Creative photography tips for a travel photographer

As a traveler, the best souvenirs you can collect are pictures of the places you travel to and the people you meet. Photographs are my time travel machines. Some years down the line, they always remind me of all those fond memories I made while globetrotting. Your travel photos are also an inspiration to people searching for travel destinations.

But what is the secret behind taking breathtaking and creative photos as a travel photographer? I tend to follow travel photographers and borrow their ideas on social media platforms like Instagram. I stumbled upon, Muqbil Yabarow aka SwizzysWorld, a prolific creative and travel photographer based in Washington DC. His IG page has stunning photographs that did more than just catch my attention. I wanted to know the tricks to take amazing photos when I travel.

I had a chat with him, and below are some of the tricks he shared that will get your travel photos from a mere average to outstanding.


Creative photography tips for a travel photographer

Be the early worm and the owl

Washington Monument – Photo Credits Muqbil Yabarow (SwizzysWorld)

The lighting settings of your camera will tweak your work, but knowing the best time to take a photo will do magic. There are unwritten rules of photography, such as not taking pictures when the sun is at its peak, especially in the afternoon. During this time, the photos will have a strong shadow, and the light is harsh on the pictures.

“The best shots tend to be during the golden and blue hours,” says Muqbil. The golden hour is that hour just after sunrise and the hour before the sunsets. It has a warm and soft orange tone. The blue hour is that hour before the sunrise or after the sunset when the city lights are dominating the blue sky.

For example, the Washington Monument is a must-visit location and a priced object for any travel photographer. The soft and warm glow of the sun during the golden hours will give you a stunning photo, like this one, compared to an afternoon shot.

Get a polarizer

The warm and soft light of the morning and evening hours should not discourage you from exploring during the day when it’s sunny and skies so blue. This is where a polarizer comes in hand, especially for your landscape subjects.

According to Muqbil, a polarizer will help to deepen the intensity of the blue skies and reduce or remove any glares. Some polarizers, like the Amazon Basics, have a multi-coat that helps reduce reflections. You also do not have to go for expensive brand names. A simple budget could get you an excellent polarizer for your next trip.

Patience matters

You will need patience when taking pictures of a busy location or at night. There is always more than what meets the eye.

Some landmarks are busy with tourists during the day. Unless you want all your pictures of such landmarks to be full of people, then patience will be your best friend.

The same goes for landmarks you want to take shots of at night. The Northern lights in Iceland, for example, are not always there. Northern lights are visible when the sky is dark, the weather is clear, and there is an intense aurora. Even then, you have to be patient and wait for the colors to be at their brightest peak. Also, some research will help you know the weather for that specific location, the constellation patterns, and the moon. SkyView app will help you track constellations and tell if there will be clouds that might block your path.

If you are not willing to spend any time waiting for the perfect opportunity, then you will end up with the same images as everyone else on the internet.

Scouting for locations

Locations will do wonders on your travel photos. But, you cannot take a perfect picture of a site without knowing the best time to photograph the said location. Be it a location’s landmark, monuments, or people. The internet is an excellent data mine for information.

Try Instagram or Google Images, and you will see the best places to visit in a particular city or country. Then, do research on the best time to photograph such sites. Is it during sunrise or sunset? Some places have better lighting during the sunset, while others will give you amazing shots during the sunrise. Also, what vantage point will work for your locations of interest?

When researching a location, remember to research the weather, tourist traffic, operating hours, and any charges or rules of photographing.

Read more for travel destinations

Be a wanderer

Spontaneity works everywhere, and it will reward you deeply as a travel photographer. Yes, researching a location, as mentioned earlier, is the best. However, a little wandering will have you capturing places that are not on the radar of every tourist or travel photographer.

If you have a local guide, ask them to show you places that are not tourist attractions. If you don’t have one, take a walk from the hotel and wander around in any direction. However, remember to bring the hotel’s business card with you in case you get lost. Talk to the locals, ask for directions, so you don’t end up in dangerous locations, use Google Maps if need be, and take notice of your surroundings.

Embrace manual mode

While modern cameras do an excellent job on auto mode, the manual mode will, however, have you taking stunning photos. If you know your way around cameras, then you can adjust the settings of the camera accordingly.

For a newbie, this might be a bit difficult. The trick, though, is knowing how to adjust these settings and how they relate with each other; settings like shutter speed, ISO, and aperture matter a lot. You can make all the adjustment of these settings using the manual mode depending on the location and situation.

For example, if you want more control over the depth of the field of your subject, then you need to adjust the aperture. Adjusting the ISO will help you navigate through intricate lighting moments. It will also help in reducing the noise in your images. The shutter speed setting will help you capture subjects in motions better than a camera on the auto mode will.

