Robert Schrader is a photographer, writer and founder of the award-winning travel blog Leave Your Daily Hell. He looks forward to ordering his first Fracture print, if he can select just one of his photos, that is.
Travel photography can be a frustrating pursuit, what with all the jaw-dropping images flooding the internet and social media these days. It’s easy to feel inadequate about your images, no matter how good they are, or how much effort you’ve put into them.
The good news is that much of the world’s best travel photography is so heavily modified that it’s hard to call it “photography”—if a photo looks too good to be real, it almost always is. On the other hand, it’s always a good idea to take stock of your own chest of photography tools and to add to it whenever possible.
Below, you’ll find some of the most important travel photography tips and tricks I’ve learned during my seven years traveling the world, as well as the photos that illustrate why they’re so important. I hope you find them valuable!
Get a Professional Camera
I’m just going to tell it how it is: If you don’t shoot with a DSLR or mirrorless camera, your travel photography is going to be mediocre. While it’s true that mobile and point-and-shoot cameras are better than ever, a number of factors about these devices (namely, image sensor size, which severely limits the amount of digital information the camera can capture) precludes taking truly eye-popping photos, without heavy modification that is.
Shoot in RAW
Of course, the idea that amazing images come straight out of the camera that way is also rubbish. In fact, a main advantage of shooting with a professional camera is the ability to shoot in NEF or RAW, a format that allows for maximum flexibility in modifying an image with minimal fluctuation in quality. This is particularly useful for travel photography, since lighting conditions can change so rapidly when you’re on the go. Pictured below are the before and after effects of RAW.
Try a Tripod
Tripods are great in travel photography for a number of reasons, but I love two in particular: Low-light, long exposure shots and selfies—especially selfies! When you take a selfie with a tripod, it allows you to compose the photo as you otherwise would, then insert yourself into it. There are thousands of types of tripods out there, but I personally love the MeFOTO Backpacker, which is not only affordable and high-quality, but folds down to a barely-there 12.5″.
Use Manual Mode—and Manual Focus
When I busted out my first professional camera on a trip to Cambodia many years ago, I received one of my best pieces of travel photography advice ever. “Switch your camera into ‘Manual’ mode,” my fellow hostel-stayer told me. “And throw away the manual, while you’re at it.”
Every image is potentially interesting when you’re in a new place, which gives you the freedom to experiment with and learn about settings on your camera, such as aperture, focal length, shutter speed and ISO and, ultimately, to control how your photo turns out. On the other hand, even the most ardent believers in the virtues of manual photography stick exclusively to auto-focus, which can prevent you from truly zeroing in on a subject in a frame.
Remember It’s How You Shoot, Not What You Shoot
Many travel photographers will advise you to prioritize shots of the most beautiful places and the most beautiful times of day (i.e. sunrise and sunset), but the mark of a great photographer is not taking amazing photos of amazing things—it’s taking amazing photos of ordinary things. If you focus first on your technique and then choose your subject, you’ll take spectacular shots, no matter what.