Whether you look at them as the most expensive photographs you’ve ever taken, or the least expensive souvenirs you’ve ever purchased… whether you “take snapshots” or “create images”… travel photography is one of the most popular activities for those who travel.
Much of this article discusses equipment for photography, because that is a relatively easy topic to explain. However, note that it is far from the most important thing in getting good photos. A good photographer gets much better photos than the average shooter, and not mainly because he or she has better equipment. Nor is the key difference greater technical skill; as Einstein put it Imagination is more important than knowledge. Of course both equipment and skill can help, but the key is artistic vision, the ability of some photographers to think about the image they are capturing and plan a good composition. Other factors include awareness of both light and subject, a good sense of timing, and willingness to go to some trouble to get a shot; some of the best photos require things like getting up early to catch the dawn light, climbing a hill to get the best angle, or waiting for hours for animals to turn up.
This is our general travel photography article. We also have separate articles on more specific topics at Travel photography/Film, Travel photography/Full systems, and Video recording. Some travel situations have special photographic requirements. See our articles on safaris, wildlife photography, birdwatching and the Northern Lights for discussion of these.
Travel photography is a genre of photography that may involve the documentation of an area’s landscape, people, cultures, customs and history. The Photographic Society of America defines a travel photo as an image that expresses the feeling of a time and place, portrays a land, its people, or a culture in its natural state, and has no geographical limitations.
Travel photography as a genre is one of the most open in terms of the subjects it covers. Many travel photographers specialise in a particular aspect of photography such as travel portraits, landscape or documentary photography as well as shooting all aspects of travel. Much of today’s Travel Photography style is derived from early work in Magazines such as National Geographic magazine from photographers such as Steve McCurry. This genre of photography entails shooting a wide variety of subjects under varied available conditions, e.g. low light photography indoors, available ambient light photography for exteriors of buildings and monuments, shooting on the streets where sometimes conditions may be hostile, capturing moments which rarely recur, capturing the magic of light while shooting landscapes, etc.
As travel has become more accessible, more and more, the genre is opening up to amateurs and professionals alike. Amateur Travel photography is often shared through sites like Flickr, 500px and 1x. Travel photography, unlike other genres like fashion, product, or food photography, is still an underestimated and relatively less monetized genre, though the challenges faced by travel photographers are lot greater than some of the genres where the light and other shooting conditions may be controllable. Traditionally travel photographers earned money through Stock photography, magazine assignments and commercial projects. Nowadays, the stock photography market has collapsed and more and more photographers are using more innovative methods of earning a living such as through blogging, public speaking, commercial projects and teaching.
One important choice to make is what kind of camera to purchase and/or bring along. There’s no single “best” camera – or even kind of camera – for travel photography. The kind of pictures you want to take, how much flexibility or ease-of-use you want, your budget, and how much you want to carry all factor into it.
Digital cameras are the most common choice today. They tend to fall into several categories of ease-of-use and features. The ideal camera would be cheap, lightweight and high quality; it is fairly easy to get any two of those but almost impossible to get all three. The design engineers can make trade-offs and customers can make choices.
The main types of digital camera are:
Compact cameras tend to be cheapest, smallest, and easiest to use. Most ordinary travelers will be happy with these. The smallest ones fit your pocket, are light and moderately priced, and can be taken almost everywhere. This is the cheap and lightweight choice, but does not give top quality, mainly because the sensors are too small.
There are more advanced compacts with features such as “superzoom” lenses (covering a very broad range), faster lenses (letting more light through, better for stop-action or low-light shots), better lenses (less optical distortion), larger sensor sizes (better low-light performance, less noise), and others. A number of trade-offs apply — you can’t have everything.
A category of compacts with APS-C or bigger sensors and quality lenses has emerged relatively recently. In some terms they’re similar to MILC (see below), but the lens can’t be changed. These cameras usually have no zoom (due to prime lens), a few hundred dollars higher price, and a bit more bulk. While less versatile, cameras like this can suit a photography enthusiast who knows exactly what she wants in terms of image quality and other camera facilities. Some vendors that offer such models are Fujifilm, Ricoh, Sony, Leica.
