How To Create Better Travel Photographs


  1. Hold your camera properly.
    1. Spread your legs about shoulder width.
    2. If you are using a “point and click” digital camera, hold it with two hands.
    3. If you are using a Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera, create a three point support system by holding your camera with your left hand and pressing it against the bones around your eye socket. You should have three points: your left hand, the bone above the eye and the cheek bone below the eye. Press it up against your face firmly so your neck and head are actively supporting the camera in addition to your left arm, wrist and hand. For the best support press your left elbow into your ribs.
  2. Press the shutter properly. Don’t jab at the shutter button. Slowly push your finger down until the shutter releases. The smoothest release is realized by rolling your finger across the shutter button.
  3. Use the proper camera mode. For basic photographers, keep your camera in “automatic” mode.
  4. Keep lighting consistent. Keep your subjects in one type or level of lighting. Get everyone into the sunlight or everyone into the shadow. Do not have a little shadow and a little sunlight mixed on the same subject.
  5. Avoid harsh sunlight. Bright sunlight will make your subjects squint. Put everyone in the shade if possible, the lighting will be more even and “soft.”
  6. Use over the shoulder (OTS) lighting. Keep the light source over your shoulder, behind you, with the subjects in front of you. Avoid shooting into the sun or into a bright light source.
  7. Use proper camera orientation. Holding your camera normally, or horizontally, will produce a “landscape” oriented image. Landscape orientation is best for horizontal subjects such as a family group or a photo of a low, wide house. Holding the camera turned 90 degrees from horizontal will produce a “portrait” or vertically oriented image. Portrait orientation is best for strongly vertical subjects, such as a single person or a tall tower. Use the camera orientation that will fill the majority of the frame with your subject.
  8. Keep your camera level. Look at your viewfinder or view screen and compare the horizon line or the lines of buildings, rooms or objects to the edges of the viewfinder or view screen. The lines should be parallel.
  9. Check your framing. Before you shoot, look around the edges of the viewfinder or view screen. Do you have even spacing around your subject? Are you cutting off the subject’s head or feet? Is everyone or everything in the photo that you want to be in?
  10. Check the focus point. Your camera will probably beep and display an icon in the viewfinder or view screen where it is locking focus for your photo. Before you shoot confirm that the focus point is on your subject.
  11. Don’t center your subject in the middle of an otherwise empty frame. A photo with a small subject exactly in the center of the frame is the most common framing error and rarely a good photograph. Make use of "Rule of Thirds" framing by placing your subject and/or the point of interest (eyes, key object, brightest point) on one of the thirds lines or intersection points of the frame.

Hold point and shoot cameras with two hands.

Hold SLRs firmly against your face bones.

Landscape or horizontal orientation.

Portrait or vertical orientation.

Check your framing before shooting.

Keep the horizon line level.

Centered subject surrounded by lots of space.
This is a very common framing error.

Use the "Rule of Thirds" framing.

Place your subject on a thirds line or intersection point.

A tighter shot using Rule of Thirds framing.



