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10 Common Travel Photography Mistakes to Avoid

Traveling to far off places, even if it’s in your country could be a very exciting thing to do and you may want to capture all the excitement with your camera. However photography while travelling is a challenge and this article is intended to help you take pictures better pictures on your travel by avoiding the most common mistakes that people make during their travels.

Before we proceed any further let me first make it clear that the photograph included in this article are all very good examples of how to do it the right way and not the other way around. If you pay attention to the tips these are the kind of shots that you could expect to come home with.

1. Not spending some time getting to know the place you are about to visit.

travel photography tutorial
Glacier Grey in National Park Torres del Paine, Chile.
Photo by: Dietmar Temps

This is one of the most important things to do while planning a trip. One should do thorough research on the place he/she is about to travel to; both from a general traveler’s perspective and from also from the point of view of a photographer. Much information could be gathered from travel magazines and also online websites. Travel forums are especially helpful to get a more accurate picture and also to clarify doubts if any. An understanding of the conditions there, weather, culture, important landmarks, festival timings, and other conditions will help you prepare well and also plan and chart your trip better.

2. Travelling with a group of people all wielding cameras

mistakes to avoid in travel photography
Happy kids of Rangdum. Photo by: Chetan Karkhanis

Many people go on group tours which do have some benefits; but from a photographic point of view it has many disadvantages. A large group of people all wielding hefty cameras and long lenses suddenly appearing out of nowhere, wanting to photograph the same person could easily startle or even overwhelm anyone with a sane conscious. It is also near impossible to get intimate with the subject in such situations. You will lose many good shots due to the fact that the subject suddenly decides to look at another camera or another photographer walks into the background which you will only notice once you review your shots in a large screen.

I am not saying that traveling as a group should be avoided, it is indeed a wonderful way of travel but remember to set aside some time for yourselves, leave the comfort of your group, wander around and capture the place as your instincts tell you without any distractions.

3. Not Focusing on the Main Point of Interest

travel photography
Photo by: Vinoth Chandar

The most important aspect of a good photograph is accurate focus, even if everything else, exposure, composition etc all have come together really well, if you do not have your focus on the main point of interest of your picture, then the image is a total loss. Be aware of this at all time and set your focus always on the element that is the most important feature of your photograph and to which you wish to draw the attention of your viewers. Make use of focus lock feature found in modern cameras to maintain accurate focus even with creative compositions.

4. Not Asking Permission Before Your Photograph People

travel photography guide
Women from Kupwara. Photo by: Chetan Karkhanis

While travelling you will come across many people from all walks of life; some you’d find interesting and would want to photograph, but remember whoever it is and whatever may be the circumstance; it is always a good idea to go to them, strike up a friendly conversation and ask permission to shoot. This is very important when travelling to far off places, different places have different cultures and some are not happy to have their picture taken, especially close ups. So ask permission before hand and stay out of trouble.

5. Not getting close enough to the subject

travel photography inspiration
Head-load worker

This is one common mistake, often we will find the subject featured too small in a picture making them insignificant. On many occasions this happens because of not adhering to the above tip; (asking permission) so the photographer is not sure how the person would respond to his/her picture being taken and decides to keep distance. However when they do it they are limited in creativity as the more dramatic perspectives that could be obtained by getting close to the subject is out of their reach.

6. Not paying attention to composition

travel photography composition
Photo by: Thomas Leuthard

Composition is what that differentiates a great picture from a average picture; don’t be overwhelmed by the situation, strange land, unknown people, different culture, a schedule to keep, a train to catch etc. take your time and pay attention to your compositions. Remember the rule of thirds, the golden mean, the importance of leading lines etc. look for different angles and perspectives, don’t try to mimic what you see in post cards, look for ways that would add interest to your images.

7. Not Photographing the details

travel photography mistakes
Design painted on the drum's leather. Photo by: Dietmar Temps

Pay attention to detail, when you are new to a place many things will be new and exciting to you. Take pictures, you will cherish them later, it’s not just large monuments that are grand and iconic that are worth of a picture. Seemingly irrelevant details like a small flower on a busy boardwalk, or something unique about the location could make a very interesting photograph.

8. Not paying attention to the direction of light

travel photography ideas
Beautify light streaks that made an otherwise ordinary scene extraordinary
Photo by: Trey Ratcliff

Always pay attention to the direction of light and how it is illuminating your subject. When shooting outside it will be the sun and when shooting indoors it will be artificial lights or even your flash. Observe the light, if it is not striking your subject the way you want try moving your subject (when photographing people and other small objects), try altering the shooting position/angle or consider returning to the same spot on a different time of the day (when shooting monuments and buildings). Make sure the light striking your subject is enhancing it rather than detracting it.

9. Not taking enough photographs

travel photography technique
Chairs and a telescope to enjoy the distant view. Photo by: Joe Penniston

The golden rule to remember is that when you come across a situation that is worth of a picture explore every angle, every creative settings including perspective (by changing focal length and shooting distance). Chances are you will never be able to recreate the scene or come back to it ever again in your life. So every opportunity that presents itself to you is in a way a once in a life time opportunity and so do give it the attention it deserves. It is better to shoot more than to shoot less.

10. Not backing up your pictures

travel photography tips
Aurora. Photo by: Caillum Smith

A memory card or a hard disk could get corrupted any time; it could even be lost or stolen. So one should never go easy and fail to back up pictures regularly. Make it a habit of backing up your files at regular intervals (preferably to multiple locations) as the pain associated to losing all the travel pictures is not one we would like to experience ever.

Related Reading

  1. What gear to take? 10 Essential Accessories for Travel Photography
  2. Travel Photography Tips For the Footloose

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