DSLR (digital single-lens reflex camera) cameras have the most features (e.g. interchangeable lenses, various exposure control methods) but you pay for it in complexity, size, and expense. They have much larger sensors than most compact cameras. Normal SLRs, digital or not, have a mirror that reflects light up to the viewfinder and flips up out of the way when the shot is taken. Sony have a variant called an SLT which uses a stationary mirror to divide the light between viewfinder and sensor.
Full-frame (sensor is 24 by 36 mm, same as a 35 mm negative) DSLRs are available from several vendors — Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony Alpha as of 2016. Leica offer a full-frame rangefinder camera. When the first full-frame digital cameras hit the market in 2002, they were huge, heavy and around $8,000 for the body alone. As of September 2015, there are several models with reasonable size and a body-only price in the $1200–3000 range. These may be the best choice for top quality, but there are substantial costs in both money and weight.
APS-C (around 24 by 16 mm but varying a little by brand). An APS-C sensor is large enough that quality can be quite high, but APS-C bodies are significantly cheaper than full-frame. As of mid-2018, some APS-C body plus kit lens combinations are under $500, though some high-end bodies are well over $1000. All the companies with full-frame DSLRs have cheaper APS-C models as well, while others offer only APS-C.
Until recently, APS-C was nearly the only choice for the enthusiast amateur or even the pro on a budget, and it is still the most common type of DSLR and very much a viable choice, though both full-frame and MILC (see below) cameras are encroaching on the markets that APS-C once had to itself.
APS-C cameras can use lenses designed for full-frame DSLRs or even for film cameras, but the field of view changes because of the smaller sensor. The effect can be estimated by multiplying the focal length by a constant, 1.5 for most brands and 1.6 for Canon. For example, on a Nikon or Pentax APS-C camera, a 100 mm lens acts much like a 150 mm lens on a full-frame camera. This effect is often an advantage with telephoto lenses but can be a problem when you want a wide-angle lens.
Rangefinder cameras are no longer common, though they were the main type used in news and travel photography until SLR (single lens reflex) cameras appeared in the 1950s, many famous photos were taken with them, and they still have users who swear by them. A rangefinder is lighter and quieter than an SLR because it does not need the mirror flapping up and down in the camera body, which means that camera size, noise and vibration are all lower. The main disadvantage is that, because there is no through-the-lens view, neither zoom nor long telephoto lenses are supported.
Leica offer full-frame digital rangefinders and lenses, high-quality but also high priced, and Voigtlander have a line of cheaper Leica-mount lenses. The US Voigtlander distributor has a web site with much good information on rangefinders and on older cameras of other types.
MILC (mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras) or EVIL (electronic viewfinder, interchangeable lens) cameras, are similar to DSLRs but, like a rangefinder, they do not have a mirror; they use an electronic viewfinder instead of optical. These are a relatively recent development; some people consider them the wave of the future and suggest that they may soon eclipse DSLRs, much as SLRs largely replaced rangefinders a few decades ago, while others consider them far less important. Ideally, they might offer quality comparable to a DSLR in a package about the size of a compact, and the marketers claim this is already achieved. That may not be entirely true, but certainly they are an interesting alternative if you want high quality while keeping down the weight.
As of February 2019, current mirrorless cameras have varying sensor sizes. Most of Fuji’s models have APS-C sensors, but the company also sells a very expensive medium-format MILC. Nikon has sold small-sensor mirrorless in the past, but its only current MILCs are newly released full-frame models. Sony has long offered both APS-C and full-frame MILCs, and Canon has recently added two full-frame MILCs as alternatives to its existing APS-C mirrorless line. Most recently, Panasonic has announced its entry into the full-frame MILC market in an alliance with Leica. Pentax sold both APS-C and small-sensor MILCs in the past, and Samsung previously sold APS-C MILCs, but both companies have pulled out of the MILC market. As of early 2019 the largest players in this market are the Sony Alpha (rebranded from NEX) and the Micro Four Thirds system, but competition is fierce and that might change.
