Over the years that I’ve been traveling, I’ve seen quite a few travel photography mistakes as they’re happening. People with huge cameras sitting on auto mode, shooting photos of their kids into the sun-unintentional silhouettes just waiting to happen. People grabbing just a few shots before moving on to their next destination. People weighed down by gear.
And yes, I’ve made a few–if not all–of these travel photography mistakes myself. Some of them are mistakes that have to be made as part of the learning process. But others are criminally easy to avoid, and I want to help you do just that–which is why I decided to sit down and brainstorm some of the most common travel photography mistakes out there. That way, you know what you should be avoiding. And, hopefully, I can give you a little bit of advice on how to fix those travel photography mistakes along the way 🙂
So without further ado, here are 14 common travel photography mistakes and how to fix them.
1. NOT DOING ENOUGH RESEARCH OR PLANNING
When it comes to travel, there are generally two types of people: those who plan their itineraries down to the second, and those who show up with only a basic understanding of the top sights and go with the flow. I’ve been both, and let me tell you: don’t be the second person if you want to take good travel photos.
While showing up and going with the flow can be a really fun way to travel, chances are you won’t end up with that many great photos to show for it. Which is fine if that’s not a focus of yours. But if it is, then you definitely want to put some research and planning into your trip!
You don’t have to plan your itinerary down to the minute if you feel too restricted by that, but I suggest, at the very least, to do some research and come up with a “shot list” of the different photos that you’d like to take in your destination. You also want to include things like opening times and the best times of day for photography there. Even just having this little list can make a big difference in the quality AND quantity of photos that you come back with.
If you want to take it one step further, then take that shot list and turn it into an itinerary.
P.S. Not sure what to research? A few things you should definitely be researching are the best photo spots, like viewpoints, and any laws and regulations surrounding photography in your destination.
2. NOT GETTING FAMILIAR WITH YOUR CAMERA
Potentially one of the biggest travel photography mistakes out there is not getting familiar with your camera before you head out on a trip.
There are a lot of different buttons and wheels and settings that go into how your camera works, and if you don’t know how they work then you’ll be stuck scrolling through menus or googling tutorials when you should be having fun on your vacation.
So instead of doing that, take the time to get to know your camera before you leave. Have a flip through the manual, play around with the settings, take your camera out for an expedition into your backyard.
The more experience you have before your trip, the better the photos of your trip will turn out. I promise.
3. PACKING TOO MUCH GEAR
The secret to getting great travel photos is 8 lenses, 2 camera bodies, 10 filters, and a tripod, right????
Heck no. In fact, the less gear you pack, the better. While it might seem counterintuitive, having less gear is always the way to go.
Lugging around those 8 lenses, 2 camera bodies, 10 filters, and a tripod might mean that you get a slightly better photo in one singular situation because you’re ready with the exact setup that you need. But it also definitely means that you’re going to be weighed down by all your gear, get back or shoulder pain, feel grumpy, and maybe even be tempted to just leave it all behind. And no camera gear is definitely worse than not having that one perfect lens, right?
Instead, I suggest taking along a singular camera body, 2-3 great, versatile lenses, and minimal accessories. Maybe a tripod if you know you’re going to be taking a shot that day that absolutely needs one. Otherwise? Leave it all at home. I promise you’ll still be able to take great travel photos with a minimalist photography kit. Trust me.
4. FORGETTING THE ESSENTIALS
Of course, while you definitely don’t need to lug around a bunch of unnecessary gear, there are also a few things that you don’t want to leave home without – but that many people do.
For example: extra, fully charged batteries.
When I was in Barcelona a few years ago, I only had the one camera battery. And the second I walked into the Sagrada Familia, that battery died. So there I was, in this insanely beautiful and photogenic church, with only my phone to tide me over. It was heartbreaking.
The second I got home, I ordered 2 extra batteries for my camera and never looked back. Now, I always travel with the battery in my camera + 2 extra ones, all fully charged, and make sure to charge them every night as well. Because there’s no way I’m missing an opportunity like the Sagrada Familia ever again.
So what should you absolutely not leave home without?
- Your camera, duh.
- Extra, fully charged batteries
- Extra memory cards
There are a few more things like an external hard drive that I also recommend bringing in this post, but those 3 things are the nonnegotiables!
5. SHOOTING ON AUTO MODE
Okay, so I probably shouldn’t even get started on auto mode, but now that I am…
If you’re shooting on auto mode, you need to get off ASAP.
Here’s why: auto mode sucks.
While you might think that your camera is infinitely smarter than you and that putting it on auto mode is the best way to go (especially if you don’t understand all of the technical terms surrounding manual mode), it’s not. The problem with auto mode is that your camera doesn’t know what it’s looking at. And when it doesn’t know what it’s looking at, it can’t set things like the exposure (which is basically all it’s doing) accurately.
Furthermore, when you’re on auto mode you have absolutely no creative control.
So I urge you to get off auto mode as fast as possible.
Do you have to move straight to manual mode? Absolutely not. In fact, I firmly believe that you don’t ever have to shoot in manual mode if you don’t want to. But you definitely want to get off auto mode.
6. NOT ALWAYS BEING READY
So much of travel photography, in my opinion, is capturing fleeting moments. The smile on a travel mate’s face as they see the Eiffel Tower for the first time. Two people bartering over food in the local market. A passing bicyclist.
If you don’t have your camera out and ready in those moments, they’re gone forever.
