The Guide to Travel Photography for the Non-Gear Head

“I want to explore the world doing travel photography.” That’s the dream of many aspiring photographers; but it requires hard work and to do it well, it’s less about the photos and more about the preparation.

Travel photography is simply amazing. You get to see beautiful parts of the world, experience new cultures and create amazing photographs. And I know many of our readers would love nothing more than to be a globetrotting tog – I want to help you get there. This guide is designed to give you the full realities of travel photography. It’s here to help you with planning, navigating and of course, making great photos.

“We have all seen amazing travel photos only to learn that without post-production, the water isn’t that blue and the sky isn’t that orange. Create authentic images – not lies.”

My Experience in Travel Photography

Every photographer is different in their approach. All the information in this article is written from my personal experience. To date, I’ve visited over 30 countries around the world, always with a camera in hand. I’ve lost passports, damaged gear and been left stranded in remote locations. In other words, I’ve learned the hard way about the shortfalls of living life on the go while doing what I love. But I’ve also made amazing connections, had my work published and had experiences that will stay with me forever. I love to travel as much as possible and this is how I approach it.

So, if you’re serious about this, get money in your savings any which way that you (legally and ethically) can. Now, I’m sure you all have your dream locations.

Planning a Trip

The first reality is that it’s very difficult to find someone to pay you to go see the world. So the likelihood is if you’re reading this, then you’re going to be self-funding your trip. I funded my trips through photography gigs and freelance writing. I opened a savings account that was there for the purpose of being a “travel fund.” So, if you’re serious about this, get money in your savings any which way that you (legally and ethically) can. Now, I’m sure you all have your dream locations. But I also want you to be open to going to somewhere you never even thought of. Why? Well, when I’m booking a trip I use Kiwi.. The great thing about Kiwi is that it allows you to select a starting location and enter the destination as “anywhere.” What’s so good about this, is that it brings up some seriously cheap flights. The locations are not usually your “go to places” but they still have their charm and are worth seeing. I’ve flown for as little as $15! Granted this may vary depending on where you are in the world, but it’s all relative and a great way to find a bargain.

Don’t be the “oh, I’ll be fine,” person. You’re not immune to things going wrong and you need to make sure you’re covered. Not just for your bank balance, but more importantly, your health.

The Unavoidable Bits of Travel Photography

This section of travel photography is by far the least glamorous, but arguably the most important. Once you’ve selected where you’re going, these are the three things you need to do first.

  • Get travel insurance
  • Check for visas
  • Check for vaccinations

Do not, I repeat, do NOT go on your trip without getting these three things in order. Don’t be the “oh, I’ll be fine,” person. You’re not immune to things going wrong and you need to make sure you’re covered. Not just for your bank balance, but more importantly, your health. For my insurance, I use World Nomad travel insurance. They cover everything I need, from medical to photography equipment, laptops etc. They’re a little on the costly side, but I’ve had a good experience with them and when you’re far away from home you need peace of mind. For visas, I check my nations government website for all the information I need. And vaccinations require a quick google search and a visit to your doctors’ surgery.

What Gear Do I Need?

The answer to this question is very subjective. But it is commonly asked so I will address it. When I first started I carried around a Nikon D610 and four lenses. Over time this became too much for me and I downsized to my current system – Fuji X-T2 and the 35mm f2 prime lens. This works for me because I mostly do street work when I visit a city and I also find it works well for portraits too.

“Create authentic images – not lies.”

But the answer to the question is you need the gear that best works for you. If you’re going for nature, take a wide lens. For wildlife, a good telephoto will do the job. Street photography, a nice fixed focal length. Ask yourself “what gear do I need to make the photos I want?” I imagine you will take out a couple of lenses from your case once you’ve answered it. You don’t want too much gear weighing you down – it will only contribute to you losing the enthusiasm to shoot.

Research for Travel Photography

The quality of your research will make or break your travel photography. Don’t be of the opinion that you will just roam freely and stumble across everything that is great about the place that you’re visiting. And whilst in-depth research is important, you don’t want to overdo it. So, I’m not saying you need to read up on the last 50 years of the country you’re going to, but you need to learn about it. I’ve simplified my approach to three sources of information…

  • Lonely Planet
  • Facebook Groups
  • Trip Advisor

We all know about Lonely Planet. It’s the hub of pretty much everything you need to do know, however, the information is often written by travellers. That’s why I also use Facebook groups. You can connect with local people who know about some great destinations to visit that are off the beaten path as they say. Once I have an outline of what I want to see, I open Google Maps. Using the “save” option allows you to make a note of where you’re going and helps you to navigate your way there. Also, take advantage of Google Maps offline. If you’re not going to have data, you can download the map and use it as if you were still connected. Your GPS will work almost anywhere in the world, with or without a data connection.

Taking Your Photos

For me, a good travel photograph is the one that speaks the voice of the place it was taken. It is also an ethical photo. By ethical, I mean one that accurately represents where you are. We have all seen amazing travel photos only to learn that without post-production, the water isn’t that blue and the sky isn’t that orange. Create authentic images – not lies. I like to mix my photos up between portraits of local people, street photography and something more scenic, by the beach or river for example. And one thing I always do is look for a different perspective. Honestly, it frustrates me when I see a huddle of photographers all fighting for the same photograph that I’ve already seen on social media thousands of times. Please, try to be a little creative in your approach and bring something back that is fresh.

“…travelling and creating will be the best thing you do.”

I once visited India and the Taj Mahal. There must have been 20 photographers all aligned in the centre of the pathway that leads down to the famous temple. I took one look and said, nope. I went looking for different angles and stories I could tell, still having the Taj as a main point of the photo.

Note – If you’re shooting in a public space, research the laws related to the country you’re in. In countries like France and those in the middle east, for example, there are restrictions on taking photographs. You don’t want to be fined or jailed!

Accommodation

A quick note on accommodation. Obviously, it all comes down to your budget. But whether you’re rich or have just enough to get by, I strongly advise using AirBnB and staying with someone who knows the area. Someone who has lived in the city for many years knows it like the back of their hand. They will be a great source of knowledge when it comes to travelling around easily and which places are worth visiting. You also get more for your money, often having access to a washer and kitchen – which will help you budget in the long run.

Travel Photography Survival Kit

This isn’t about band-aids (although you should pack some of those too) but rather tips to keep sane! If like me, you’re a solo traveller then the truth is you will get lonely. Sure, you can meet new people along the way but it takes a lot of energy and sometimes you just don’t have it in you for the constant hello and goodbyes. So, I have some things in place to help comfort me through the difficult periods.

  • Something that reminds me of home
  • Books to read on my Kindle
  • FaceTime with close friends and family
  • A gallery of photographs I’ve taken to remind me why going on trips alone is awesome
  • A list of professional connections that totally inspire me to take better photos
  • All the music I listened to from 1999 to 2006

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot to consider when going outside the place you call home. But let me make it clear; for all the challenges, the lonely nights, the blisters and creative hurdles, travelling and creating will be the best thing you do. I feel tremendously fortunate to have been able to see parts of the globe that I always dreamed of seeing. Whilst the preparation may seem overwhelming, the best I advice I can give is to plan efficiently and don’t leave things to the last minute. Sure there will be twists and turns that planning cannot account for, but you will learn to adapt and be more resilient to the things that go wrong.

Now, enough talking. Go plan that trip and create some amazing photographs along the way.