Travel Photography Tips

By Hostelling International / William Jans

Come Home With Stunning Photographs

Many people say they spend a fortune on airfare and travelling, only to come back with photos that they don’t like. Don’t let that be you!

It is pretty easy to get a massive improvement on your images with just a few easy tweaks, for instance using a wide angle, adjusting shutter speed, using a zoom lens. Many of these travel photography tips can apply whether you are in Bolivia or your own backyard. The best part is most of these travel photography tips easy to implement. So without further ado, here are some simple travel photography tips to “turn up the good and turn down the suck on your travel photos!"

Get Closer

Move closer to what you think is interesting. This tip works best with wide angle lenses, since the field of view will include more surrounding area which can help tell the story, while allowing you to bring the main subject bigger in the frame. Being close and using a wide angle lens shows the ornate facial scarring of this Datoga woman in Tanzania, while showing background to place the image.

Include People

I promise this is your single best way to tell your stories of where you went and what you did. I would say about 90 percent of my travel photos have people in them. Many people come back with photos devoid of a single person because they were too shy to interact. Getting people photos can seem daunting, but it is not that hard...If you are polite, kind and excited, people will often be willing to play along. Often it’s about simply spending a few moments being sociable before pulling out a camera and politely asking for a photo.

Lens Choice

If I could only travel with one lens, I would take a wide angle. For anyone who has seen my shows on travelling, about 80 percent of the photos I present are wide angle shots, and only about 20 percent have been taken with a zoom lens. In Asia, everything can be packed in closer, so a good wide angle lens lets you include more without having to physically back up (and often you cannot back up more). With a very wide lens (up to 20 mm) watch out for curvilinear distortion at the corners of your frame. Meaning, avoid putting peoples heads in the very corner or they will look stretched like watermelons. If you just tilt or move a bit to bring faces slightly inwards (away from corners), that will rectify substantially. The world’s largest seated Buddha in Leshan, China, cannot be shot well with any lens other than a wide angle! You can’t back up either.

Be Nice

Your personality and interaction are vital for the shots you get. Just by being friendly, social and sincere, I promise you’ll capture some of your most memorable moments. Your warmth may also be the sole factor that allows you to take the photo when others are disallowed. Don’t be that person who bolts off the bus and sticks cameras in people’s faces, snapping without regard. Your pictures will show it, and it’s just not a nice way to behave.

Good Shots Easily? Just Wait on a Corner

This is easy and so rewarding. In exotic cities, spend a half hour sitting on a curb with your camera prepped and ready with shutter speed set and zoom lens attached, and just wait for something cool to roll by in traffic. Something always comes, and you just need to shoot it. This is usually better achieved with a zoom lens and by using a faster exposure (a higher shutter speed). Do not assume you are hidden, and ensure to be smiley, friendly and social. If people do not want a photo taken, make sure you acknowledge that and comply. Other opportunities will arise.

Scenics, Temples and Big Landmarks

I think having people in a scenic shot can be great to show scale and to add life to an image. These men in the foreground, at the Golden Temple in India, help show how relaxed this place is, while also filling space, allowing more of the temple to fill the upper area; the image without the foreground would seem empty or dull. 

Keep Your Camera Accessible

Don’t pack your camera on your back. Keep it handy; I always keep mine in a case on my waist. I can even run with it despite the weight. If it is not quickly accessible you’ll get tired and not bother taking photos. By the way, whenever possible, take the slowest method of travel or transit when overseas. Walking instead of the bus, local bus instead of a cab, and so on. You meet the best people that way! These Massai warriors asked if I was born with the gold tooth, while the other asked if it went all the way to the top of my head. Having a camera handy made this moment memorable.

Shoot the Bad Times

The things that go wrong make your best stories, right?! Well sometimes, they also make the best photos! When things go sour or a situation sucks it can be harder to want to take photos, but chances are they'll make some of your most memorable pics. Keep your camera handy. I took this on a bus trying to get to a remote section of the Great Wall of China. The aisle was filled with tiny stools, and bags were packed around our feet, and I was totally lost.Best of luck on your travels and travel photos and I hope you can implement these travel photography tips whether in Botswana, Barbados, or a BBQ! If you remember the Canadian movie FUBAR, “Turn up the good… Turn down the suck!”

William is a Vancouver-based corporate photographer, with clients worldwide. Over the past 17 years, William's LIVE multimedia shows about absurd travels have become a Canadian phenomenon, touring major centres across the nation, and drawing sell-out crowds. See more about his shows and sign up for his fun newsletters at

Follow William on Twitter: @williamjans, Facebook: Williamjansliveshows, YouTube: williamjans and online at

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