Travel Photography Tips: What to Look For When Taking Travel Photos

Brooke Saward in Florence
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Readers are often asking what camera I use to capture my travel photos around the world – but the truth is that your gear is just the start of capturing great travel photos, the next steps are learning how to use your camera and learning what to look for to take a great shot.

Admittedly, I’m pretty amateur when it comes to photography. I haven’t taken any courses and everything I know I’ve learned by a process of trial and error – so this post will be most useful to you if you’re a beginner (like me!) and are about to head off overseas (because travel photos are the only photos I really take).

Travel photography tips

First up, my gear.

When I first started travelling I invested in a large DSLR camera because to me, they looked pretty professional/like I’d know what I’m doing. But the truth was that I had very little idea as to how to use this camera, and it was weighing me down (both in terms of use AND weight!!).

So last year I switched to an Olympus PEN E-PL7 – a compact, lightweight, little box of genius. Since then taking travel photos has been much easier – mainly because it is a mere fraction of the weight to carry around, and there are so many handy settings for beginners that it is incredibly easy to use. You can read more on the specs of my camera here.

And just recently, I’ve added the Olympus E-M5 Mark II to my collection – as well as a fancy fisheye lens! This camera performs more like a DSLR, so I’ll be switching to this camera for photography and continuing to use my PEN for all videos.

What to Look For When Taking Travel Photos

Now to the guts of it: You’ve got your camera, you’ve learned to use it, now — what do you look for in order to get a great shot?

Emma in Paris - Photographed by: Brooke Saward

Think About What You’re Photographing

There are some pretty common subjects that people are shooting when they’re travelling. If you’re in Paris, you’re gonna get a shot of the Eiffel Tower. If you’re in Rio during Carnival, you’ll be shooting people. Out in the depths of Torres del Paine, you’ll be shooting landscapes. And camping in the desert? You’ll be shooting stars! (pun intended – sorry!).

Notre dame paris


Sights and structures such as the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Versailles, etc. are a very common subject to shoot whilst abroad. Most people go for the straight-in-front-point-and-shoot approach, but there are many better ways to shoot structures.
Structures have many angles and are often quite intricate, so don’t be afraid to get up close and personal to show the details. Also consider taking a photo underneath, on top of, or from a unique point of view like the photos of the Eiffel Tower above, as seen in the distance from the towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral. 

Awanakancha Sacred Valley


People are a different ball game. In terms of the techy side of things, I like to shoot portraits with my 14-42mm lens. When looking for opportunities to photograph people, one of the biggest considerations is to ask or not to ask? Whether or not you should ask a person their permission to take their photograph really depends on the circumstances of the time. It won’t pay you any benefits to get up close and personal in someone’s face without asking them first, however if you’re far away using a long-range lens or the situation calls for photography, then go for it. As for what to look for – consider taking snaps that reflect that person’s culture and showcase a different culture to your own – essentially that is what you and others will find interesting… because although we’re all different, we’re still all one in the same.

Patagonia Chile


Landscapes are perhaps the most elusive of all – they appear easy to take to the naked eye, but lighting plays a huge key to the success or otherwise of your photograph. Sometimes you might arrive at a destination ready to capture a sunset, only to find out that your frame is completely backlit (your camera is facing the sun and this blackens your entire photo). If this happens to you, return again at a different time of day or research the best time to take a photo in that particular spot. Golden hour (the hour before the sun sets) is great if the light is in the right position, or stick around for blue hour if all else fails (when the sun has gone and the sky is dimly lit).

Sydney Harbour at night

Night Photography

Night photography is something that is new to me, but I’ve had fun experimenting with it nonetheless (the photo above was my first go – I’m still practising with this!). The important thing to remember when capturing stars or structures in the night is your shutter speed – this is what controls how much light gets inside the lens for the photo. Of course being night time, you’re going to want more light inside. Here’s a quick guide to help with night photography – and don’t forget to include a subject in the frame!

Related: Star Photography Tips


Capturing Moments

The next thing to consider when taking travel photographs is to create memories through the photographs you take. A picture in front of the Eiffel tower smiling face-to-camera won’t remind you of much, but a picture holding your favourite macarons with the Eiffel Tower in the background will remind you of that magical picnic you had.

