The Perfect Frame: Tips For Better Travel Photography


I set out to travel around the world in 2006, armed with a flip phone and a camera. What started out as a cool around-the-world trip turned into a completely new profession. I have been a travel writer and photographer for 17 years now, and the job has taken me across the globe. I even lived in Vietnam for a year by myself because I wanted to get closer to the culture and photograph the vibrant street scenes. 

If you are traveling, one of the many things on your packing list is a camera. It doesn’t matter if it’s a phone camera, a point-and-shoot, or a camera with interchangeable lenses – what makes a great photo memory of a holiday is how you take the picture, not what you take the picture with.  Advanced technology and editing is great, but if you don’t have the foundations of what makes up a good picture, then all the technology in the world can’t help your travel photography. 

When you go on a journey with Enchanting Travels, you will want to capture images you can cherish for a lifetime. Here are some of my best travel photography tips on how to capture images that stand out and tell a story about the fascinating new culture you are experiencing.  

The Perfect Frame: Tips For Better Travel Photography

Composition In Travel Photography

The first thing to focus on is how the best travel photos are composed. The good news is that composition is accessible to anyone on any type of camera. It is simply deciding exactly what you are taking a picture of.  Sure, you want to get that picture of Billy and Susie in front of the Eiffel Tower, but if you want a good picture of them, then you want to think about composition before you click (or tap) the shutter button. 

Consider what you see through the viewfinder at the moment before you click the shutter button as your canvas. And just like an artist, you decide what is going to go on the canvas and where it is placed. You can control this by moving your body around to various viewpoints, moving closer, away, laying down, standing on something, or turning in circles if you want!

Don’t Center

The Perfect Frame: Tips For Better Travel Photography

The first rule of composition is easy. Don’t put your subject in the center of the picture. It is the simplest thing you can do to change a picture from just about okay to great. The concept in art terms is called Rule of Thirds. When composing your image, imagine it divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines, and the subject of your photo should be placed along these lines or their intersections.

Compose A Photo With Lines In Mind

The Perfect Frame: Tips For Better Travel Photography

Another easy composition tool I use is the importance of lines in a great photo. They can be used to direct the viewer’s attention to the subject of your photograph. Without us being aware of it, our brain looks for lines that lead us to the subject of the picture. These lines can be straight, diagonal, wavy, or any other creative variation. They can be roads, fences, shadows, mountain landscapes, or the curve of a hat. To be most effective, you should try to create your overall composition so that the lines appear to be moving in or out of a corner of the photo.

Move Around

The Perfect Frame: Tips For Better Travel Photography

Most of us see something we want to photograph, put the camera up to our eye level and click. I’m sorry to tell you but eye-level photos are pretty boring. Photography is about moving around, standing on things, laying on the ground, and crouching. When you put the camera close to the ground, you create interesting perspectives. You’ll get bolder lines and compositions with objects in the foreground appearing bigger and more dynamic.

Ask First Before You Take a Photo

In countries like Vietnam and India, I love taking candid photos of people I meet as I travel through the country. They are always so joyful. However, before you just start shooting images of people on the street, there are a few travel photography tips you should take into account.

If you are taking photos of people, don’t simply zoom in and ‘steal’ pictures of them while they are not looking. If you are really interested in people photography, then the first step is to form a relationship with the person. You need to ask them if you can take their picture. The worst they can say is “no” and you move on. 

While photographing people in the market in Hoi An Vietnam, I asked a woman selling baby ducklings, “May I take your picture?” while simultaneously miming the action so I had a chance of being understood. She looked at me and said with a stone face “Yes – for $1.” I kindly said thank you and shook my head saying no and walked away. I personally don’t agree with paying people for photos. However, once I walked away with a smile, she motioned for me to come back and said yes to having her photo taken. She was laughing and all of her friends were laughing with her. It turned into a lovely interaction with all of the women around her, and made for a great photo! Getting permission is key, as in some cultures, taking a photo of someone has very negative connotations. Plus, by asking for permission, you’ll interact more with the person and that always makes for a better picture.   

Show It Off

The Perfect Frame: Tips For Better Travel Photography

When you are taking photos of people (who you’ve received permission from and formed a relationship with), remember to always offer to share the photo with them. People love to see photos of themselves. In some countries, seeing your own photo can be quite a novelty. I even like to take it a step further and offer to take their mailing address or email address and send them the image to really go full circle. While traveling through India, I photographed many families that had never had a printed picture of themselves. So I made prints and mailed them to my group leader to hand out the next time he saw them.

