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Learn Photography

Travel Photography


Dr. Ken Erb

Click Photograph to Enlarge


Roy's Peak in Wanaka, New Zealand


Download a PDF of this tutorial here.

Also go to Bad Travel Photography.

1 – This Class

Most articles and books about travel photography discuss the camera tools and composition skills.

These are the same camera tools and composition skills used every where in photography—not just in travel photography.

Travel photography articles and books often only briefly cover these two topics:

• Openness to Unique Experiences

• Projects/Themes

We won't ignore camera tools and composition.

But we'll delve into the above two topics.

2 – Openness to Unique Experiences

Rediscovering Travel is by Seth Kugel, the former "Frugal Traveler" columnist of the New York Times.

He espouses meeting local people who may bring an experience of their culture to you.

This works better when you:

• Don't mind being lost or going off with strangers.

• Have an expense account.

• Have lots of time.

• Are a single male (women have more to fear?).

• Are in your twenties, with few concerns at home.

However, we can apply some of the author's ideas to our travels.

Kugel notes how we used to travel only with a guidebook and map.

Now we have a sea of information about our travel destinations on our phones.

The author continues:

But don't we travel to break our routine? To experience the unexpected? To let the world delight us?

Meeting Local People

Fixers & Guides

Travel photographers often hire a fixer—a local person.

He or she knows the lay of the land at your destination.

Your fixer is a guide, translator, and assistant.

Guides give tours.

Many communities and countries (Italy) license guides.

Check if your destination licenses guides.

If so, verify your guide's license.


Buyer beware!

Do your due diligence as best you can by:

1) Evaluating reviews.

2) Searching his or her name, the locality, and other search terms.

3) Asking on a traveler forum for the locality if anyone has used the person.

4) Checking if his or her community or country licenses guides.

Airbnb Experiences

Culture Trip

eatwith Local dinners and cooking classes


Meal Sharing

Meetup More for someone new to the area

nearify Events



Please check the user comments about discontinuing the app easily.

Tourlina Women only

What to Eat in


Translation Apps

6 of the Best Translation Apps For Travelers (2018):

Google Translate

iTranslate Basic and Pro

iTranslate Voice

Papago Asian languages




Search for meet local people travel.

Add your destination to the above search string.

Camera Club

If you're a member of a camera club, the club or a member may recommend a camera club at your destination.

Giving Back

You can give the person you photographed a business card with your name and an e-mail address back to you.

Perhaps use an e-mail address that is not your primary one.

Use ManyMe, or a similar service, for a substitute e-mail address.

Have a line on the business card on which to write the photograph number.

Give the card to your subject, and say, "Send me an e-mail and I'll send you photographs."

Perhaps have a larger card printed with instructions in various languages.

3 – Projects/Themes

Having a project or a theme to one's photography, is common in other photography genres.

It's less common in non-professional travel photography.

Having a project or theme narrows your vision.

You'll get better photographs.

Let's say you're in Rome.

If your project is doorways, you'll come home with photographs worthy of hanging on a wall.

Two Cameras

Pretend you have two cameras.

Photograph like a tourist with camera #1.

Do your project or theme with camera #2.

Camera #1

You'll want photographs of the Colosseum, yes.


Camera #2

Find photographs for your doorways project, too.


4 – Openness & Project Example

Let's say you're at the Taj Mahal and your project is food.

You photograph the Taj Mahal.


You then visit the nearby YES Restaurant at 2/78, Western Gate - Taj Mahal, Tajganj, Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India.


kurnia nugraha rudianto wrote in a Google review:

Great location, just walking distance from Taj Mahal. Great food, you can order food as you wish whether full spices or less, and they'll served you freshly. Very great and friendly owner as well.

You meet the owner, and ask to meet the chef.

You end up photographing the owner, chef, and kitchen.

5 – Research

For better travel photography—know your subject.


Let's say Marge is a naïve photographer with a simple camera.

She's going to the Maldives.

Marge finds some good websites about what to see and learns about the Maldivian culture.

She comes home with some unique photographs.

Marge is now married to the man who helped her change a flat tire.

He liked how she knew a few words of Dhivehi and invited Marge to a community gathering.


Let's say George—with three cameras around his neck—visited Saint Petersburg in Russia.

