7 Travel Photography Tips You Should Know [For Making Unique Photos]

 

There are hundreds of great travel photography tips so I'm going to do it a little bit differently. Instead of going over the general travel photography tips I'm going over some things that are important for me and my style of shooting. I'm going to share the things that I've learned over the past year of traveling and that were important to develop my style of travel photography.

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Travel photography tips to help you make different photos

Today, it’s all about standing out and trying to be different. There are so many photographers out there so you really have to focus on being unique. These tips will make it easier for you...

1. Point your camera in the opposite direction

It's easy to photograph the obvious tourist attractions and people who dress up in traditional clothes to attract tourists... but we've all seen it. Instagram is full of the same travel photos of the same places. Sure, you should visit the famous sights and take photos there, but my advice is, that they should only make up a small percentage of your travel photography portfolio.

First of all, why not point your camera in the opposite direction? Everybody will be shooting the same thing but there might be really interesting things to photograph where no one's looking. Even better, go where the tourists don’t go.

Let me give you an example. Last year, I visited Varanasi, India and the place to be there is the Dashashwamedh ghat. The ghats are the riverfront steps leading up to the river where people bathe and do rituals. The Dashashwamedh is where all the tourists go and everything is focused on those tourists.

 
Vendor at the Dashashwamedh ghat.

Vendor at the Dashashwamedh ghat.

 

There's a ritual every evening. Vendors try to sell all kinds of things and every two minutes someone asks you if you want to buy something. Also in the water you can see an armada of boats desperate to take tourists for a ride. So, instead of spending all my tine there, I spend most of the time photographing a few miles down the river. Instead of vendors and tourists I saw scenes like this…

Boy with Buffalo.

Boy with Buffalo.

and this...

Varanasi, India.

Varanasi, India.

It might not be as spectacular as the ceremony they perform every evening, but as a photographer, I find these scenes a lot more interesting. Also, if you do visit tourist attractions and sights, don't forget to photograph on the way there: the people you meet, the surroundings, the little restaurant where the bus makes a stop to go to the bathroom. It's all interesting to photograph. Those photos will make you stand out as a travel photographer.

2. Travel photography = stories, not just photos

A photo should tell a story, true, but a lot of times the story behind the photo is just as interesting. Write down those stories so you don't forget them and if you publish your travel photography on your website or instagram, add them. This is an important travel photography tip because it will force you to thing beyond photography.

You can write about the circumstances in which you took the photo, what you had to do to get there, or the life story of the person you're photographing. All of this adds an extra layer to your photos.

OK, a few examples. I took this photos of an Orang Utan in Indonesia.

Orangutan in Bukit Lawang.

Orangutan in Bukit Lawang.

It took me and my girlfriend a three hour sweaty hike in the jungle with a guide before we encountered him but the best thing happened after... All of a sudden it started raining like I've never seen before. All the trails turned into rivers, waist high and with all that water came something else... leeches.

Tiny leech grows the size of your pinky when attached to your body…

Tiny leech grows the size of your pinky when attached to your body…

The entire way back, for about an hour, we had to remove leeches from each other. Even when we got back we found a big one on my ribs before I went shower.

Another example. This is Raju.

 
travel-photography-tips-india-jasialmer.jpg
 

He's the chef in a restaurant in Jaisalmer where we had some drinks one day. He lives there now but he was born in the East of India which has a totally different culture. He tries to fit in but it's not easy and a lot of times he's been the victim of cultural and religious differences. He's one of the most open minded people I've met during our travels in India.

Another thing is that I don't agree with the fact that a story speaks for itself. Most of the time, a photo needs a caption for the viewer to explain what he saw, especially in documentary and travel photography. Did you know that National Geographic has a whole department with staff dedicated to writing captions?

It's important. Give the viewer the context he needs to understand your photos. You won’t see this advice often in a list with travel photography tips.

3. Talk to people

First of all, it's important for what I've said in the last tip. People have a lot of interesting things to say. Stories that you can add to your photos. Even a short conversation often adds something.

But it's also important when you take travel portraits. Is see a lot of candid travel portraits, taken from far away with a long zoom lens. I don't like them, they always miss the essence and soul of the person photographed. Approach your subject and ask for a photo. The resulting portrait will be ten times better than if you take it from a distance without the person knowing.

And it doesn't have to be an entire conversation. An easy way to start is to buy something from a street vendor you find interesting like i did here in India...

 
Fruit vendor in India.

Fruit vendor in India.

 

Or here in Colombia…

 
Fruit vendor in Colombia.

Fruit vendor in Colombia.

 

Candid shots have their place in travel photography but for a good portrait, you really need to ask your subject and put some effort in it. Most people don't mind by the way.

4. Don't listen to the locals

Of course, locals can give you valuable advice but the problem is, that advice is not always right for photographers. Locals are proud of the place they live and want to show you beautiful things but they give the same advice to everyone. That means that the place they recommend might not be ideal to take photos. Sometimes what they recommend is not interesting at all for you as a photographer.

Always keep in mind that most locals don't give advice for travel photographers but for tourists. If you want some advice for travel photography, be specific in your questions. Locals will never tell about the narrow alleys full of life in a part of town that is not nice for them.

They might find those places ugly but for you as a travel photographer, those parts of town could be very interesting. That brings us to the next travel photography tip.

5. Don't be afraid to photograph ugliness or the mundane

If I have to pick just one tip out of these travel photography tips, then this is it. Of course, this is different for everyone but the problem is that the whole world is photographing beauty. Beautiful sunsets and beaches, the perfect jungle settings, or interesting architecture. No one seems to want to photograph ugliness or “boring” and ordinary things, but they're part of this world.

I don't think there's anything wrong with photographing things that are not what we consider beautiful and if you do it right, you can make it look interesting and you'll stand out. Don't limit yourself to photographing only breathtaking beauty.

Random beach scene in Thailand.

Random beach scene in Thailand.

This also applies to light. Travel photography is all about light and just because it's very cloudy or foggy doesn't mean you can't take great photos. It will only make your photos look different from what everyone else photographs. Fog and clouds add a lot of atmosphere. It doesn't have to be sunny all the time.

6. Expect the unexpected

A lot of times, in travel photography, the best photos just happen when you don't expect it. You meet someone interesting. The light on the way to your next destination is perfect and you see an interesting scene. Be ready all the time and bring your camera everywhere.

That doesn't mean you have to have your camera in your hands all the time. There has to be time to enjoy traveling without looking through the viewfinder but at least have the camera with you and you will take some great photos when you don't expect it.

Even on public transport you might get an opportunity for a photo like this one that I took while traveling from Jerico to Jardin in a chiva.

 
Public transport in Colombia.

Public transport in Colombia.

 

A chiva is an open truck transformed into a bus and adapted for the steep dirt roads. Traveling from one place to another gives you a lot of great photo opportunities. Be ready.

7. Use the light

And we'll finish with an easy travel photography tip but an important one. Light. I think you can make good photos with any type of light. And like I said, what we consider ugly light sometimes adds a lot of atmosphere. You just need to improvise and adapt.

But of course, that doesn't mean I don't have a preference. For me, evening or morning light looks a lot nicer for travel or documentary photography but for you it might be the harsh sunlight.

Make sure to be more focused when your favorite light is there. It can become part of your style and the more you photograph in a specific light, the better you'll know how to use it to make great photos.

Conclusion

And that's it for my essential travel photography tips for making different and unique photos. All these tips are important for me and my style of photography but I'm sure they can help you too. It’s easy to apply them next time you’re going on a trip and I’m sure you’ll return home with some cool travel photos.