10 Ways To Take Unique Travel Photos

Today’s blog post has been brought to you by a gifted and passionate travel photographer – Piotr of World In My Lens. He will be sharing his secret top-notched tips on how to take your best shot when traveling the world. If you are interested in more travel photography tips, check out his free Ebook on 100 Ways to Take Unique Travel Photos. We had this chance to download it in hope of improving our photography skills!

So, how can you take your best shot when traveling?

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Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo by World In My Lens.

#1 Take only necessary kit

As photographers, we enjoy buying new toys such as lenses and photo accessories. We often own more tools then we really need. In the past I owned seven different lenses and I used only two of them on a regular basis. It’s OK if you keep all the kit in your bedroom. The problem is if you want to climb Machu Picchu with 20kg backpack full of camera stuff!

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Hong Kong at night. Photo by World In My Lens.

The truth is that you need less than you think you need.

At some point I decided that I get rid of most my lenses and keep only the ones I travel with regularly. I ended up with one wide angle lens (17-40mm) and another telephoto zoom lens (70-200mm). Even if there is a gap between focal length between 40 and 70mm I feel that I can take any picture I want without feeling limited.

#2 Wake up early

The best times of the day to take great pictures are morning and late afternoon. Especially because morning light is very soft, there are not many people on the streets and is cooler in the summer. It is highly advisable to wake up even before sunrise, so you can get to your location at dawn. From my experience I can tell that you shouldn’t be discouraged even if you wake up early and see that it is raining. The weather could change just before the sunset and you will take some amazing photos of the dramatic sky with the first rays of the sun. It’s totally worth it.

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Stonehenge. Photo by World In My Lens.

Before every trip I always check sunset and sunrise calendar. It’s worth to know how much daylight I’m getting on my photo trip. It allows me to plan my day accordingly.

#3 Don’t shoot junk figuring you can delete it

It’s easy to think that having hundreds of gigabytes of space you can shoot whatever you want. Having that mind-set, you end-up with thousands of photos from two-days photo trip. You don’t even want to transfer all these photos to your computer – not to mention process them. Do you really need to take that photo of that pipe? Nope. I don’t want to limit you. Taking a few of the photos of the same thing as backup is fine. Looking for interesting subjects is also fine. Experimenting with your photography is more then perfect. But please don’t go to other extreme. Photography is not a quantity contest – it’s all about the quality.

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Incredible Afganistan. Photo by World In My Lens.

#4 Select the RAW

If you have never used RAW format, then you don’t know what you are missing. RAW is a file format that captures all image data recorded by the sensor when you take a photo. When shooting in a format like JPEG image information is compressed and lost. Because no information is compressed with RAW you’re able to produce higher quality images, as well as correct problem images that would be unrecoverable if shot in the JPEG format. Shooting JPGs is just waste.

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Afganistan. Photo by World In My Lens.

Waste of a chance to get a great photo. Taking photos, you often over expose and under expose, your white balance will be wrong and quality might not be the best. This is why you should start using RAW format now!

#5 Get in close

To take great photos you don’t need telephoto lens with a focal length higher then 200mm. In fact, I would say that in most cases if you are too far, you won’t take any good photos. You should get as close to your subject as possible and shoot wide angle, or with standard 50mm lens. Also if you are having a zoom lens it’s better to just walk closer to your subject rather than use maximum focal length. You need to know that using highest focal length results in dropping quality of a photo (especially in cheaper lenses). So next time you are taking pictures walk closer to your subject!

#6 Grab candid pictures when the subject is unaware 

I always take portrait pictures without asking for permission. It allows me to capture the moment, while a person is natural. This is crucial for great candid photos. Some photography experts tell you to always ask for permission. I don’t agree. Most of the time you don’t want your subject to strike an unnatural pose, or have a fake smile on his face. 9 out of 10 people will be OK with you taking pictures of them. Just remember to smile and thank them after you take a snapshot.

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Look at these colors! Photo by World In My Lens.

#7 Shoot into the sun

Taking good photos is about capturing the light. In general subject of the photo should be well lighten. But if you are really want to get creative and you want your photo to stand out try to shot into the sun. Shooting into the sun produces lens flare which, instead of damaging your photos, can be used creatively for spectacular results. You should observe a few rules to get great photos: 1.Avoid silhouettes – To really make the most out of a situation, you want to try to shy away from capturing these, focusing instead on more evenly exposing the skin tones of your subject. 2.Focus – When shooting into the sun, your camera will struggle to focus on the subject, even when you manually select the focal points inside the camera. 3.Use low depth of field (f/2,8 or lower).

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#8 Don’t be scared by the rain

Many tourists after arriving to a travel destination and finding out that it’s rainy, decide to stay in a hotel, or bar. That’s not what good travel photographers do. Quite often you will get better photos during the downpour than during the day with perfectly blue skies. Rain creates dramatic sky, cobblestone in old cities looks shiny, there are less people on the streets, you can capture reflections in puddles. Also most photographers tend to take photos during nice weather. Shooting during the rain allows your photo to stand out.

