10 Ways to Improve Your Travel Photos

Travel photos

Everyone wants to take better travel photos, but not everyone has the camera equipment they think they need for those amazing photos they see on Instagram. Or maybe, you do have the camera equipment but don’t like to travel with it since it can be big and heavy. After years of traveling and learning photography, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks to bring your travel photos to the next level, even if all you have is an iPhone! These tips can help you improve your knowledge of photography, whether you’re shooting with a camera or iPhone! 

Clean Your Lens Before You Shoot Your Travel Photos!

You’d be amazed how dirty your camera lens on your phone can get. I see tons of iPhone travel photos that look like they were taken on a flip phone from 2008 all because the lens is dirty! Wiping the lens off helps to sharpen up your image and make sure your photo is as clear as possible. You can use a microfiber towel, or you can use a clean corner of your t-shirt. I always like to check the lens after I wipe it off to make sure there’s no finger prints or dust left on it. Look at what a big difference just wiping off the lens can make!

palm tree blurry before shot

This is what I see a lot of vacation pics look like, they're still beautiful pictures, but we can take this shot to the next level!

palm tree clear after shot

After wiping off the lens, this picture (taken with just an iPhone) looks so much more professional!

Use the rule of thirds for your travel photos

This is a photography principle that is a super easy one to start including in your photos, and is something you can easily start doing on your iPhone! If you go into your settings, navigate to “camera”, then turn on the grid option. When you return to your camera app, you will notice two sets of lines dividing your camera into 9 boxes. The rule of thirds states that you want your subject to fall on one of those lines in order for the photo to feel balanced. This allows for negative space, as well as draws the human eye to the subject, rather than searching for the focus of the shot.

You can use the rule of thirds in your travel photos by placing your subject on an intersection of the third, while allowing the landscape/cityscape to fill the “negative space.” Check out what I mean in these photos.

You can see the picture of the dog also follows the rule of thirds, as you want the subject of a portrait shot to be the eyes!

travel photo tips shark rule of thirds
Tea N Sea rule of thirds
dog rule of thirds

You should be shooting in RAW

travel photo hack - HEIC photo!

Photos come in different file formats, with the two most common being JPEG and RAW. JPEG photos are what you think of when you take a picture, all the pixels are lined up in one “sheet” to create an image. These are great if all you’re going to be doing is sharing to instagram or facebook, but if you want to edit your photos and really leverage the power of a travel photo, you should be shooting in RAW. 

RAW format is like having a 3D grid of pixels layered on top of one another. Shooting in RAW allows for the greatest flexibility and control when shooting and editing your travel photos. The RAW format can be achieved a few ways. One is by shooting in RAW on your DSLR or Mirrorless camera, but your iPhone can shoot in RAW as well! You can opt for a third party app like Lightroom, or you can use the iPhone’s built in camera and shoot with the .HEIC file type (which is a RAW file). To do this, go to settings, camera, formats, then choose “high efficiency.” When you import the .HEIC file type into Lightroom or Photoshop, it will automatically recognize as a raw filetype for you to edit with! 

Focus your images

One thing that took some time to learn was that you can actually lock your focus on an iPhone. No more blurry photos if you’re shooting on your own! Set up your shot, and push and hold on the area you want to be in focus. A little yellow box at the top of your screen will light up that says “AE/AF lock” and it will hold your focus while you take your shot, rather than refocusing when your phone sees movement. Having your subject in focus helps to create that “blurry background” that everyone wants more than just shooting with autofocus trying to figure out what the subject actually is!

 Properly Exposed Travel Photos are Important

You may want that “light and airy” or “bright and beachy” look to your photos, or the more moody and toned photo type. It’s important to know that these vibes or aesthetics are created AFTER shooting, not during. You want to make sure your photos have all the information saved in them, and no parts lost due to being too dark or blown out. Shooting in RAW helps to recover some lost data, but is only possible if it’s not overdone.

travel photo tips - exposure

This image was a tough setting to shoot in, with a lot of bright light behind the window, and artificial lighting inside. You can see some of the window is a little overexposed and the information is lost.

travel photo tips exposure

This photo, in the same AirBnb is properly exposed, with soft lighting coming from all angles, it was easy to get the exposure right!