Micro Four Thirds (18 by 13.5 mm sensor) is a joint standard with several companies involved, the most important being Olympus and Panasonic. Several abbreviations are in use — μ43, m43, m4/3 and MFT; we use μ43 in our articles. The “four thirds” refers to the 4:3 aspect ratio used; 35 mm film, full frame cameras and APS-C all use use 3:2. The focal length multiplier is 2; a 100 mm lens on μ43 acts like a 200 mm on full-frame. Both Olympus and Panasonic offer a range of bodies and a range of lenses, and you can mix and match across brands.
There are other players as well. Leica offer a few bodies and a number of lenses, mostly jointly developed with Panasonic. Hasselblad offers a very expensive medium-format MILC and a number of lenses. Voigtlander have three super-fast F0.95 manual focus μ43 lenses at focal lengths equivalent to 35, 50 and 85 mm.
A few vendors — only Sony and Olympus as of mid-2017 — offer devices that turn a cell phone or tablet into an interchangeable lens digital camera; these take the same lenses as Sony NEX or Olympus μ43. The device has no viewfinder; you use the phone or tablet screen for that.
In September 2018 both Nikon and Canon announced full-frame mirrorless systems along with a new lens mount, a few lenses using the mount, and an adapter for their SLR lenses. Both are expensive (at least $2000 for body alone), and the line of lenses is small so far. In March 2019, Canon began selling an entry-level full-frame MILC at a body-only price of $1300.
A full-frame sensor is 2.25 times larger than most APS-C sensors, about 2.5 times Canon APS-C, and 3.6 times μ43. We discuss the effect of sensor size in our article on advanced photo systems.
Most travellers today carry some sort of digital camera, and most of this article discusses those. However, they are not the only choice.
Most modern cell phones have a built-in camera, and these are often nearly as good as a low-end digital camera. If you are carrying a phone anyway, using it as your camera is a zero-cost and zero-weight solution. Phone cameras generally take perfectly acceptable photos in good conditions — for example, if the light is good and you only need a photo for a web post — but they still are far behind dedicated cameras when conditions get challenging. Many camera phones do not include flash, pixel resolution of images varies widely between models and there is typically no optical zoom. Most camera phones are not suitable for tripod mounting, though you can purchase small tripods designed for some models. A wide range of apps are available to enhance the performance of cameras in smart phones and edit the resulting images.
Similarly, most tablets now have cameras and can use photography apps, though their image quality is typically inferior to that of cell phones.
A couple or a group travelling together may be able to share a camera or to carry compatible camera bodies so they can share lenses. This does not always work; for example, when you visit a church, everyone may want the fast wide angle lens at the same time. Also, there may be incompatibilities; for example, if a Nikon-using lad travels with a Canon-using lass then, with an adapter, she can use his lenses but he cannot use hers.
Some people carry a video camera instead of a still camera; they can still get reasonable still photos by plucking frames out of the videos and many video cameras include a still photo mode. The quality of stills is often limited and it is quite possible that you get better stills from your cellphone. However, some may be quite happy with either a video camera or a general-purpose digital camera that includes a video capability.
Film cameras (i.e. non-digital cameras) are another possible choice; see Travel photography/Film.
Instead of or as well as taking photos yourself, you can:
buy photos locally. Possibilities include
high-grade prints (look for local pro photographers or galleries)
coffee table books (check bookstores and museums)
collections of picture post cards (sold in tourist areas)
Any of these are likely to be shot by professionals, so quality will often be higher than do-it-yourself photos. Also, they may include photos taken from viewpoint that would be difficult to get to during a visit – such as aerial photographs or shots taken during different seasons. The downside is that these images are copyrighted; you will own one copy, but not rights to reproduce the photo.
illustrate your voyage through urban sketching.
buy paintings and handicrafts from the areas that you visit.
Any of these may give fine souvenirs.
Building a system
For travel, you want a camera body plus a single lens or a set of lenses that covers most or all of the types of photo you want to take without exceeding either your budget or the bulk and weight you can carry in reasonable comfort. This is often achievable, but usually some compromise is involved.
