7 Travel Photography Mistakes Every Photographer Should Know

by John Stapel

A Post By: Kav Dadfar

Common travel photography mistakes and how to fix them

Travel photography doesn’t have to be hard, but there are a handful of mistakes that beginners – and even experienced shooters! – make over and over again.

But what are these mistakes? And how can you avoid making them in the future?

In this article, I share the 7 most common travel photography mistakes; I also explain how to fix them. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll know how to deal with these pesky problems once and for all!

1. Taking tourist photos

If you Google any famous landmark or location, you’ll see thousands of images – many of which feature the same travel compositions and the same lighting, over and over again.

Many travel photographers fall prey to these traps. They take the same photos as everyone else, which leads to a portfolio that’s boring and cliché.

(In fact, most photography editors will tell you that they don’t want “typical tourist” photos, simply because most people have seen those hundreds of times!)

Common travel photography mistakes

So what can you do to avoid typical tourist photos? How can you capture unique travel images?

It comes down to three things:

  1. Do your research. The idea here is to look up travel photography locations before you go, then really delve into the photos taken by tourists (and potentially other travel photographers). Identify the weather, the lighting, and the compositions – and then commit it all to memory, so that when you’re shooting, you don’t take the exact same images.
  2. Be creative. You can do this in two ways: You can find locations and subjects that are much less popular, or you can think of a unique way to showcase popular subjects. This comes down to your own creativity (though the more you research and think about the location, the easier it will be!).
  3. Commit yourself. Taking unique travel images is tough. To get a perfect, original, breathtaking image, you may need to wait around hours for the perfect conditions. You may even need to return on another day when the light or the weather cooperates.

That said, there is another way to capture unique images of standard travel destinations: Get lucky! Sometimes, you’ll arrive at a location just in time to see something amazing happen – be it with people, animals, or even the weather – and you’ll capture a truly unique image. Unfortunately, those days are few and far between, so I highly recommend you rely on the advice I’ve given above and not on pure luck.

2. Avoiding people

Here’s the thing:

If you’re trying to tell the story of a travel destination, if you really want to capture that destination’s essence, then you must include images of the locals.

But many new photographers deliberately avoid these travel portraits out of shyness. This is understandable, but it results in lackluster portfolios that don’t encapsulate a location.

And honestly? You have very little to fear.

Most people are friendly, and in my experience, if you make the effort and take the time to get to know someone, they will be more than happy to accommodate your photographic interests. So don’t be shy! Go up to people, introduce yourself, and ask if you can take a picture or two.

Common travel photography mistakes travel portraits of the locals

3. Being impatient or lazy

As a travel photographer, it’s often easy to get lazy and impatient while shooting. You see an interesting scene, you take a photo, and you move on. It’s quick, it’s efficient, and you’ll get good shots, right? And why wait for the perfect light when you can head back to the hotel and sit by the swimming pool?

Not so fast!

Common travel photography mistakes sunset beach

You see, part of the reason that we’re fascinated by travel photos is that they give us a glimpse into another culture. And the only way to offer such a glimpse is to spend the time appreciating the culture and carefully crafting a photo. You can’t get a great photo just by taking a snapshot. You have to put in real consideration, real thought; you have to think about your scene, your subject, its meaning, the light, the composition, your travel camera settings, and more.

Plus, if you do happen to get a great photo using the snapshot method described above, it’s bound to be similar to a thousand other photos captured by tourists (see Mistake #1!).

So take a deep breath. Slow down. And commit yourself to capturing a great image, even if it requires an hour (or three). You might not get to spend as much time by the pool, but you’ll certainly come home with better travel photos!

Common travel photography mistakes hot air balloon

4. Photographing from viewpoints

Every location has some standard “viewpoints,” “scenic views,” or “lookout points.” If you head to a popular area, you’ll see signs for them everywhere, and tourists will often flock to these locations in an effort to witness the best view.

You’ll likely be tempted to photograph from these places, many of which offer magnificent views of sunrises, sunsets, mountains, beaches, and more. But while viewpoints look great, they’re often bad for photography. For one, they rarely offer good foreground subjects or leading lines to incorporate into your images.

