Travel photography is becoming a popular niche, and you’re in the right place if you’re thinking of giving it a try (or looking to take your current technique to the next level). Anyone can become a travel photographer in 2023, but creating award-winning, stunning images takes time and practice.
A smartphone can take amazing photos, but you’re going to want to invest in a top-of-the-line digital camera and a tripod if you want to create state-of-the-art travel photography.
Keep reading to learn about the best cameras to buy, why you need a tripod, and the settings you must try to capture captivating, exhibit-worthy travel photos!
Benefits of Travel Photography
Whether you are a travel photographer for leisure or business, travel photography provides endless benefits and opportunities that allow you to appreciate the world in a new light. The most exciting benefit of travel photography is the opportunities are endless for capturing stunning images.
You’re not stuck in a studio or the same town with the same backdrops when you’re a travel photographer, so you can play with new lighting, angles, and backgrounds every day. You also have the opportunity to meet other photographers on your journey to swap travel photography secrets!
Travel photography broadens your understanding of the world, and you get to relive your travels for a lifetime. If you perfect your craft, you can even make a living off travel photography.
Select the Best Camera for Travel Photography
Things to Consider
The best travel photography camera should be lightweight and easily carried on hikes. If you’re backpacking, you won’t want to add much weight to your load. A lightweight camera will allow you to go more places.
If you’re just starting as a travel photographer, you may be gasping when looking at professional camera prices. A high-quality, professional-grade camera is truly an investment in your travel photography craft.
If you’re serious about becoming a professional travel photographer, you should save up for a high-quality Sony, Canon, or Nikon camera. These brands also have budget cameras for beginners that will allow you to practice with digital camera settings like ISO, shutter speed, and aperture.
Travel photography is such a broad niche and includes landscape, underwater, wildlife, astrology, and more. The type of photos you intend to take definitely will impact your camera choice.
While most modern professional-grade cameras are waterproof or at least water-resistant (though it’s always a good idea to make sure before you buy), you need a camera that supports live-action shots if you plan to take photos of deer, ducks, geese, and more. Wildlife animals usually do not like to pose!
Read all the features on the camera before making your decision. No two cameras are alike.
Best Overall: Sony A7R IV
The entire setup only weighs seven pounds, and the Sony A7R IV‘s features are state-of-the-art.
Great for Wildlife Photography: Canon EOS R6 Mark II
High shutter speeds allow the Canon EOS R6 Mark III to capture the best travel photography of active wildlife.
Great for Landscapes: Nikon D850
The Nikon D850’s high resolution and focus shift shooting mode makes for creating fantastic high-quality, stunning landscape photos.
Great for Astrophotography: Nikon Z6
This Nikon Z6 camera has a stunning low-light performance for nighttime sky photography.
Compact: RICOH GR IIIx
The RICOH GR IIIx is a great compact camera that makes it easy to snap new angles and create full-sized professional-grade photos.
Budget: Nikon D3500
This budget-friendly Nikon D3500 camera has all the settings to create unique, captivating images.
Plan Your Shots
Create a list of shots you plan to take before you arrive at your shooting location. This will make the process so much easier and will help you avoid the temptation to just point and shoot, crossing your fingers for the best outcome. You might get lucky, but it’s better to have a plan.
When creating your list, think about how you want to frame the shot and remember the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds breaks down a photo into nine sections and four gridlines. Use the gridlines to position key compositional elements.
For example: If you’re shooting a sunset, place the horizon’s line along the top or bottom horizontal grid line.
It’s extremely important when shooting landscape photography and astrophotography to use a tripod. A tripod makes it so much easier to create the perfect still frame. It also makes it easier to capture the movement of clouds or waves.
Select Right Tripod for Travel Photography
The perfect travel photography tripod should be lightweight and easy to fold. Ideally, your travel tripod will not weigh more than three pounds because anything heavier will be too big and bulky to carry (especially if you’re backpacking).
Tips for Setting up Your Tripod
Follow these simple steps when setting up your tripod.
Figure out the Angle
Before you start setting up your tripod, scout the area out and move around to determine the best angles for your shot. Ideally, you will have researched the area ahead of time, so you have a general idea of the shots you would like to take.
Level Your Tripod
Make sure everything is leveled and balanced, so your center of balance is going straight down. The last thing you want is for a big gust of wind to knock over your tripod and expensive DSLR camera.
Attach Your Camera at Eye Height
Attach your camera and secure it on the tripod head. Avoid having to put up the center column, which results in instability and blurry images. Your tripod should be adjusted so that when you place your camera on top of it, it is already at eye height.
Don’t Hold Onto Your Tripod
You should not need to hold onto your tripod if your tripod is leveled correctly. Holding onto your tripod can result in moving the tripod accidentally, which causes blurry images.
Find Your Tripod’s Center of Gravity
If you are shooting on a particularly windy day, push down hard on your tripod to find your tripod’s center of gravity and guarantee your tripod is routed to the ground, but do not hold onto your tripod.
Try Different Photography Techniques
There are a plethora of photography techniques you can give a try, so let’s talk about some that will level up your travel photography game.
