7 Simple Photography Hacks Every Traveler Should Know

Boracay, Island, Philippines, sunset, boat, sailboat, orange, sky, clouds, water, ocean, sea

Ansel Adams said, “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” Being in the right place at the right time is one of the most important aspects to creating images with impact – even more so when it comes to travel photography. In fact, photographers often see an image in their head before it happens. Here are my tips and tools to make sure you get the most out of your travel photos.

1. Do your research: Before my trip even starts, I look through photos to get ideas of where to shoot. I’m searching for the sweet spots or places where I’m almost guaranteed a fantastic shot. To do that I scan several sites such as Flickr, 500px, Google Images, Instagram, and sometimes photo groups on Facebook for my destination. I also use the free TRVL app for the iPad. It’s filled with great travel photos and helpful background info. 

2. Create a shot list: Travel photography is about telling a story. Nothing helps more than having a list of places, people, and/or events that you’d like to shoot before you start. The My Shot Lists for Travel app by Ralph Velasco is perfect for that. A simpler solution is to just write it down on paper. Either way, keep in mind your list is just a starting point. You need to be flexible and adapt to each situation. 

3. Know where the light will be: Lighting is everything in photography. I use The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) to help me plan for natural light. According to their site, TPE “is a tool to help you plan outdoor photography in natural light, especially landscape and urban scenes. It is a map-centric sun and moon calculator: see how the light will fall on the land, day or night, for any location on earth.” The desktop version is free but you have to pay for the app. 

Japan, Osaka, sunlight, intersection, sun, rays
I’ll admit I didn’t plan to be at this spot in Osaka at sunset. But if I used the TPE app I could have figured it out beforehand.

4. Know where to go: Obviously, you’ll need a map. I hate paying for roaming fees when I travel. So I use a free offline app called Maps.me. It’s wicked. You can find tons of info like the closest wifi connection, a cafe, or drop a pin to help you find a way back to where you’re staying. It only works with phone with built-in GPS (almost all cell phones), so it usually won’t work with iPads or other tablets.

5. Hire a fixer: Many pro travel photographers use a fixer – someone who can help you do what you need to do in that location. They can be a friend, a translator, a guide or someone you pay to help you. Davide Patelli gives some great advice about getting a fixer. This is also one of Steve McCurry’s number one tips. As he says, a fixer can also keep you out of trouble.

6. Sleep in the right place: Try to find places to stay that help you get great images. For example, stay up high. Ask for a room on the top floor with a view. Then you only have to roll out of bed for that sunrise shot. Airbnb is great for this. This apartment I stayed at in Kuala Lumpur has a rooftop pool and an amazing view of the city, all for under $60 a night! Basically, pick a place to stay that is close to what you want to shoot most. That way you can photograph it a number of times and cut down on your travel time.

7. Bring out the best in your photos: My go-to photo editing software is Adobe Lightroom CC. I use it to process all my images and manage my photo library. I subscribed to the monthly $9.99 plan which includes Photoshop too. However, 80% of my workflow takes place in Lightroom. Another benefit to Lightroom is that they have an app for your tablet. You can work on your images there and then sync to your home computer. The app interface is not as good as Snapseed though which I use from time to time. Both apps work on Android and iOS.

Not sure what gear to get? Check out why my friend and fellow photographer Roy Cruz recommends this Fujifilm Mirrorlesss Landscape and Travel Photography Kit.

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Author: Pete DeMarco

Pete DeMarco is an award-winning travel photographer. His passion for helping people transform their photography shows through in the expert advice he shares. His work has been featured in National Geographic Traveler, CNN, and as a staff writer for Digital Photography School.