Will you look like a nerdy tourist if you have your camera out all the time? Yes. But you’ll also capture so many more moments than you would if you didn’t.
Of course, put your camera away in places where photos aren’t allowed or neighborhoods where it just doesn’t seem like a good idea to be flashing your wealth, but it really should be out as often as possible.
7. MOVING TOO FAST
While heading to a new place every day and packing all the sights in in one day works for some travelers, it isn’t exactly conducive to great travel photos. While you might luck out and get a few stunning shots, it’s highly likely you won’t.
Slowing down when traveling has a lot of benefits, and the chance for great travel photos is one of them. Having the time to actually think about the shots that you want to take and set them up is invaluable. Plus, you’ll be able to visit different spots during golden hour and sunset and have the freedom to wait for the perfect moment.
This also applies to planning your day-to-day itineraries in different places. If you’re prioritizing photography, then you’ll want to include fewer things per day so that you really have time to take all the photos that you want of each thing!
8. TAKING THE SAME PHOTOS AS EVERYONE ELSE
Everyone has the same photo of the Eiffel Tower. It’s boring. And if all you do is take that same photo of the Eiffel Tower that everyone else has and call it a day, then your photos are going to be boring too.
Harsh? Yes. But it’s also the truth.
If you really want to take great travel photos, then you need to start getting creative. Change up where you’re standing, how you’re pointing your camera, and even what you’re taking photos of. This will add so much more richness and interest to your photos.
9. NOT TAKING THE SAME PHOTOS AS EVERYONE ELSE
Okay, so I know I just said that you shouldn’t be taking the same photos as everyone else and that you should take more creative photos, but… It doesn’t hurt to take those photos, too. In this day and age, you have basically limitless space on your memory cards, and sometimes you just want to have that basic photo of the Eiffel Tower. That’s okay! As long as you’re also taking more creative and interesting photos in addition to that basic one, you’re good to go.
10. NOT TAKING PICTURES OF THE LITTLE THINGS
Along the same lines as taking the same photos as everyone else, another major travel photography mistake is not taking photos of the little things.
What does this mean? Well really, it means whatever you want it to mean. You could take it incredibly literally and make it a focus to take more photos of the teeny tiny parts of the world. Or you could take it a bit more figuratively and realize that the spirit of this rule is that you should be paying more attention to things other than the major sights.
There are so many little things that make up the spirit of a destination, and ignoring those things and only capturing the major sights is just a disservice to yourself and your collection of photos.
One way I like to combat what I call “landmark tunnel vision” is to take photo walks through random neighborhoods, snapping anything and everything that captures my attention. My favorite travel photos almost always come from these sorts of walks!
11. NOT PAYING ATTENTION TO LIGHT
Light is one of the biggest determiners of a photo out there. From the direction of light to the quality of it to the time of day, there is so much about light that can make or break a photo. And not paying attention to light means that you’re missing major opportunities that can either make or break your photos.
For example, if you’re not paying attention to light, you might miss that you’re shooting directly into the sun, meaning that your subject is going to end up as a silhouette. But if you are paying attention to light, then you will notice that, and can take the chance to move yourself or your subject so that they’re no longer backlit.
So how do you fix this mistake? It’s easy. Before you take a photo, just look around you and take note of what the light is like. Then, make adjustments as necessary.
When it comes to the quality of light or the time of day, there’s often not much that you can do. But just having an idea of the kind of light that you’re working with will still do wonders for your photography.
12. MISSING SUNRISE AND SUNSET
I am majorly guilty of this travel photography mistake, and it’s honestly mostly just because I’m lazy. And making it to a good photography spot for sunrise or sunset is hard work.
But when you do… the results are to die for. There’s just something so magical about the sun beginning to peak over or dip under the horizon. The colors it creates, the quality of light… missing sunrise and sunset is a major travel photography mistake.
I recommend trying to catch sunset at a good photo spot most nights, and to try to get up for sunrise at least once during your trip.
13. FORGETTING TO TURN AROUND
Okay, this might just be the craziest travel photography mistake out there, because it’s just so easy to do. But it happens so often, and I do it all the time too!
Like I talked about before, “landmark tunnel vision” is a major cause of this mistake. This is because people get so interested in whatever major landmark or building or monument that they’re looking at that they forget to turn around and see what’s going on behind them.
And sometimes, what’s going on behind them can be an even better photo opportunity than the thing in front of them.
For example, when I was in Costa Rica with my boyfriend’s family, we were on a sunset hike. And while everyone was looking out at the volcano and paying attention to what the guide was saying, I quickly glanced over my shoulder and saw THIS. And if I hadn’t turned around, I never would have got that shot. Which would have been a major tragedy.
So when you’re photographing major monuments and other crazy sites, always try to take a second to turn around and see what’s going on behind you. You might be surprised by the photo opportunities you encounter.
14. TAKING A FEW PHOTOS AND CALLING IT A DAY
Finally, another big travel photography mistake I notice is people just taking a few photos and calling it a day. While taking too many photos and filling up your memory card might have been a worry 10 years ago, it’s not anymore–especially if you bring along multiple memory cards.
What you really want to be doing is taking as many photos as possible. Of absolutely everything. And taking a few different-but-same shots of the same thing in quick succession. While, yes, it can be a headache to go through all of those photos when you get home, it also just ups your chances of getting that perfect shot, which makes the headache worth it.
So there you have it: 14 common travel photography mistakes and how to fix them. I hope this helps!