Top tips for terrific travel photos

Seeing as Daniela is currently gallivanting somewhere in Thailand, we thought it presented us with the perfect opportunity to give you our travel photography tips. We've accumulated them from thousands of miles on the road through tens of countries. They might be useful for someone other than ourselves.

1. Be prepared

Like every good Boy Scout and Girl Guide, you need to be well prepared, before you go and when you're away. As contrary as it might sound, even if you favour spontaneous, moment-to-moment travel, a bit of planning will make sure that you get the pictures you deserve. You need to be ready for anything.

Buying supplies at the souq in Tangiers, before taking the train to Fes

Being prepared comes in three parts.

  1. First: Have an idea of what you want to see, do, and experience before you arrive. It doesn't have to be a minute-by-schedule, a wish-list is sufficient. It will help to ensure you see as much as you can and still have the chance to unwind and prevent being overwhelmed and accomplishing next to nothing.
  2. If you know roughly what you're planning on doing, it'll help when you pack your kit. Why take with lenses that you probably won't use at the expense of those you will? Trust me, I schlepped four lenses around the world and used only two of them.
  3. Finally: when you're out and about with your camera, be ready. Remember to re-set your ISO and shutter speed after a night shoot. Have you camera to hand on a bus or train, not in the luggage compartment. And have a smartphone or compact camera with you when you pop out for a bottle of water. You never know what you might see!

2. Tell the story

Every photo tells a story, and the photos from your travels should tell the story of your trip. That means it isn't just about capturing the monuments and the famous views, but about recording the little things that matter, that make a difference, that bring a trip to life.

Bar decorations in Bali, before I got sick

When you look at your travel photos you want to be transported back to the hustle and bustle of the souq in Dubai; your friends and family who weren't there need to sense the crush, the smell, the heat. My photos from Bali include stone lions guarding temples, the bottles of petrol you see for sale by the side of the road, and the pile of medicine I was prescribed when I fell ill. My time there is charted in pictures, big to small.

Sick. Very sick, in Bali

3. Get off the beaten track

I'm a huge advocate of eating in local restaurants and taking the bus to the isolated villages half way up the mountain. It all adds to the experience. But I mean something more when it comes to photos. When you're looking to photograph famous monuments and well-known vistas, look for a fresh approach, an unusual angle, a different feel.

Birds in a row, Rangitoto harbour

4. Take good care

When I first used a mandolin (one to prep vegetables, not the musical instrument) I was advised that carrots are cheaper than fingers. I've a similar approach to taking photos. I'm worth more than my kit; and my safety is worth more than a photo. This means that I don't wander blithely into insalubrious parts of town flashing my camera and I don't ignore the signs telling me that landslips are likely owing to recent heavy rain.

There was a certain element of risk in getting this photo, but it wasn't off-limits

I also make a point of regularly rotating my memory cards, so that if my kit does succumb to theft or failure, I won't have lost all my photos. And if I travel with my laptop, I backup my photos to a hard drive, and if possible a cloud drive, at the end of every day.

The key thing is, your photos are worth more than your kit and you're worth more than both of those.

5. Know 'the rules'

Yes, we would like you to know the rules of photography and we would like you to know when to break them. But that's not quite the point here. We mean the local rules, customs, and mores. Can you take photos of people? Are camera allowed at religious sites? Are certain places out-of-bounds at particular times of the day? Make sure that you know what you can and cannot do; you don't want to offend anyone where you're a guest and you don't want to get into trouble. However far these customs and protocols might seem from your life, they still need to be respected.

A nod to your camera and a smile can establish if photos are permitted

6. Set your alarm

Sunrise and sunset might present you with the best lighting opportunities for your photos, with sizzling stone, luscious landscapes, and perfect portraits, but early in the morning will show you a different side to where you're staying. And you'll escape the tourist crowds, too.

Sun coming up, Bay of Islands

7. Remember to put down your camera

Travel is about a whole lot more than your photos. It's a wealth of experiences and encounters. When you're constantly holding a camera to your face, it means that you can miss out on people, whether your family or anyone new. Remember to put down your camera from time to time, and just enjoy.

Of course, this is just the beginning, the basic principles. Haje covers travel photography in far more depth and detail in his gorgeous Focus on the Fundamentals: Travel book!