Capturing the Perfect Photo on Your Vacation (Even with Your Cell Phone)

Estimated reading time 6 min

Photographs are a unique way of freezing memories and capturing pivotal moments forever. When traveling, capturing new sights allows you to relive those moments and to share momentous occasions and breathtaking scenery with friends, family, and the entire social web, if so desired.

Smartphone Photos - Thailand Traveler


Every avid traveler experiences those overwhelming moments when taking in a new sight and the immense desire to share that profound moment with others. Every avid traveler also knows that photographs often fail to do those moments justice. However, there are those unique few who do seem to capture the essence of traveling in photos, and they are often the same people who are maddeningly photogenic. That is not a coincidence. Whether completely new to photography or a casual enthusiast, these travel photo tips will help make you that person.

Camera Settings - Travel Photography 101Study Your Equipment and Destination Before Your Trip

Before you embark on your journey, take time to study your destination. Learn about the unique sights, and study the photographs that made you want to visit that locale in the first place. It will help get those creative juices flowing before even stepping foot on the plane. Knowing what inspires you will also allow you to capture similar shots that will undoubtedly inspire others. You will also be able to judge photographs that simply don’t work. While researching your destination, look up the main tourist attractions and determine what days and times those attractions are less crowded. Capturing famous sights without hoards of people obviously makes for a better photograph.

While researching does prepare you to take better photos, don’t forget to get lost on purpose. Wander off the beaten path (when safe), and capture those private and exciting moments. The camera will capture your surprise and enthusiasm, and others will live vicariously through these rarely photographed experiences.

When satisfied with your due diligence on your upcoming destination, take time to really learn your equipment. Even if you plan on just using your smartphone, take time to learn all the extra features your device offers. Whether time-lapse, slow motion, zoom, HDR, or the timer, these special features can make an ordinary shot extraordinary. Plus, you don’t want to take precious time away from your trip to learn how to use your camera properly. Clichéd as it may be, practice does make perfect. Finally, do not use in-app cameras. The camera directly in Instagram is far worse than the basic camera on your smartphone. Use the regular camera, and import your photos to social media.

Use Natural Light When Possible - Travel Photography 101Use Natural Light

Light is the single-most important thing in photography. You can have the fanciest camera and all the right equipment, but if the lighting isn’t right, your photograph will undeniably lack that wow factor. In general, the best natural light is early in the morning or late in the afternoon. The hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset are known as the “golden hours” in photography, because of the soft, warm glow the camera captures. If you venture out right after sunrise, you will also encounter less people. The soft morning light and the relative peacefulness will combine to help make the perfect photo.

If possible, avoid using the flash. Natural light is almost always better in photography, unless you really know how to use the flash to your advantage. Play with the positioning of the sun, and avoid back light. That is, let the sun light the subject of your photography, instead of pointing your camera towards to sun. In general, noon is the worst time for photography. For the most vivid colors, try shooting when the sky clears after a rain storm. Always remember, no amount of editing or filter will save a poorly lit photo.

Selfie in Greece - Travel Photography 101Know Your Angles

Perspective matters and can turn a relatively dull photo into something exciting. For scenery, get down low or up high. Kneeling down and aiming your camera up at tall objects is a great way to create extra drama and scale, while shooting from a high vantage point is an ideal way to capture sprawling cities.

For self portraits, know your best angles. This goes back to practicing before your departure, and experimenting with your own selfies is the best way to become more photogenic. Try out different poses and choose your best side. Look at your favorite self portraits, and determine if there are commonalities. For a natural-looking smile, try pressing your tongue to the roof of your mouth and behind your teeth. To avoid closed eyes in photographs, shut your eyes right before snapping the photo, and slowly open them as the button is pressed. To avoid a dreaded double chin, stick your head up and slightly forward. Again, practice makes perfect.

Rule of Thirds - Travel Photography 101Learn the Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is a basic photography trick that all professional photographers and artists employ. It’s the easiest way to instantly make a photograph more interesting. Imagine breaking down the composition of your picture into horizontal and vertical thirds. That is, imagine two horizontal and two vertical lines dissecting your photo evenly. Instead of centering the subject of your photograph, place the points of interest on the lines or on the intersecting grid lines. The easiest way to do this is to turn on your camera’s grid feature. Most cameras, no matter how basic, have this useful feature. Plus, the grid helps you keep the horizon line straight on all photos.

Photo Editing - Photography 101Learn How to Properly Edit

One of the top travel photo tips is to avoid over-editing your shots. While Photoshop, editing apps, and Instagram can all elevate a photo to the next level, they can also destroy it. Filters should enhance the beauty of a photograph, not completely alter it. Always try to keep the integrity of the shot, when applying filters and using editing tools. Enhancing photos beyond recognition is one of the biggest mistakes travelers and novice photographers make on a daily basis.

Traveler Photos- Eiffel Tower - Capturing the perfect photo

Have Fun

Traveling is fun. You are out experiencing new places and cultures. Yes photos help you remember the great times but don’t stress out about capturing the “perfect” photo. Any photo you take will look amazing on Facebook or Instagram, but it will look even better if you have fun doing it! Experiment a little and try something you.


When done right, travel photography is the best way to bring others along on your journeys. Instagram alone has over 300 million active users, and individuals love to live vicariously through the adventures of others. Social media is one of the most popular ways to share travel photography and to discover bucket-list destinations. These travel photo tips will undoubtedly elevate your own personal snapshots, when sharing across social platforms and with those closest to you.

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