Play with different lenses that are compatible with your DSLR camera. Be sure to check compatibility before you make your purchase. There are five main types of lenses: Standard, Wide-angle, Fisheye, Telephoto, and Super Telephoto.
Standard lenses capture images as you see them and are available in focal lengths between 35 and 80 mm.
Wide-angle lenses allow you to shoot a wider view of your scene. They’re often used by landscape photographers.
Fisheye lenses are a variant of wide-angle lenses. Photos are the result of a cross between panoramic and spherical perspectives.
Telephoto lenses bring a subject closer without distorting it. Lenses are available in sizes between 75 and 300 mm. These lenses are ideal for wildlife photography.
Super telephoto lenses come in sizes between 200 and 400 mm. These lenses are popular with bird photographers.
Try switching focus modes. Focus modes look a little different on every camera, so you will have to get to know what each mode is called on your camera. Refer to your camera’s manual for understanding each mode on your camera.
Single Autofocus Focus Mode
Single Autofocus Focus Mode is often referred to as AF Single on cameras. Note how it is referred to on common camera brands:
- Nikon: AF-S Mode
- Canon: One-shot AF
- Sony: Single-shot AF
This is your camera’s basic autofocus mode that will allow you to lock in on what you want to focus. If your camera moves, though, you will need to refocus the camera.
Use this mode for landscapes, still portraits, and architecture.
Continuous Focus Mode
Continuous Autofocus Mode is referred to as AF Continuous on cameras. Note how it is referred to on common camera brands:
- Nikon: AF-C Mode
- Canon: AI Servo AF
- Sony: Continuous AF
Your camera will continue to track your subject after you lock your focus, meaning it is more battery-draining. However, it has the potential to produce better images of wildlife. Use this focus mode for taking action shots of wildlife or sporting events.
Hybrid Auto Focus
Hybrid Auto Focus is referred to as Automatic AF on cameras. Note how it is referred to on common camera brands:
- Nikon: AF-A Mode
- Canon: AI Focus AF
- Sony: Fast Hybrid AF
Use this mode when you’re not sure which focus mode you should use. Your camera will automatically detect movement and switch to AF Continuous. This mode is best when your subject’s mode is unpredictable, such as when photographing wildlife, pets, children, and events.
Play with Lighting
The time of day and the day’s weather will drastically impact the lighting in your photos and the final subject. Get up early or stay up late to capture photos in new lighting.
You may be tempted to stay inside on a particularly cloudy day if you had envisioned sunny shots, but cloudy days can provide the best lighting!
Sunny days can pose challenges for photographers because it intensely brightens subjects, making it a challenge to get the perfect shot. It also can create dark shadows.
If you are shooting on a sunny day, use a fill flash and/or a reflector. Fill flash uses flash to supplement the light in the scene. Adjust your fill flash up or down to reach your desired lighting.
You can use a reflector if the fill flash doesn’t illuminate the subject, or if you don’t want to use a fill flash. Almost any white or bright surface can work as a reflector.
Cloudy days are a photographer’s dream shoot because the clouds act as a natural light softener.
Golden and Blue Hours
Golden hour is just after sunrise, and blue hour is just after sunset. This is a time enjoyed by professional photographers because the sky glows gorgeous colors that are perfect for snapping stunning images.
Exposure is how your light reaches your camera. The three settings that influence exposure are aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. Play with these settings to become more comfortable with your camera and take photos in new exposures.
The aperture controls your camera’s depth of field. You can either have a blurry background with a subject in focus or a sharp landscape photograph. The aperture you choose also alters the lighting in your photo, either making them lighter or darker.
The lower the ISO, the more light you need to get exposure. ISO settings on the camera double in value, starting at 100 and can go up to 6400, but most cameras go up to 1600. Lower ISO usually results in a higher-quality photo.
Shutter speed defines the length of time your camera’s shutter is open and exposing light to the sensor. This is how long your camera spends taking a photo.
Slow shutter speeds will create a blurred image on fast-moving subjects, and fast shutter speeds will allow you to essentially freeze time on fast-moving subjects.
Try Different Angles
Don’t be afraid to take your camera off your tripod and move around to try new angles. Lie down on the ground, or climb up high to capture new angles.
Pose People or Animals
Don’t be afraid to make new friends and ask if they would be okay with posing as your subject. You can also bring along a posing friend.
Or bring along a furry friend to pose. Camping on your travel photography endeavors will make it easier to bring along your cat or dog because more campgrounds are pet-friendly than hotels.
Frequently Asked Questions about Travel Photography
I have an iPhone. Do I need a professional-grade camera for travel photography?
Yes, yes, yes! A DSLR camera will allow more creative control over your travel photography than any smartphone. A professional camera is specifically important to have on hand in high-light and low-light conditions.
That’s not to say you can’t bring along your iPhone to capture some beautiful images of your trip, but if you’re serious about becoming a professional travel photographer with full creative control over your images, then you need a DSLR camera.
Start Capturing Stunning Images with Travel Photography!
Your travel photography is about to level up to the next class with these tips. Now all you need are places to photograph. We’re here to help you with that!
Check out our Campgrounds page for our guides to great campgrounds all across the United States where you can capture stunning images.