Nine Portrait Tips for Better Travel Photography

You have probably taken some clichéd, if not completely cheesy, photos while documenting your travels using a camera. I know I have. I am embarrassed to show my photos to friends after I return from trips.

This article, and the video above, will give you my top 9 tips for taking your travel portrait photography to the next step. We can all hopefully capture shots we won’t hide behind our finsta.

1. No Stiff Smiles

There’s no big cheese! We have all seen awkward family photos that feature big smiles. They are as embarrassing as they sound. You don’t have to look like the grumbly dad at Disney all vacation. But, I suggest you relax. To get a natural response, tell jokes or make your subject laugh. This brings us to Tip 2.

2. Break Eye Contact

Avoid looking into the camera, especially if you smile big. While everyone would prefer to be at the beach with a mai Tai in their hand, we are here to celebrate Aunt Gertrude’s 102nd Birthday. Let’s make the most of it. Take a picture of your subject looking at the landscape or architecture. You want them to enjoy the scene and not just the camera.

3. Competing Subjects

Choose a topic. A lack of a subject is a major problem in travel photos. Pick your subject before you take a picture. Your subject can be little Timmy, a building or a landscape. You can even pose your subject to emphasize them or the subject. For highlighting a subject in photos, the angle of your camera or depth of field can be powerful tools. Now, let’s dive a little deeper in Tip 4.

4. Environment Interaction

You can climb stairs, lean against a wall or rail, and sit on a bench. You don’t have to be an idiot and climb Buckingham Palace’s fence for TikTok clout. But the most boring photos are “Here’s a person… standing before a thing.” Be creative, but not ruin it for everyone.

5. Crowds

Avoid crowds. You might have to get up earlier than the average tourist, walk a little further, or stumble upon a hidden gem that nobody else knows about. If you are looking for something truly unique, talk to the locals. This is how you can make great friends and find unique photo opportunities that haven’t been taken to death before.

6. Lighting

The best lighting is at sunset and sunrise, but it varies for every environment. Some places, such as Las Vegas, really come alive after sunset, for example. For dynamic images, pay attention to the light.

You’ll see great golden hour light in large cities like NYC because of the skyscrapers. However, streets running East & West will have more light than streets running North & South, as the sun is blocked until later in the day.

7. Composition

A great photo is not only memorable because of its lighting but also because of its composition. Your audience will be able to see the location of your photo by how you frame it, what angle you use, and how high the camera is. Be mindful of the Rule of Thirds and Symmetry. Avoid distracting elements. Sometimes you may feel like you have to lay on the ground in order to capture the perfect shot. This is a great way to improve your photography skills.

8. Candid Moments

Although it sounds simpler than it actually is, capture candid moments. This is my favorite tip. Every shot does not have to be taken in a posed position. Photographing your subjects in a journalistic manner as they explore the surroundings will result in more authentic storytelling images and natural expressions. While you’ll take many more photos, when the moment and lighting work together, that’s a great shot!

9. Put the Camera Down

Here’s a counterintuitive tip: Put the camera down. Because I kept my camera up to see my face, I can’t even remember the places I went on other than some photos stored on a hard disk. Because I was too concerned about trying to capture the memories and moments with my family and friends, I totally missed them. This, Alanis Morissette is irony. If you take the time to appreciate your surroundings, you will get better imagery.

These are my top nine tips to take better travel portraits. Enjoy your time and get out there to shoot!