On my recent trip to San Diego for a wedding, I challenged myself to practice these easy travel photography tips and tricks to get good shots with minimal equipment and planning.
My Top Travel Photography Tips and Tricks
When I travel by land, air, or sea, I’m looking everywhere. I look at the skyline, vegetation, architecture, color palette, people, style, and typography to get the feel of a place. Then I make sure to walk everywhere.
Some photographers scope out places before they even leave to know where and when they need to be to get good shots. I usually end up shooting on the fly and don’t go back to places even if I know I could get a better shot at a different hour.
Some of this is due to laziness but mostly it’s the constraints of traveling on a short timeline, traveling with others, and traveling for pleasure or vacation and not professional development.
I will go off by myself while others are resting so I can take my time and explore on my own without feeling rushed.
If it’s safe, have your camera out with the lens off and the right settings already selected for a proper exposure. That way you can quickly capture action as it occurs instead of needing to wait around for it to happen again.
This is my favorite way of getting to know a city. Both for photography purposes and entertainment. It is exercise though. I walked 27,663 steps (13.3 miles) one day.
A lot of times, it won’t be apparent until I start my editing process what the personality and look of a city is. San Diego to me is a strange mix-and-match aesthetic that somehow works and looks urban and fresh.
While walking around, I was struck by San Diego’s colors, textures, patterns, and the interplay of shadow and light in architecture during the afternoon.
Cities have color palettes. Sometimes it’s not super obvious until you start sorting and editing all your images. Other times, it’s really clear.
San Diego is really obvious to me. The greens of the cactuses and palm trees, the blues of sky and ocean, the creams & tans of sand and stucco, and the pinks of sunrise and sunset interspersed with pops of bright vibrant colors.
When in San Diego, I was constantly drawn to color over everything else and most of my shots reflect the obsession.
Shadow and Light
A lot of photographers are all about golden hour – times during the morning and evening when sunlight is very diffused and soft.
But there is something about the play between shadow and light that can also be very compelling.
Are the shadows making cool patterns across a surface? Do they create lines that draw the line of sight to the subject?
Look Up or Get Close
Looking up or getting extremely close are very useful tactics when there are too many people around. There are many places in San Diego that are very beautiful, but all the other tourists are there with you, enjoying the sites.
When you can’t take a good composition without people coming into the frame, try aiming your camera up.
But let’s face it, sometimes you just can’t get your camera high enough. Maybe you’re short or average height and can’t reach high enough, that’s often the case for myself. Or maybe your elevation is too low in comparison to get a good composition.
What’s around you that would look really cool up close? I’m usually drawn to interesting textures or patterns for close up shots. It doesn’t matter how crowded an area is, if you get close enough, no one will know.
Textures and Patterns
As mentioned above, I often shoot textures when there are too many people around. Patterns can also be found in close up shots but my favorite compositions of patterns are wide-angle shots.
If an area is empty without people, I try to find a pattern in something because those shots can look really amazing. It sometimes requires some waiting around for people to pass, but it’s worth it.
Gear I Used
- Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
This is a new camera and I wanted to get comfortable shooting with it. There’s no better way to learn how to use a new camera than with travel photography.
- Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens
I didn’t want to spend time changing lenses or have to carry them around with me. This lens is considered the workhorse of lenses because you can shoot wide-angle shots with it or portraits.
What I Liked
Not having to change lenses was extremely nice. Maybe someday when I have a good small travel camera bag it could be easy but as of right now, it’s not.
Although I almost always prefer the compositions I create with a prime lens, having a 24-70mm zoom lens is incredibly convenient for a wide range of different situations.
I tested out my 50mm prime lens on the 5D Mark IV in San Francisco one day but found that it wasn’t wide enough in tight places. It was easier to adapt to different space constraints with the 24-70mm.
Overall, I felt like I was getting the shots I wanted with this combo.
What I Disliked
The 24-70mm makes my camera even heavier. My shoulder and neck got extremely sore carrying it around everywhere.
I also ended up really missing the extendable LCD screen on my Canon 70D. With it, I could hold my camera really high but tilt the screen so I could still compose the shot. That’s not possible with the Canon Mark IV, which has a fixed screen.
I hope you enjoyed the pictures and travel photography tips and tricks. What are your favorite travel photography tips and gear?