He researched what to photograph—but didn't learn anything about Russian culture.

George thought the Russians were unfriendly because they didn't smile.

The Russians thought George was an idiot—because he smiled when there wasn't anything funny to smile about.

At home, George showed a slideshow of his photographs of monuments and buildings.

His friends had a hard time staying awake.

Topics to Research

• Research what's available on the meeting-local-people apps (above) and the translation apps (above).

• Don't be an ugly American (below).

While none of the readers here will knowingly do something culturally stupid while traveling—you may do so inadvertently.

• For destinations, museums, buildings, events, and the like, do the following.

– Bookmark their websites in a folder on your browser.

– Record their opening and closing times.

– Record if photography is permitted.

– Record if tripods are permitted.

– Check for closures due to renovations, season, and so forth.

• National and local holidays that may be good—or may interfere—with your photography.

• Look at what other photographers have done at your destination, such as:

– Themes and stories.

– The best locations to photograph from.

Note Taking Apps

Before You Go

How do you bring the above research with you?

Your phone has a note app in which you can enter and paste your research.

Try it out and search for similar apps, if needed.

During Your Trip

The note app probably can record speech as text.

Check if you can record sound as well.

For example, Android users can use Keep:

• To dictate text.

• To record conversations, ambient sound (good for slideshows), and so forth.

iPhone users can try out Notes and Voice Memos (both 2019).

Professional travel photographers and writers take many notes.


Wade Shepard, author of the Vagabond Journey blog, wrote an excellent article on taking notes.

How to Take Field Notes When Traveling (2009)

6 – Don't Research


Mark Twain, in Following the Equator, offers a contrary view of research.

I mean to speak of only one of these many world-renowned buildings, the Taj Mahal, the most celebrated construction in the earth. I had read a great deal too much about it. I saw it in the daytime, I saw it in the moonlight, I saw it near at hand, I saw it from a distance; and I knew all the time, that of its kind it was the wonder of the world, with no competitor now and no possible future competitor; and yet, it was not my Taj. My Taj had been built by excitable literary people; it was solidly lodged in my head, and I could not blast it out.

In Agra and its neighborhood, and afterwards at Delhi, we saw forts, mosques, and tombs, which were built in the great days of the Mohammedan emperors, and which are marvels of cost, magnitude, and richness of materials and ornamentation, creations of surpassing grandeur, wonders which do indeed make the like things in the rest of the world seem tame and inconsequential by comparison. I am not purposing to describe them. By good fortune I had not read too much about them, and therefore was able to get a natural and rational focus upon them, with the result that they thrilled, blessed, and exalted me. But if I had previously overheated my imagination by drinking too much pestilential literary hot Scotch, I should have suffered disappointment and sorrow.

7 – Preaching to the Choir

Please forgive this writer for preaching to you about behaviors you'll never do.

None of my readers would act like the man below.

But—please do search for cultural subtleties when photographing.

8 – Ugly American


As defined by Wikipedia:

"Ugly American" is a pejorative term used to refer to perceptions of loud, arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless, ignorant, and ethnocentric behavior of American citizens mainly abroad, but also at home.

Martin Parr

Martin Parr, in Small Worlds, photographed tourists at their worst.

Funny Example But Useful

Non-USA Redditors, besides accents, what is a dead giveaway that a tourist is American?

Cultural Subtleties

Teju Cole, in A Too-Perfect Picture, compares the work of two photographers in India:

Steve McCurry (of Afghan girl fame):

In McCurry’s portraits, the subject looks directly at the camera, wide-eyed and usually marked by some peculiar­ity, like pale irises, face paint or a snake around the neck. And when he shoots a wider scene, the result feels like a certain ideal of photography: the rule of thirds, a neat counterpoise of foreground and background and an obvious point of primary interest, placed just so. Here’s an old-timer with a dyed beard. Here’s a doe-eyed child in a head scarf. The pictures are staged or shot to look as if they were. They are astonishingly boring.

