes outside of our normal comfort level, but being open to conversing with locals can be extremely rewarding. Not only will you get insight into another place and culture, but you will likely be compensated with a unique portrait opportunity if you ask politely. Remember to get contact information so that you can send your subject a copy of the image once you’re home.
There are often no do-overs in travel photography, but don’t let that stress you out. Arm yourself with a few simple tools to help you capture images you’ll be proud of, and give yourself the grace to forgive yourself for those you didn’t get. Above all else, have fun.