Shoot With Lighting In Mind

The Perfect Frame: Tips For Better Travel Photography

Photographers always talk about how important time of day is when it comes to shooting. They tell you to go out at dusk and dawn and shoot with the favorable light – the golden hours. In a place like Vietnam, everyone is up early in the morning to beat the heat. I’m not a morning person, but when I lived there, I learned to become one! Mornings are great times to walk around the streets and shoot. 

What Travel Photos Should You Take?

Vietnam is one of my favorite places to take photos because the culture is so vastly different than what most people from the West are used to. Life is lived on the streets, and there’s an abundance of people and things to photograph. It’s colorful and full of energy, providing the perfect mix with just enough challenges for great travel photography.

Photographing Markets

I love to get up early and photograph markets. It’s probably my favorite thing to shoot in the entire world. Markets have an energy that is fun to try to capture in a still photo. Consider taking photos of the goods people are selling, the people, pyramids of fruits on display, people making a sale and handing over money. Make sure you get close ups of money, the food, but also be sure to take wide shots that show you the entire scene in that lovely morning light. 

Food Photography

The Perfect Frame: Tips For Better Travel Photography

One of the reasons I travel is because I love to eat! Food photography can be challenging, but it’s all about perspective. Try to stay away from the standard food photo you snap from eye level and be sure to get up close, put your camera on the table so you are at eye level with the food on the table. And don’t forget to take photos high up from above to give a view of the entire meal. I once had a photographer in Laos tell me his secret for photographing food. He said to think of it like a landscape photo, and I couldn’t agree more. 

Capturing Landscapes as You Travel

The Perfect Frame: Tips For Better Travel Photography

Speaking of landscapes, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to click them when you travel with Enchanting Travels. Landscapes aren’t just about a big, wide shot of land and sky. The best landscape shots normally have an object or something in the foreground that is interesting too. Choosing a foreground object, such as the beautiful Spanish poppies in the picture above, is maybe the most creatively important part of taking a great landscape shot.

Motorbike Panning Photos

The Perfect Frame: Tips For Better Travel Photography
The Perfect Frame: Tips For Better Travel Photography

When you visit places like Vietnam, the first thing people remark about is the motorbike traffic. And of course, the first thing I wanted to do was photograph it! However, my favorite way to photograph the motorbike culture was to practice my panning technique. I must admit that this is a bit more advanced in travel photography, but if you can nail it, you’ll be rewarded with some of the most dynamic images.

Panning is when you move your camera in synchronicity with your subject, creating a beautifully blurred motion background and a clear, crisp, in-focus subject. To do this, you have to shoot at slow shutter speeds (around 1/20 sec). This may be hard to do on a phone camera, but if you have a camera where you can shoot in manual mode, then you could do this.

Did you find these travel photography tips useful? Don’t forget to pack your camera and put these tips and tricks into practice on your next trip. Good luck and enjoy the journey! 

Choose from our handpicked selection of luxury hotels in Vietnam

Enchanting Travels - Asia Tours - Thailand - Anantara Hoi An Resort - Exterior view

Style: Resort
Located along the scenic Thu Bon River, Anantara Hoi An Resort offers a sweeping view of this tranquil river and is a short stroll from the colorful and bustling Ancient…

The Perfect Frame: Tips For Better Travel Photography

Style: Heritage
Enjoy stunning views of the Saigon river!

The Perfect Frame: Tips For Better Travel Photography

Style: International
Hilton Hanoi Opera Hotel, barely a half hour’s drive from the airport, is located amid the city’s sophisticated French Quarter.

dining in Hanoi

InterContinental Hanoi Westlake (Hanoi)

Style: International
InterContinental Hanoi Westlake is Hanoi’s newest 5-Star hotel on the waterfront of West Lake, overlooking the 800-yr-old Golden Lotus Pagoda.

a boat sitting on top of a sandy beach

Style: Beach Resort
Ana Mandara Hue Beach Resort, fringed by a lagoon and a serene beach, is situated half an hour east of downtown Hue.

About The Writer

The Perfect Frame: Tips For Better Travel Photography

Sherry Ott is a traveler, blogger, and photographer with one goal in mind – to make you wish you were somewhere else.  She has lived in Vietnam, hiked the Annapurna Circuit with her father, driven 10,000 miles from London to Mongolia in the Mongol Rally, walked the Camino de Santiago, kayaked in Antarctica, and driven an auto rickshaw across India for charity. She continues to seek out epic adventures to intriguing places in order to challenge herself and inspire people to overcome their fears and reap the benefits of travel.

Can’t wait to explore the world and put these excellent travel photography tips to good use? Speak to our travel consultants about your travel dreams, and get one step closer to going on a magical trip you’ll remember for a long time.

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