• Succession Raghubir Singh (1 | 2):

His [Succession Raghubir Singh] work shares formal content with McCurry’s: the subcontinental terrain, the eye-popping color, the human presence. Within these shared parameters, however, Singh gives us photographs charged with life: not only beautiful experiences or painful scenes but also those in-between moments of drift that make up most of our days. Singh had a democratic eye, and he took pictures of everything: cities, towns, villages, shops, rivers, worshipers, workers, construction sites, motorbikes, statues, modern furniture, balconies, suits, dresses and, sure, turbans and saris.

Cole summarizes his discussion:

Art is always difficult, but it is especially difficult when it comes to telling other people's stories. And it is ferociously difficult when those others are tangled up in your history and you are tangled up in theirs. What honors those we look at, those whose stories we try to tell, is work that acknowledges their complex sense of their own reality. Good photography, regardless of its style, is always emotionally generous in this way. For this reason, it outlives the moment that occasions it. Weaker photography delivers a quick message — sweetness, pathos, humor — but fails to do more. But more is what we are.


It's often best to ask permission before photographing someone.

Show your photographs to the subject.

As described above, give him or her a business card so they can contact you about the photographs.

Learn how to say thank you in the local language.


Always ask permission from their parents, guardians, teachers, or other caregivers.


Religious, military, police, government, infrastructure (bridges, power plants, etc.), airport, and customs locations should not be photographed unless you've asked permission or have done your research.


For example, search:

your destination + travel + etiquette

your destination + travel + do's and don'ts

You'll learn about:

• Nodding

Does an up-and-down nod mean yes?

• Personal space distance

• Queuing

• Being on time or not being on time

• Casual conversation for a length of time before discussing business

• Capacity for small talk

• Appropriate clothing at certain locations

Add the word photography to the above search strings, to learn about photographic etiquette, do's and don'ts, and legalities.

United States

Bert Krages, a lawyer in California, has written a one-page summary of your rights in the United States.

The Photographer's Right - Bert P. Krages - Attorney at Law

Look for similar articles about your destination.

The tutorial below was written for photographers in the United States.

Again, look for similar articles about your destination.

How to Photograph Strangers

9 – "But more is what we are."

Go ahead—take the standard photograph.

It's fun.


Do more.

Below—Georges Jansoone used vantage point and foreground.

He moved back (vantage point) and put the statue in the frame (foreground).


10 – Ways to Do More


Learn some phrases in the local language, such as, "May I take your picture?"

Use one of translation apps described (above).

Mini relationships before pressing the shutter release:

Interact with the person who you want to photograph, first.

For example, ask a question, compliment them, or buy something from them.

People in the scene:

People in your photographs can add visual interest.

They can give the viewer a sense of the scale of a location.

If their faces are prominent:

• Your photograph may become a unintended portrait.

• The viewer will be less likely to feel like he or she is standing in your photograph looking at the scene.

To avoid having people in your photographs, try going to a site when it opens.

As mentioned:

• Be open to unique experiences

• Have a project/theme

Change your:

• Vantage point

• Background


• Foreground

• Close-ups

Better light:

• Early

• Late

• Night

• Backlighting

• Fill flash

• Sunrise/sunset/light apps:

Photographer's Ephemeris

TPE helps you plan outdoor photography in natural light. See how the light will fall on the land, day or night, for any location on earth.

Note: The Android version has fewer features.


PhotoPills is your personal assistant in all photographic matters. It provides tasty remedies to help you answer most of the questions when planning and shooting your creative ideas.


Everything you need for your landscape photography planning, from golden hour, to blue hour, to milky way, to star-trails, to timelapse, to eclipses, to seascape, and more. Everything, I mean everything.

• Shot list

Travel photographers make a list of the photographs they need to get before their travels.

We don't need to be that specific, but should make a list of locations.

List alternate locations, such as places you can photograph when the weather is poor.

• Take notes (above).


HDR is high dynamic range photography.

It's used when the scene has bright and dark areas.

We're not National Geographic photographers who can always be at a location when the light is good.

We have to deal with contrasty light.

A scene with contrasty light is photographed several times at different exposure settings.

The best parts of this series of photographs are merged into a single, less contrasty, photograph.

Below, Nickomargolies photographed a fountain in Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C.

He used HDR.

The bright sky looks great as well as the fountain in shadow.


Without HDR, Nickomargolies would have had to choose one of the options below.