  1. Know your camera. Read the manual and try every function on the camera. Know what every button does. Know what every setting does. Know what every menu option does. You can not advance or improve your photography without knowing how your primary tool, your camera, operates.
  2. Know your camera and lens combinations. If you are using a Single Lens Reflex camera that enables the use of different lenses, you must understand what each camera/lens combination is capable of creating. In particular, get a feel for the lowest light levels you can work in using your fastest lens wide open and highest usable ISO settings. Also, experiment to discover the slowest shutter speeds you can use at your longest possible focal length.
  3. Know your flash. Read your flash unit’s manual, or the flash section of your camera’s manual, and try every function on the flash. Know what every button does. Know what every setting does. Know what every menu option does. In particular, you need to know how to alter your flash output down 1-3 stops for fill flash purposes.
  4. Use the proper fully automatic mode. Understand what your camera’s additional automatic operating modes (portrait, landscape, night, etc.) modes do and what conditions they are optimized for. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to use fully automatic mode. The idea is to get the shot. Start with automatic mode to get the “record shot,” then experiment with other automatic modes that you think would be appropriate for the situation.
  5. Use the proper priority mode. Understand fully what shutter priority and aperture priority modes do and what shooting conditions and desired creative outcome are best for each mode.
  6. Use fill flash. Soften shadows and create a catch light (pinpoints of light in a subject’s eyes) by using fill flash. This is mandatory for shooting in harsh sunlight.
  7. Use bounce flash. Direct flash is harsh and will often wash out your subject. Use a dedicated flash with a rotating head and bounce off a ceiling or a card.
  8. Use under exposure to protect highlights. Digital cameras have limited dynamic range so it is easy to overexpose highlights. Once they are gone, you cannot get them back. Conversely, digital cameras can create files that have good resiliency for underexposure. Bracket down a half and full stop to create some files that will preserve your highlights.
  9. Understand panning. Practice panning with your most likely camera/lens panning combination. This will probably be your longest telephoto lens. Understand what the different Vibration Reduction (VR) or Image Stabilization (IS) settings are for on the lenses you own and how they affect panning. Determine what different shutter speeds produce at different panning rates.
  10. Adjust your subjects to the available light conditions. Leverage the “golden hour” moments of sunrise and sunset for spectacular large scale scenery and settings. Use those same moments for subjects you can schedule and control. In the harsh light of a sunny mid day, wait for a cloud, shoot in the shadows or concentrate on macro photography. On cloudy or rainy days, concentrate on the richness and subtlety of color that is released and accentuated by the soft lighting. For interiors use tripods and existing light where possible, soften the lighting by using bounce flash where it is not.
  11. Get the angle. Move away from the standard eye-level point of view. Get down on the ground, get on your knees, lay down, get down to children’s eye level, get a puppy’s point of view, get up and elevated, get over people’s shoulders. In short, create an image that is different than the standard view.
  12. Get small. The small details of a place or event often tell the story in a way and scale that is more approachable and understandable. Keep your eyes open for the small things, the everyday objects, the human scale things that make your story compelling.
  13. Capture the peak of the action. In any activity, movement or sports shot, capture the moment of highest drama, stress or effort. This requires anticipation and the ability to time your shutter release with the precise moment required.
  14. Use leading lines. Use leading lines to draw the viewer’s eye into the subject.
  15. Use patterns. Use patterns to define the creative space of the image and accentuate the difference of the subject.
  16. Use light levels. The human eye is drawn to exceptions and brightness. Ensure your subject has a higher light level than everything else in the frame or is accentuated by exception.
  17. Use selective focus. Isolate your subject by making it the only thing tack sharp in the frame. Use aperture priority mode to control depth of field. Use shutter priority mode and panning to make your moving subject the only thing in focus in a moving background.
  18. Create emotion. Successful photographs create, invoke or spark emotion in the viewer. Wonder, fear, excitement, anticipation, awe, trepidation, tension, comfort, contentment, etc., your image must create an emotion to be successful.
  19. Tell a story. Each photograph you create should be able to stand on its own, tell its own story, without the luxury of a caption. As you look through the viewfinder or at the view screen, ask yourself “what story is this image telling?”
  20. Capture the establishing shot. Shoot overall scenes, the exterior of buildings, signs and markers that describe the subject and place your photographs in the context of locations and events.
  21. Establish the context. Shoot signs, calendars, newspapers, notes, etc. that will establish the context of the images you are shooting. These images will greatly aid the process of cataloging the images now and understanding where and when they were created at a later date.
  22. Understand the different types of travel photography.
    1. Travel Photography. This type of photography is the domain of professionals. A professional shooter will invest as much time, money and resources as are required to create the image. This means they can and will bring to bear resources that are unavailable to an amateur, including professional models, costumes, rented props, etc. A professional will alter or modify anything required to create the shot they need. A professional shooter will wait as long as it takes to get the shot, if that means three weeks for just the right clouds at sunrise, so be it. Travel photography is defined by the attribute that if an aspect of the shot is possible to be controlled, it will be, as many times as it takes to get the shot. Travel photography is commercial photography applied to the travel marketplace.
    2.  Traveling Photography. This type of photography is primarily the domain of amateurs. This type of photography relies on creating images from what is there at the time you experience it. There are no professional models, no props, no staging, no re-arranging things or re-running the scenario as many times as it takes to create the image. It is completely unfair to compare the random and moment-by-moment endless change of reality that the traveling photographer works in to the staged, controlled and reproducible environment that a travel photographer works in. Traveling photography is photojournalism applied to the travel experience.
  23. Understand the different types of images you create.
    1. Record shots. These are an overall view of the castle, city, place, thing, etc. It will look like a postcard image. Its purpose is to establish the record that you were there or record the status or existence of a place, person or object.
    2. Grab shots. These are images you create by grabbing and shooting. You may or may not capture the quickly passing event, object or person in the fleeting moment.
    3. Controlled shots. These are images you create when you control the setting, subject, time and place. Other than a structured still life these are very rare in traveling photography.
    4. Experimental shots. These are images you create while exploring the capabilities of your tools.
    5. Creative shots. These are images you create by applying your creativity and vision to the world that you encounter. Your creativity is primarily limited by your knowledge of your tools. If you fully know what your tools (camera, lens, lighting, etc.) are capable of, then your results will only be limited by your imagination, inspiration and freedom of thought.


Understand how priority modes work. This shot used aperture priority with fill flash.

Use panning to isolate your subject against the background.

Seek different angles for common scenes.

Use details to enrich the story.

Freeze the peak of action.

Use leading lines to draw the viewer's eye to the subject.

Use patterns to define the creative space.

Use light to draw the eye to your subject.

Use focus and depth of field to isolate your subject.

Create emotion and tell a story in every shot.

A typical record shot.

A grab shot from a moving motorcycle.

A controlled shot.

An experimental shot.

Creative shots using the tools' abilities...

...combined with imagination.

If you have questions or comments please contact Douglas Hackney


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