Invest in a small portable tripod

Do not underestimate the power of human subjects in travel photographs. Who says that subject cannot be you? With a portable tripod, you will never miss a chance to snap yourself amazing pictures with those beautiful landscapes behind you.

Also, a tripod gives you more creative control over your camera’s manual settings. For starters, it makes it possible for you to shoot at slower shutter speed, use a smaller aperture, and keep your ISO much lower. You do not have to worry about shaky hands, and yet, you will have less noise from the sensor, have more focus on the subject, and better pictures of moving subjects like waterfalls. With a tripod, you can also use more advanced settings like using a panorama, HDR and focus stacking. All these will help you get a better and more creative photo.

A tripod will also save you the time and the energy of asking strangers to take pictures of you. And, if you have the guts to keep asking a stranger to take a picture of you, there is no guarantee that they will get that stunning shot you want.

Depending on your budget, you will get an excellent portable tripod. Joby, for example, has a few portable tripods that you can choose from, and ZoMei has more affordable tripods that are reliable.

Use burst mode more often

Do you want to take pictures of subjects in motion, but none of the shots is giving you the ideal photo? Now you have to wait for the subject to move or appear again so you can try your luck? Well, your camera has a solution, and that is using the burst mode.

“With the burst mode, one click on the shutter will give you several images in different positions. For example, the picture I took at the Turks and Caicos Islands while jet skiing,” says Muqbil. The burst mode gives you a chance to have several shots, where you can choose the best picture.

Also, if you have no tripod and have to ask a stranger to take a picture of you, then burst mode will ensure you have several shots instead of only one clumsy shot.


Think outside the box and use a different perspective

Washington Monument – Photo Credits Muqbil Yabarow (SwizzysWorld)

Creative photography for a travel photographer also involves thinking outside the box. Run wild with your imagination and use that to get more creative and out of the ordinary shots. If not, you will end up with the same images as everyone, and there will be nothing creative about that.

For example, SwizzysWorld’s photos of the Washington Monument and Jefferson’s Memorial have a different perspective that gives the pictures a more creative, fun, and stunning perspective than the more serious and traditional images we are used to seeing on the internet.

If the landmark you want to shoot is crowded, take a walk to less crowded areas, photograph the people as background subjects. Lie on the ground if you have to turn in the opposite direction where everyone is not concentrating on, and you might be surprised at what shots you might get.

Another way of creating and thinking outside the box is by changing the focus points. Everyone might be focusing on a landscape as a subject, and anything in the background is a blur. You can shift the focus from the subject to anything in front of the subject.

Use the rule of thirds

The rule of the thirds in photographs is all about creating more balanced arrangements of the photos. It is all about dividing the photo into thirds, both vertically and horizontally. This will split the photo into 9 different and equal sections.

The main aim of this rule is to have the important bits of a photograph into those divided sections. This will help you frame the whole image in a way that stands out. A good example would be placing an individual subject on the left or right grid rather than having them at the center. Also, instead of splitting an image in half, you can place the horizon at the bottom of the third grid. When using the rule of thirds, remember always to keep the horizon straight.

You can use the rule of the thirds by turning on the grid feature of your camera. It will display the rule on your camera’s LCD screen. Once you have the subject in focus, use this feature, and try seeing how your image improves.

Use human subjects

As a travel photographer, you need to get comfortable in using human subjects in your photographs, even if they are strangers. That is what creativity is all about- using different subjects to tell stories of different cultures, people, and countries.

However, you need to talk and get their permission before taking pictures of their faces. Where possible, keep the subject anonymous to add some mystery and give your audience a chance to imagine themselves in that position.

Never leave your camera behind

Obvious as this sounds, make it a mantra. If you go out exploring and you come across intriguing subjects and landmarks, then you will miss your opportunity of snapping a stunning image with your camera. Some phones have excellent cameras, but you cannot compare the quality with that from a camera.

If you are worried about theft or loss of the camera, then buy one that you are comfortable with taking everywhere with you. Also, get insurance for your camera such that any loss will not be a total loss. Professional Photographers of America, for example, has insurance covers for photographers’ equipment. You can also register your new equipment with the manufacturer and keep receipts to help you finalize your claims faster.

Travel photography is more than just fun. It is educative, exhilarating, and a chance for you to freeze those moments into memorable times that you will remember for years to come. However, a little creativity will go a long way in giving your travel pictures a different and unique touch. Use your imagination, mind, and heart and always think outside the box when taking any travel photos. Also, use all the advantageous features of your camera to boost that creativity. Features like the shutter speed, the aperture, ISO, or the rule of the thrids are at your disposal. Use them, and you have the best creative photographs a travel photographer can ever imagine.

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