Many cameras come with a standard kit lens, a zoom lens (variable focal length) that covers the range from wide-angle to short-telephoto, perhaps 24-85 mm. Often the kit lenses are designed more for low cost than high quality; in particular they are generally quite slow. Professionals tend to buy either prime lenses (fixed focal length) or much more expensive high-end zooms.
A good zoom capability is handy for getting a closer shot of something in the distance. (One of the most common errors of inexperienced photographers is not getting close enough.) Using a zoom lens can also let you carry fewer lenses and avoid having to change lenses as often. On the other hand, zooms are almost always heavier and slower than primes and often more expensive or less sharp.
Digital cameras usually have zoom, but only one of two kinds they feature is “real”. Digital zoom doesn’t capture any additional detail at high magnification; it reprocesses the same information for a larger image, or just crops off the edges for you. If you have photo editing software on your computer, you can do a better job of that at home. Optical zoom actually changes the magnification of the lens, and is better for getting sharp close-up shots of distant subjects. This is the kind of zoom worth paying extra for, and a built-in high-ratio optical zoom (e.g. 10x) distinguishes some compact cameras.
There are a number of ways to get a simple system that handles most photographic needs, with reasonable cost and weight:
buy a compact digital camera
thousands of people are happy with these, so why not you?
pay a bit more for a high-end compact
even some pros use these as go-anywhere cameras because their best stuff is too heavy or too valuable for travel
get an interchangeable lens camera and kit lens
this gives you the option of adding other lenses later
The above summarizes most of the simple alternatives. We cover more complex systems — starting from a body that takes interchangeable lenses and building from there — in Travel photography/Full systems.
Whichever system you choose, know your camera — take a look through any instruction manuals and actually try at least a few shots under different conditions (including extreme closeups, low-light or nighttime photos, moving targets) in both still photo and video before you travel. Even if a camera is fully automatic (most small hand-held digital cameras are), a blind “point and shoot” approach can easily mean missing time-sensitive shots at the finish line of a sport competition while the camera spends a few seconds auto-focusing… unless you focus before the moving target enters the frame (pressing the button halfway may do this on many cameras) or turn off auto-focus entirely and leave the camera focused at infinity.
Longer trips or more photos require more memory, unless you bring along a laptop or another way to back up your pictures and clear your memory card. Consider buying additional memory cards for additional space and to avoid putting all your eggs in one basket. Large-capacity memory cards have dropped greatly in price recently; most often, it’s easier just to bring more (or larger) cards instead of downloading images to a computer while on the road or attempting to conserve memory space. Electronics and department stores and other businesses tailored to tourists worldwide typically stock a wide range of memory cards, so you should have few problems buying extra memory capacity if you start to run short.
As a rule of thumb (quite imprecise; this varies from camera to camera and depends on the settings used), raw images need about a megabyte per megapixel so for example a 16 GB card will hold about 1000 raw images for a 15 megapixel camera. Compressed JPEG images need considerably less storage.
Many photographers find 32 GB SDHC cards convenient, large enough for a lot of shooting but cheap enough you can have several to avoid putting all your eggs in one basket. Any camera built since about 2008 supports this size, and it avoids a potential problem on some computers; SDXC (any card over 32 GB) uses a disk format that some older tablets and non-Windows computers may not be able to read.
Of course, that is not the only reasonable choice; many people use larger cards to be sure they have enough for everything they are likely to shoot on a trip. Even with a 24 Mpixel camera and two bytes per pixel, you get about 20 shots per Gbyte so a 128 GB card handles over 2500 photos, and as of November 2016, those cards are well under $100 USD.
In some cases, the speed of the memory card may also matter. If you want to shoot videos or long bursts of still shots — for example, in photographing a leaping athlete it is common to fire off a dozen shots and hope one is just right — then you need fast transfers between the camera’s limited buffer and the larger general storage. With a slow card, the camera may stop and refuse to continue until the buffer is cleared, and that can ruin your shot. Professionals shooting action often use specialized cameras with faster bursts and larger buffers, but those are both expensive and heavy, so wildly impractical for most travellers. A fast memory card, however, is probably worthwhile if you want action shots or video; cost is about twice that of a slower card and weight about the same. In addition to letting the buffer empty faster, a fast card may also speed up transfer of images to your computer. Some SD cards are rated UHS-1 (ultra high speed) or even faster UHS-2; these will be faster if the camera supports that. The UHS rating is used only for SD cards; the Compact Flash equivalent is UDMA, with UDMA 7 being the fastest available as of late 2017.