Another great way to capture moments is to grab quick snippets of video each time you get out your camera to take a photo. It doesn’t require any extra effort if your camera is equipped for both (I use my Olympus PEN E-PL7 normally but have just added the Olympus E-M5 Mark II to my collection as well), and it is relatively straight forward to edit this footage together on programs like iMovie (free) or Final Cut Pro ($379.99).

Brooke Saward in Stockholm

Telling a Story

Finally, don’t forget to tell a story.

Imagine you are standing there inside the main town square of Prague and you take a photo of a gorgeous façade. Sure, it looks impressive… but it doesn’t mean anything without a storytelling element. This can be as simple as waiting for a bicyclist to ride into frame, giving the photo an untold story – one that remains a mystery to the person viewing the photo.


Over to you! How do you capture your travel moments? What camera gear do you use? Any tips for WOW readers!?

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    March 31, 2016 at 1:56 pm

    People will often give permission for pictures with them.

    September 10, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    Great tips! I’m actually heading to Florence to study abroad in the summer and then Berlin for a year after that, so as to capturing moments, how do you succeed in not having your camera stolen? Any tips would be greatly appreciated!!! 🙂

    August 7, 2015 at 5:19 am

    Lovely tips! I definitely try to go for the different angles for taking shots of architecture, etc! There’s so many different materials, shapes, patterns, form, etc out there in different buildings across the globe that taking a standard, right in-focus photo will NEVER fully do them the justice they deserve!
    Lauren //

    July 28, 2015 at 9:18 am

    Those little mirrorless cameras are the bomb diggity when it comes to travel photography. I still love my SLR but I’m kind of obsessed with my Fuji X100T at the moment. So tiny … so capable … SO fun to use!

    July 25, 2015 at 1:03 am

    Great tips! Your photos are always so captivating. Photos are my favourite souvenirs from any trip, but sometimes it’s a challenge to capture how things really look, especially when the lighting is not cooperating.


    Saakshi Kumar
    July 24, 2015 at 11:54 pm

    Thanks for the information.
    Photography acts big when it comes to travelling and I can’t tell you how helpful I found this to be. 🙂

    July 24, 2015 at 11:53 am


    July 24, 2015 at 11:28 am

    I agree that landscapes seem so straightforward but can be difficult in actuality. Thanks for the tips about capturing moments and telling a story, I need to think about this more often.

    July 24, 2015 at 10:29 am

    These are really helpful! I like what you said about making your photos tell a story or remind you of something. Those are what make a trip great and it can be easy to forget that when you just want to take pictures of all the *things* you’re seeing. Thanks for sharing!

    July 24, 2015 at 7:13 am

    I think there’s something befóre gear, and that’s the ability to see/know what will be great travel photos. I’m a professional travelblogger and I still work mostly with my simple compact camera, not even the one you have .Of course, I would love to have a better camera (which I can’t buy at the moment), although at the same time, I want to keep it simple. But still I can make amazing shots, most of the time better shots than some collegues do. Not all of them, of course, because I do see a difference in quality sometimes of course, but most of the times I think mine are not bad at all. Only far away is difficult with mine.

    July 24, 2015 at 6:14 am

    Love these tips! Very helpful especially now that I’ll be living abroad! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    July 24, 2015 at 5:35 am

    I am a nikon girl, and yes, my camera is kinda heavy. I really want a good point and shoot camera for vlog, but still can’t deny how good dskr or mirror less are :))

    Deepti @ Endless Postcards
    July 24, 2015 at 5:24 am

    Lovely tips — I have a Canon eos Rebel t3i but I’m rubbish at using it and need to get around to learning the handles. I also need to invest in a point and shoot camera for the times where I’m too lazy to take out the huge DSLR but also want better quality than my iPhone 6 (although I’ll be honest — the quality is pretty good!)

    Thanks for sharing!


    Mama Munchkin
    July 24, 2015 at 2:34 am

    I love this… I am a new blogger and I know I need to expand on my photography. Photographing 5 munchkins can be daunting. I love your tips and advice regarding telling a story. That is very helpful!!