Option #1:

Sky = Good; Fountain = Not Good (Simulated)


Option #2:

Sky = Not Good; Fountain = Good (Simulated)

Your phone probably does HDR automatically.

Your camera may or may not.

Check the manual.


• Bad

• Overcast is often better than sunny, as there's less contrast.


• Travel is novelty—seek extra novelty.

• Do what the locals are doing—get off of the beaten tourist path.

If you search your destination + "get off beaten path"—you may find better experiences and photographs.

For example:

Don't Miss Travelling Off The Beaten Path In Italy

• Do the opposite/something-different of what other photographers are doing.

• Photograph something that's happening in front of the photographed-a-million-times subject . . .

. . . such as a story.

11 – Story

Your trip is a story, of course.

But a series of photographs of monuments and buildings isn't a story.

You can look for smaller stories during your travels.

For example, Elliott Erwitt photographed a couple having trouble collapsing a beach umbrella.

He followed them all the way home.

q q


• A plot, theme, conflict, experience, what's happening at an event, or ?.

• As if you're the future viewer.

• Signs and maps.

• An establishing shot to set the stage for the viewer.

• A scene with action or emotion (atmosphere, mood or feeling) for the first photograph in a sequence.

• The characters in the story.

• Close-ups.

• A summary, conclusion, or punchline photograph.

For example:


W. Eugene Smith: Master of the Photo Essay

12 – Presentation

Have a destination for your photographs.

Photograph with the presentation in mind, such as five photographs on the wall, a book, or a slideshow.

Let's say you're going to put your photographs in a book.

With a future book in mind—you'll be a better photographer.

For example:

• You'll be looking for a map or something else for the endpapers.

• You'll need an establishing photograph for each section in the book.

13 – Significant Other & Groups

If you have a traveling companion, or are part of a group, ditch them for better photography.


Be nice about it, of course.

Maybe you have to get up early.

Maybe you can plan a time when you each explore separate interests.

On the other hand, street photographer Eric Kim, in How to Travel as a Photographer With Family recommends:

So my simple advice is this: if you plan on traveling with your family, don't focus on photographing sights, people on the streets, or your experiences. Rather, photograph your loved ones. There is no other opportunity you can spend so much time with your loved ones.
When you're traveling with family, you're more or less spending each awake moment with theme—from breakfast to when you fall asleep. When you're back at home, everyone is distracted with work, school, or playing on their phones.


12 Reasons Travel Can Be Stressful & Tips for Reducing Travel Stress Scroll down to part 6

18 Reasons Why You Should Never Travel With a Photographer, Ever!

Spouses and photography

14 – Back at the Room

SD Card Safety

Purchase a case for your SD cards.

Place your contact information inside the case.

Have a place where the case is always stored.

The case is always either in your hand or at that location.


Back up your photographs at the end of each day.

Do it to at least two locations:

1) Local

Use an external hard drive, phone, tablet, or laptop for the local backup.

2) Cloud service

Your camera may be able to transfer photographs via Wi-Fi.


If you're using a tablet or laptop, add captions and notes to some of the photographs.

For example, in Lightroom, do the following.

1) Go to the Library module.

2) Select the photograph.

3) On the right side of your screen, open the Metadata panel.

4) On its menu, change Default to EXIF + IPTC.

5) Scroll down to the caption and title boxes.

6) Enter your text.

If you have selected more than one photograph, the text is added to all of the selected photographs.

15 – Before You Go

Paper Map

An old-fashioned paper map is handy for understanding the overall layout of your destination.

For example—if you're in Amsterdam—it may be hard on your phone to see Haarlem and Zandvoort beach in relation to where you are.


Make a checklist of items to bring.

• List of equipment and serial numbers

• If there's a chance U.S. customs, upon your return, will think you bought your equipment abroad, use Form 4457 - Certificate of Registration for Personal Effects Taken Abroad.

• PDF of your camera manual on your tablet or laptop

• Chargers

• Power adaptor for international travel

• Power strip for plugging in multiple devices

• Power bank

• Memory cards

• Memory card case with contact information

• Flash

• Flash extension cord

• Batteries

• Blower, such as the Giottos Rocket Blaster

• Lens cleaning cloth

• Zip lock bags

• Camera bag that:

– Doesn't "shout" expensive camera inside.