Both speed and capacity of cards have changed over time, and an older camera may not handle high-capacity cards (either because it cannot see the larger size or cannot provide the extra power needed) or may get no benefit from the extra speed of a new fast card. Similarly, whether a fast card gives any benefit during transfers to a computer depends on the particular computer and card reader used. The original SD (secure digital) cards were limited to 2 Gbytes and the early Compact Flash cards similarly limited. SDHC cards (HC = high capacity) go up to 32 Gbytes and the latest SDXC (eXtended Capacity) cards in theory support sizes up to 2048 GB, though as of late 2017 the largest SDXC cards on the market are 512 GB.
Digital cameras usually have different quality modes available that effect how much storage space is used for each picture. They sometimes have confusing names like SHQ, HQ, and SQ1, and different resolutions (how many pixels). But you are always changing either the size (megapixels) or compression you want to use. Decide ahead of time what quality setting you want to use. Consider how you are going to use your photos. Photos to send and share with friends via social media will probably need less quality than ones you need to print on canvas. Today’s computer monitors can display up to around 8 megapixel images, whereas five years ago a monitor would only display one megapixel. You get more future-proofing with size and quality. The ability to switch to lower quality settings can also be useful if you’re running out of storage space in the middle of nowhere: better to have the last couple dozen pictures taken at a less-than-ideal quality setting than to run out of exposures before you reach home.
Batteries are an important thing to think about, because it can be extremely frustrating to run out of battery power right in the most exciting part of your trip. If your camera uses a non-standard battery type (especially common with digital cameras), be sure to bring extras or pack a suitable recharger for local electrical systems. Recharge often; don’t wait for your power to run out during a photo shoot.
Know how longer your camera will last on a charge. The largest battery drains on a digital camera are the preview screen and the sensor. Many DSLRs will last for thousands of shots if you disable the screen and use a manual viewfinder (if available). Newer digital cameras are also far less power-hungry than those manufactured a decade ago.
Many digital cameras use rechargeable lithium-ion batteries; like the batteries in laptop PC’s these are powerful but device-specific and proprietary. It is not possible to interchange these with other battery types. Some cameras can run on standard AAs (with more frequent changes) if needed. The ability to use AA cells – readily available anywhere from Tibet to Togo to Tuvalu – is a great safety net. Many cameras have an external grip available that makes the camera bigger and heavier but gives additional battery capacity. In some cases, these use AAs, even on a camera whose main batteries are a different type.
Battery chemistry makes a big difference, and even something as standard as a battery of AA cells comes in several varieties. A rechargeable NiMH battery usually lasts longer (even without recharging) than even the best non-rechargeable lithium battery, and its reusability will pay for itself in the long run. The main drawback of rechargeables is that some lose their charge even just sitting for a few weeks. Individual models of NiMH cells packaged as “fully charged and ready for use” typically have a longer charge shelf life (otherwise that initial charge would be gone long before they left the store). One brand popular with photographers is the Panasonic Eneloop.
Don’t use NiCd batteries in a digital camera (except in emergencies); they simply won’t last and they have a “memory effect” (which NiMH don’t have) where it’s best to fully discharge them before recharging.
If you’re leaving civilization behind altogether, consider an old-fashioned mechanical film camera that can be run without battery power, or a not-quite-so-quaint electronic film camera which uses so little battery power (e.g. for the light meter, to time the shutter speed) that it can run for months on a single button-size cell. Most manual-exposure 35 mm cameras from the 1970s and earlier will run battery-free; auto-exposure 35 mm cameras from the 1980s merely sip from their batteries, and a few (e.g. Pentax ME series) can even continue working (on manual) without.