Many people don’t know that you can actually control exposure on an iPhone by pressing and holding, then sliding your finger up and down. You’ll see a little sunshine adjusting next to your finger that indicates that the exposure is being adjusted. A properly exposed photo will have everything exposed, but if you’re shooting in unideal conditions (more than likely happening while traveling), you’ll want to shoot darker to preserve the highlights. It’s a lot easier to save something that’s too dark in post production than to recover lost data from an overexposed shot.

Long Exposures are Super Cool

Travel photo hack - long exposure
long exposure on iphone

So many people want that smooth waterfall travel photo, but have no clue on earth how to do it! If you shoot on a camera, you’ve gotta play with your settings and stay SUPER still, if you shoot with your phone there’s not much control on shutter speed. What a lot of people don’t know is that your iPhone can actually shoot a long exposure shot, as long as you’re taking a “live” photo. This was the coolest trick I learned while shooting waterfalls in Grenada. 

Turn on the “Live” setting, and take your picture. Try to keep the camera and any people in the shot as still as possible, as any movement will be blurred. Next, go to the photo you want to edit, drag up on your phone, and swipe all the way to the right on the previews of your Live Photo. You will see “Long Exposure” at the end, tap that, and wait for the camera to work its magic!

Leading Lines

leading lines photo tip

Another travel photo hack to improve your travel photos are incorporating leading lines. Leading lines are a form of photo composition that incorporates elements that draw your eye to a subject. It is often seen using streets, railings, fences, railroads, branches, architecture, an arm, or any element that draws from one point in the image to the subject. This is something that you can use the rule of thirds with in harmony to create a really well balanced image, but definitely takes practice. If you start to nail this photo composition, it can really make your travel photos look way better! 

See how in this photo, I used the foliage as a leading line to draw your eye from the far side of the photo towards me sitting on the bench?

Taking Your Own Travel Photos

We don’t always have someone with us to take photos of us while we’re out traveling. Whether you want a shot with your travel partner, you’re a solo traveller, or just want to take your own picture without asking someone, there’s a few ways to approach this. 

Using your phone's self timer, you can set up your shot, hit the timer button, and then run to get in position. Your phone will take a burst and you can choose the best of the 10 shots. Another option is to invest in a bluetooth remote. This connects to your phone (or camera's) bluetooth setting, and snaps the shot when you hit the button. Or - you can use your Apple Watch if you have one! This allows you to set up your camera, open the app on your watch, and take photos with the watch. The benefit of using the watch is that you can see a preview of yourself on the watch, so you can see if your shot is going to turn out the way you wanted it to!

I've taken many photos (like this one) on my own with my self timer, remote, or Apple Watch! I used my Apple Watch for this one!

self timer photo

Use the Foreground to Create Depth

Travel photos instantly become more interesting when there is something in the foreground to create depth. It helps give some more context to the area you are exploring, but also helps to draw the eye into the subject of the photo. Locking the autofocus on your iPhone will help prevent the phone from trying to focus on the foreground object. 

Using your phone, you'll still get some depth in your photo (image with the palm tree is an iPhone photo). If you use a camera, you'll have a more "blurry" foreground and background if your aperture is low enough.

photo tips - use the foreground
travel photo tips use the foreground

Create Movement While Shooting

travel photo movement

If you want to make your travel photos more interesting, add some movement while you're shooting! Life isn't static, so your photos shouldn't be either. Incorporate movement with hair, "running" or "walking", spinning, swimming, splashing, or anything to create interest! 

If you're using an iPhone, consider shooting on burst mode to make sure your shot is as crisp as possible. If you're using a camera, make sure your shutter speed is high - at least 1/200 to capture every hair moving, even faster if you're shooting something in action! 

I bet you can imagine the salty ocean air on your face looking at this photo because of the movement of my hair from the wind! The fast shutter speed helps to make sure every hair is crisp, and not one big blurry blob!

Comment any other photo tips you have below, I'd love to hear them! Looking for some travel inspiration while at home? Check out this guide on travel things to do at home! And you can always join my adventures on my Instagram here! 

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tips to improve your travel photos
Travel Photography Tips and Tricks

One thought on “10 Ways to Improve Your Travel Photos

  1. These are all super helpful tips! There were several “hacks” I did not know the iPhone could even do and I am very excited to go try them out now!

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