– Is easily accessible for you, but not for others, such as a messenger-bag style with a big flap

Or, use a non-camera bag with a camera insert inside.

Use locks or cable ties to secure zippers that may be opened by thieves.

• Rain cover for your camera

• Camera!

Check Your Sensor

If you can switch lenses, there's a chance that dust can land on your camera's sensor.

Dust spots look like light gray dots—in the same position—on every photograph.

To check if there's dust on the sensor, photograph the sky or a plain white wall.

Use these settings:

• Set your lens to manual focus and defocus the lens.

• Use the A or Av exposure mode, and set the aperture to f/22.


Enlarge the photograph on your monitor.

Scroll back-and-forth—and up-and-down—looking for defects on the photograph.

You can increase the contrast with Photoshop Elements, or other software, to make the dust easier to see.

Sensor loupes are another way to check for dust.

Sensor Cleaning

To clean the sensor, follow the directions of your camera manufacturer.

Use a blower, such as the Giottos Rocket Blaster.

Do not use a blower with a brush, as the bristles may damage the sensor.

Do not use compressed air, as the propellant may damage the sensor.

Make sure the battery is fully charged.

After cleaning, check if the spots are gone.

Clean a second and third time, if needed.

If the spots persist, you'll have to:

• Use a sensor cleaning kit.

You could damage the sensor.

• Send your camera in for cleaning.

You won't have your camera for a week or two.



Slow Shutter Speeds

Slow shutter speeds are great for:

• Blurring water.

• Blurring mobs of tourists (above).

• Late dusk and night photography.

Avoid camera shake by using:

• A flexible tripod, such as Gorillapods.

• A monopod, which is also good for overhead photographs.

• A walking stick or poles with camera attachment.

Tripods and selfie sticks may be banned at certain locations.

Variable Neutral Density Filter

During the day, the light is often too bright for slow shutter speeds.

Use a variable neutral density filter to block light.

The photographer below was able to use a fifteen second shutter speed—to blur the water—by using a variable neutral density filter.


HDR & Panoramic

A tripod makes for easier stitching of multiple photographs for HDR (covered above) and panoramic photographs.

q q

Flash Manners

If you're using your camera on Auto or a scene mode (SCN), the flash may pop up automatically.

Use of flash may be poor manners or forbidden at certain locations.

Check your camera manual for how to disable your flash.

Method #1

Set the exposure mode dial to P (Program).

Method #2

Look for a button with a lightning-bolt icon.

Press and hold, and turn a knob or ring to select the lightning-bolt icon with a diagonal slash.

16 – Safety


Search for common travel scams at your destination:

common travel scams + your destination

For example, a local person, dressed to appear to be a fellow tourist:

• May offer to take your photograph with your camera.

If you hand your camera over, he or she may run away with it.

• May ask you to take his or her photograph with their camera.

If you do so, he or she may claim you broke their camera.

They'll ask for money for the repair.

U.S. Department of State - Travel Advisories


Use a camera strap that doesn't have the camera brand.

Likewise, as described above, use a plain bag with a camera insert.



Travel Insurance

Medicare doesn't provide coverage overseas.

If you have other health insurance, check with your company.

The Best and Worst Travel Insurance Companies (2018)

Damage & Theft Insurance

Check if your renters or homeowner's insurance covers damage and theft of your equipment.

If not, consider adding a rider.

If your camera is stolen, consider how filing a claim will affect your insurance renewal.

5 Insurance Options for Protecting Your Business and Gear as a Photographer (2015)

 17 – Solutions


If you take your camera from a cold environment—such as an air-conditioned car—to a warm and humid environment—your camera will get wet.

Fogged lenses get in the way of photography.

Seal your camera in a plastic bag and let it acclimate to the new temperature.

Clear filters on your lenses make wiping them off with an absorbent cloth easy.

Always use a microfiber cloth on the actual lens glass—which is softer than filter glass.

18 – Resources

Elliott Advocacy

Elliott Advocacy is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't.

The Man in Seat Sixty-One Train travel

Rick Steves

Scott's Cheap Flights

19 – Examples of Travel Photography

Sony World Photography Awards

The people behind Instagram's wildly popular travel photography accounts