Many photographers carry along a tripod, and even a little pen-sized model can come in handy if you want to set up timed shots of yourself and yours. If weight or luggage capacity is an issue (e.g. when hiking), consider a monopod instead. Bogen/Manfrotto even makes a line of well-regarded monopods that double as hiking sticks, although they’re rather pricey. Alternatively, shop for hiking sticks with camera mounts hidden under the top knob. However, bear in mind that many (if not most) museums and tourist attractions do not permit tripods or monopods. Sometimes breaking out the tripod will put you in the “professional” category, and you suddenly need copyright permissions or will be asked to pay fees for what the owners of the place now consider commercial photography. While a tripod is awkward for travellers (due to its bulk), there are some images — particularly photos outdoors at night, where dim light requires long exposure times — that cannot be captured any other way.
Unlike on film cameras, an ultraviolet filter is not needed on digital cameras – unless it gives you peace of mind to have something protective in front of your lens glass.
Make sure you have a method of transferring photos off your camera. Some cameras will support WiFi. Some laptops or tablets include a built-in card reader as standard equipment. Or you may need a USB cable to connect to your camera or a small card reader. You may, however, still need the camera’s USB cable to recharge your camera’s built-in battery.
With expensive photography gear, packing it properly becomes an issue. Specialized cases and bags specifically for packing cameras and lenses are available, but some are bulky and inconvenient. Camera bags tend to be focused mainly on carrying your camera equipment, and rarely have much extra room for the other stuff you’ll want to carry around during sightseeing. If travelling light, it’s better just to bring along the original leather pouches for your lens and camera. A T-shirt folded and wrapped around a lens provides some impact protection and guards it from prying eyes.
If travelling with a camera which takes interchangeable lenses, try to anticipate the lenses you’re likely to use when packing. A long lens is invaluable if you’re going on a safari, but is probably not worth taking if you’re visiting urban areas. That said, if you have space in your suitcase and are staying in accommodation which is safe from thieves, it might be best to err on the side of taking too many lenses rather than too few.
It’s a good idea to bring any equipment you need to maintain your camera with you as this can be difficult to find at your destination (specialised camera stores tend to be located outside tourist areas and the quality of their products can vary). As you sometimes need this equipment in a hurry it’s best to have it at hand, and to be confident that it will actually work. You should keep a microfiber lens cleaning cloth in your daypack or camera bag, but leave specialized equipment in your suitcase unless you’re expecting to be taking photos in adverse conditions.
Wipe down your camera and lenses with a tissue after use, before you put them away. In particular, zoom lenses in dusty environments should be extended fully, wiped off, and allowed to dry before packing them, as grit will wreak havoc on the delicate mechanisms inside.
With fragile Super-8 film cameras and bulky VHS cameras receding into ancient history, smartphones and digital cameras have made it more practical than ever to take moving pictures of your travels. These can be more entertaining to look at (for you and your friends), and better capture the grandeur of a panoramic view or the excitement of a helicopter ride. But video is also harder to do well than still shots, and bumpy recordings that cut abruptly from one scene to the next can be more disorienting than informative. Flash is not an option, as motion pictures require continuous illumination. Movie-editing software can help turn your raw footage into a slick presentation, but it’s additional work after you get home.
Most digital still cameras have the ability to record video, but many have quality limitations or limit recording time. A newer or more expensive digital still camera may be able to record some level of HDTV, although capability varies. Try out the feature before you buy.
There are many image hosting websites where you can upload and share your travel photographs with others; two of the most popular are Flickr and Photo.net. Photo.net also has extensive information on photography, everything from equipment reviews to a large collection of pages on technique. These websites, and other “cloud” storage services such as Google Drive, are also an excellent way of backing up your photos while on the road, though be warned that upload sizes can be large if you’re taking lots of images or using the highest image quality settings.
Consider uploading photos to Wikimedia Commons; this is a shared site that holds educationally useful media files for use by anybody. The Wikimedia Foundation projects, including Wikivoyage and Wikipedia, use this repository. Any images uploaded here should be licensed also for commercial use by anybody.
The free-for-commercial-use “copyleft” (Creative Commons CC-BY or CC-BY-SA) is available on Flickr if explicitly selected when uploading photos. That site will default to “all rights reserved” if you fail to select a license. Flicker CC-BY or CC-BY-SA images may be imported to Wikimedia Commons.