    July 23, 2015 at 7:09 pm

    I love the capturing moments and landscapes especially 🙂

    July 23, 2015 at 7:09 pm

    Great tips! Love the capturing moments and landscapes especially 🙂

    July 23, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    Love this article!! so useful!!
    Though I just ordered an DSLR …let’s see how long does it take for me to switch to a compact one LOL
    totally agree about story telling, that’s what gives the life to the pictures.

    Loves from

    July 23, 2015 at 2:36 pm

    I have a Canon Mark III and the weight is the worst part about it.. but I just can’t get rid of my baby! These are good tips though! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Mo Explores
    July 23, 2015 at 11:23 am

    I love checking out other people’s gear and seeing what brand they’re loyal to. I’ve never used an Olympus camera before, but your photos always turn out great, so it must be good. I’m a Canon girl, and I recently got a lightweight camera for when I don’t feel like lugging my large DSLR around, and now I haven’t used my DSLR since!

    July 23, 2015 at 9:22 am

    I switch between a Canon 1100D and a Sony NEX. I’ve recently decided to go back to my Canon as the quality of photos is just so much better. But it’s such a pain to carry around!

    July 23, 2015 at 6:39 am

    I like the concept of capturing moments and sharing a story. I’d much rather look at the Eiffel tower through your eyes and see the story of you being there in that moment than just a straight on shot of it. Get a little creative.


    Claire @ TallGirlBigWorld
    July 23, 2015 at 5:19 am

    You always have such wonderful tips to share. I’m working on the storytelling aspect of my photography right now, and it’s certainly a challenge!

    July 23, 2015 at 5:16 am

    I am more of a nikon girl myself and use it really only when I am traveling! I kind of though have been slacking my game and using my iPhone 6 but thinking with all your tips I need to start using my nikon again! I kind of miss it the more I think about it!

    July 23, 2015 at 2:25 am

    Up until very recently I’ve just been taking snaps with my iPhone.. Appalling, I know! I just bought a GoPro camera, and I am loving it! I am having so much fun with it I’m considering getting another, more ‘grown-up’ camera, so your tip about the Olympus couldn’t have come at a better time 🙂

    July 23, 2015 at 12:58 am

    Great tips and beautiful photos.

    Check out my latest post <3

    July 23, 2015 at 12:40 am

    Great tips!!
    As photographer, I always recommend for amazing pictures, to use camera lens with a very opened diaphragm, like f1.8 to f2.8.
    Fixed focals are cool for portraits and food pics!
    Great shots and very inspiring blog! 🙂

    Jennifer @ This Off Script Life
    July 23, 2015 at 12:07 am

    I love your last tip, to tell a story with our photographs. Some of my favorites travel photos have been the ones where someone accidentally walked into the frame of my photo just as I was shooting it. Since then I’ve been waiting for interesting passers by or bicyclists to enter the frame.

    Eunice Musuamba
    July 22, 2015 at 8:54 pm

    I just try to capture the beauty I see through my eyes 🙂

    Becca Cart
    July 22, 2015 at 7:11 pm

    I’ve jusy bought a new camera to use for my blogging photos and more. I decided against the Olympus PEN, now I’m thinking I should have gone with it! Really great post and lots of tips xx

    the travelogue
    July 22, 2015 at 6:29 pm

    Really great tips Brooke! We’re using the Olympus Pen EPL7 and EPL5 and they’re so good!!
    What we have to learn is taking good photos at night. This requires a lot of practice though!
    Thanks for this post 🙂
    xx Anna & Vanessa

    July 22, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    These are really helpful I’ve mastered taking great photos on an iPhone, and got a GoPro last year which I love to travel with because it’s so small and easy! But the photo quality isn’t always as good. I defintely want to invest in a decent compact camera. Might look into the Olympus.

    July 22, 2015 at 4:19 pm

    Love the “shooting star” pun hahaha. Recently I’ve been thinking the same about photographing sights and structures. Will definitely keep the tips in mind when I visit Europe again in September 🙂