How To Take Travel Photos Like A Seasoned Pro

Whether you are going on a family vacation, photo trip, romantic getaway, or just doing some Eat Pray Love soul searching, these tips will help you take better photos instantly. These tips are for photographers of all levels so if you’re newbie don’t be intimidated and if you’re veteran don’t be too cocky.  You might not like all of these tips, especially the first one, but I promise you if you stay committed you will discover photo-gold.

1 - GET UP EARLY

The pros tend to wake up early, shoot at sunrise, nap in the afternoon during awful light and shoot again at sunset. Yes, I know you are on vacation but take at least one morning and get your butt out of bed and go shoot. The first 15 minutes will suck so slam a coffee, slap yourself in the face, or whatever gets you going just go. You will be rewarded with magical morning light and I promise you will get addicted to that light

2 - WHAT CAMERA DO I TAKE?

This it the question I get most frequently. IT’S NOT THE CAMERA, IT’S MY CREATIVE EYE AND MY BEAUTIFUL PHOTOGRAPHY MIND. Ok, that was cocky and untrue but really don’t waste too much time on that in the beginning. I have so many cameras, everything from a 6K camera to a $100 camera and they all have different purposes. For personal travel photography I love to go light, one body and one lens. Something equivalent to a 35mm lens so that I can shoot scene setters but I can also do portraits.  The lighter you are the more you will bend, twist, climb, squat, etc. and you won’t be weighed down mentally and physically by gear.  Find a camera within your budget that works for you ergonomically, functionally, and one that doesn’t weigh you down.

3 - USE A FRIEND

Practice your portrait photography on the person you are traveling with. This will give you the confidence to shoot strangers and it will get your friend some awesome pictures of their vacation.  Use this time to work on your composition, exposures, poses, etc. Once you gain confidence then go talk to a stranger, it can’t hurt to ask you’d be surprised.

4 - SKIP THE TOURIST SPOTS

Sure, go see the major attractions but don’t make that your photo day location. When you visit tourist locations the locals can get pretty annoyed with photo-tourists taking their picture.  Some want money, some will shoo you away, and it’s really a lose-lose situation for everyone. Take a local market as a good example, every city has the local market for locals and the one for tourists, go to the one for locals and people won’t be so annoyed with your camera.

5 - FIND A LOCAL PHOTO CLUB

You can go with a tour guide but they aren’t typically thinking of visual places. A great alternative is to go to a local photography forum and try to find someone who wants to go shoot with you. Better yet, find a photo club and see if they are going out to shoot and ask to tag along. Many photographers love teaming up and showing people around.  I fell in love with Hanoi because I tagged along with a fantastic local photo club and they showed me so many beautiful locations that would’ve taken me years to discover. I don’t normally recommend traveling in photography packs (we need a name for these, I’m working on it) because you lose a lot of candidness but go one day with the group and then revisit some places alone. 

6 - WANDER INTO A VILLAGE OR SMALL TOWN

My best pictures have come from when I wander around into a small village and I just explore. Talk to people and if you don’t speak the language just use body language. I’m not saying storm into someone’s home and start snapping away but you can talk to people and eventually talk your way into taking photos in their home or their daily life.

If you have any questions please ask in the comments section so we can all learn from each other. Good luck on your travels and most importantly go shoot and share and have a blast.

Justin Mott is the resident pro-photographer on History Channel's reality TV show Photo Face-Off and the founder of Mott Visuals. Justin is also a frequent contributor to The New York Times shooting over 100 assignments all over the globe.