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#9 Don’t shoot everything from eye-level

Taking photos, we want to show the location as interesting as possible. If you take photos from the eye-level, then you show your subject the same as anybody else would see it. If you don’t have a drone you can’t shoot from above. But you can still go really low. I often crouch and taking photos from as low as I can. This perspective looks really interesting especially if you are using wide angle lens.

#10 Choose what pictures to show

We all come back from every trip with hundreds of pictures. Even if all they would be amazing, nobody would have a time to browse all of them. So we need to carefully choose what to show to others. Usually I come back from a one week trip with 500-1000 photos. I select around 20% of them and process them in Lightroom. Then from these selected photos I choose only 30-40 to publish on my website. You should also show others only a few photos from each trip that you are the proudest of. Don’t bore people with your photos.

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Guys, do you use some of these tricks when taking your travel photos?

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About Agness

Travel freak, vagabond, photography passionate, blogger, life enthusiast, backpacker, adventure hunter and endless energy couchsurfer living by the rule "Pack lite, travel far and live long!"


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33 Comments

  • I never even knew about the RAW function, it never even occurred to me to shoot into the sun, or to capitalize on things like rainy days. It’s amazing how much different a photo can appear when a bit more effort is put in, but knowledge is power and now I can take my empowered self to create much more stunning photos of our family travels. Thank you so much for the truly helpful tips. I don’t know how many of these photography tips I must have read in the past few years, but this one isn’t like any of the rest and actually has things any amateur can immediately put to use without spending thousands.

    • Luke, you definitely should try shooting RAW. You will be able to make incredible things while post-processing your pictures. You can change white balance to create a better mood of your photo. You will be able to easily fix pictures if you under or over exposed them. All that without loosing quality. Just download Adobe Lightroom, or any other similar application.
      Good Luck!
      Piotr

  • Another reason to wake up early. I love waking up early but everyone just loves to push that idea down. :( I always forget the different eye-level ones. I almost never think to do ant view or from on top of a building. I’ll try to keep that in mind.

    • Hi Katarina,
      I also love to sleep late. But there is one thing I love even more: to take great photos ;-).
      I know it’s very hard to motivate others to go shoot photos very early. So usually I go for morning photo shoot alone and then come back for breakfast. It works for me :-).
      Cheers
      Piotr

  • The rule that I have trouble most of the time is ‘not to shoot junk. I always have enough memory with me during my trips. I make sure of that. But this makes it even more difficult to avoid the junk photos. I love taking pics too much and sometimes I think they are good when later at the computer i see that I was wrong. I try to learn to think more about the shot before I push the shutter button. It is so much better not to have to go through so many photos in order to find the good one.

    • Laura,
      I think everyone has this problem since we all use DSLR and not analog cameras. I’ve got many friends who come back from holiday with tones of photos. They even don’t check them. Maybe the next time you go for a one week trip try to shoot no more then 500 photos? This exercise will help you to be more careful and think more about what you are taking photos of.
      Good luck!
      Piotr

  • Such great tips here and some truly stunning photography! I always struggle to wake up early enough! But really useful to know about the tips for not being afraid of shooting in the rain or into the sun, I never knew that. PS, love the new look of the blog :)

    • I like shooting during the rain because sky looks very dramatic. I always use Neutral Density 0.6 Filter to make sky even darker and more dramatic. Do you use any filters for your camera? I strongly recommend!
      Piotr

  • Great advice Piotr. Thank-you! I don’t pretend to be a photographer, or even have a nice enough camera to really, but some of your tips were really interesting things to bare in mind.

    • Hey Katie,
      Glad you like my post and e-book! I would say that camera is never the most important thing for travel photographer. I would say that skills to process photos in applications like Adobe Lightroom are even more useful. The next time you go on a trip shoot in RAW format and then import your photos to Lightroom and have fun with them :-).
      Good luck!
      Piotr

  • i will stay take too many pictures. My early trips were with film and i was severely limited and had to choose when i wanted to shoot something, and I regret it to this day. Better to have way too many than not enough. I still look through my masses of photos from my trips and get annoyed i dont have a photo of something! good tips. RAW photos i think require a DSLR?

  • I’ve never shot in RAW before, maybe I should really! Good advice about shooting into the sun, I do love a natural lens effect, rather than added on by Photoshop.

  • Great tips!
    I’d also added don’t develop pictures too much ;) Fake colours, fake gradients etc. are not real, world is beautiful like it is, let’s not show fake = too much developed pictures ;)

    • Hi there!
      sometimes it’s good to have a play with Photoshop and give yourself some artistic and creative freedom. The problem is if all photos from a trip look the same, with same effect applied. Even if someone like it now, I guarantee that in a few months they will regret over processing photos ;-).

  • Great post, Piotr! Stunning shots as well!! I will take back ‘Don’t shoot everything from eye-level’ for now – noted!

  • Thank you. Some really good tips that I will have to think about.
    Regarding waking up early for the sunrise, it works a bit different here in Sweden during the summer. It is actually easier to stay awake until sunrise than waking up an hour after midnight. :)

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