Plus, viewpoints are designed to be accessed and photographed, which means that your shots won’t be unique.

You don’t need to avoid viewpoints entirely. If you do your research and determine the shots that have already been taken, you can capture an image or two that’s original – with different weather, perhaps, using a different focal length, or using a different technique.

That said, if you’re serious about capturing unique travel photos, you could just avoid viewpoints entirely. Finding a unique view will often require more effort, hard work, and even money, but in the end, it’s often worth it.

Common travel photography mistakes

5. Forgetting the small details

As a travel photographer, it’s easy to get so caught up in the big, beautiful scenery that you miss the smaller details.

But these small details matter. They help tell the story of the location, and they can evoke unique feelings and even memories.

So don’t skip the little details. Instead, at each location, challenge yourself to capture three detail shots for every one scenic shot. Look for interesting floors, ceilings, trees, flowers, you name it; just seek out those details, and your portfolio will be far more diverse.

By the way, I do recommend you think carefully about your equipment. A 70-200mm lens, for instance, will get you a lot closer to architectural details (such as ceiling and wall shots), while a macro lens is great for capturing flowers, statue details, and the like.

Common travel photography mistakes details

6. Traveling with others

I get it: Traveling with a group is really, really tempting. It can be a lot of fun, it offers great social opportunities, and you get to engage with others while taking pictures.

Unfortunately, trying to do travel photography while accommodating others is nearly impossible.

Whether you’re traveling with friends, family, or a tour group, people just don’t have the patience or the interest to wait around for you to take photos. Even if they say they can wait, they’ll soon get fed up, because most people just don’t realize all the effort that goes into capturing a single image.

And if you insist on continuing, you’ll end up in a tense situation, which means that others won’t enjoy their trip and you won’t get the shots you’re after.

My advice? Keep your photography trips and your vacations separate. Before traveling, determine whether a trip is for photography or whether it’s for relaxing and enjoying yourself. If other people are involved, make sure the trip is a vacation and not for photos.

I’m not saying that you should leave your camera behind (though if that helps you manage, then go for it!). And you can take photos, just not constantly, and not on your own schedule. If you want to get some serious photography done, try setting yourself a few days or even a few hours where you can go off on your own.

Common travel photography mistakes

7. Forgetting to enjoy yourself

Travel photography requires dedication, and when you’re traveling to take photos, you should commit yourself, put in the hours, and do what you can to get the best shots.

That said, you should still enjoy yourself! Photography is fun – but like any job or hobby, if it starts to become a chore and you no longer enjoy it, you’ll get worse results, and you’ll struggle to continue.

This is a travel photography mistake that plagues even the most serious shooters, by the way. In an effort to capture a breathtaking portfolio, they push themselves to the limit. If they push too hard, they start to burn out, which is never a good thing.

So every so often, make sure to pause, look around, and appreciate where you are. You’re in a place that’s new and exciting, after all! Enjoy the experience of being there.

And if you start to feel burnt out (or even if you don’t!), consider giving yourself an afternoon off. Go shopping, go to the pool, or take a walk on the beach. Recharge, refresh, and prepare to take some amazing photos when you’re back on the job.

Common travel photography mistakes

Travel photography mistakes: final words

Well, there you have it:

The seven travel photography mistakes that you should avoid.

So identify the mistakes that you frequently make. Commit them to memory. And do what you can to ensure that you never make them again!

Now over to you:

Which of these travel photo mistakes have you made? And are there any other mistakes that I missed? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

7 Travel Photography Mistakes Every Photographer Should Know

Read more from our Tips Tutorials category

Kav Dadfar

Kav Dadfar

is a professional travel photographer, writer and photo tour leader based in the UK. His images are represented by stock agencies such as 4Corners Images and Robert Harding World Imagery and they have been used by clients such as Condé Nast, National Geographic, Lonely Planet, and many others. Kav is also the co-founder of That Wild Idea, a company specializing in photography workshops and tours both in the UK and around the world. Find out more at That Wild Idea.

I need help with...