Be aware that people in other cultures may view being photographed differently from you. Local views on photography should always be taken into account when deciding whom, what, and when to photograph. When in doubt, it is always better to ask before taking a photo. In some countries, it is illegal to take pictures of individuals without their consent.
Some Brazilian indigenous groups, for instance, believe their souls are captured when they are photographed. Members of some religious sects (e.g. the Amish) consider having their picture taken an act of impious vanity, and although they may permit it they don’t welcome it. Cameras may also not be welcome during some religious rituals, in certain religious buildings, or at certain cultural events. Taking pictures of women or young children should also be carefully considered especially when you’re in a Muslim country or an area with conservative Christians.
Some sites where photography is typically prohibited or restricted for security reasons are military installations, airport security, Government buildings, and casinos. In sensitive areas — such as near a disputed border, in a rebellious province, in a country whose government or military are a bit paranoid, or where local cops are looking for an excuse to extract a bribe — photographing any infrastructure that might be of military significance — such as a bridge, dam, port, railway station, or government building — can bring trouble.
Photography might also be prohibited for copyright reasons, for instance at museums or art galleries. For this reason, some theatrical, music and sport venues do not allow photography, or restrict use of telephoto lenses or video recording. Where not prohibited you might be charged a supplemental fee to the entrance ticket for bringing your camera.
Additional considerations apply to photos taken for publication or commercial use; in most countries, news photos don’t legally require a signed model release, but commercial or stock photos of identifiable people do. For photos that will be uploaded to Wikimedia Commons, see their policy page.
There are various situations in which flash photography may be inappropriate. Sometimes it will not be permitted, either to preserve a solemn atmosphere, or to protect antiquities from the damaging effects of bright light. Live theatres often prohibit cameras entirely as a distraction to the performance. Keep in mind that flash usually won’t illuminate things more than a few meters away, so taking flash photos of the roof of a cathedral would be both distracting and ineffective. Flash also tends to spoil the natural appearance of the things you’re trying to photograph, and if the object is behind protective glass, then your camera may end up blinding itself with the reflection of its own flash. So if you can disable your camera’s flash and shoot by natural light (holding the camera very steady to compensate for slow shutter speeds), it may very well be worth the effort.
A tripod can be an alternative to flash, although in many situations its bulk makes it just as obtrusive or worse. Many museums and art galleries forbid tripods. Save it for situations (such as outdoor photography at night) where it is the only option.
Photography equipment can be expensive and the pictures you’ve already taken at any point in your trip are effectively irreplaceable, so it’s always wise to consider their safety when traveling. Besides theft and accident human-caused damage, natural issues like extreme heat and cold may have a significant impact on your equipment. If rain is likely, a weatherproof camera might be a good investment.
Don’t flash your camera around any more than necessary. If you take it out of your bag, wrap the strap around your wrist a few times and hold it firmly in your hand. Walking around with an expensive SLR hanging from a neck strap is an invitation to motorcycle thieves. When walking in a city, keep not just the camera but also the bag holding the camera on the side of you facing away from the road. Brand-name camera bags advertise what’s inside them. You may be safer carrying your camera in an old rucksack or even a shopping bag, perhaps padded with some clothes. The risk isn’t solely that someone may steal the camera itself; displaying photographic equipment makes you a target for criminals by identifying you prominently as non-local to perpetrators of any number of scams for which the wealthy tourist is seen as an easy mark.
In some areas, locals solicit payment for any photos in which they are visible. This poses many of the same problems as any other form of begging; if you are too quick or eager to hand out money, you not only make yourself visible as a possible easy mark but also make things more difficult for the next traveller. Over-eager locals who don’t disclose they expect to be paid to appear in a shot until after the photo has already been taken are common in a few high-traffic areas, including New York City’s Central Park and Times Square.
If you’re uncertain about the local laws and sensitivities around photography you should avoid photographing government buildings (other than obvious tourist landmarks), military installations, or other plausible targets of political violence. In areas with ongoing military conflicts and/or heightened alertness for terrorism, this can get you unwelcome attention – or worse – from anxious security personnel or law enforcement. In many countries the owners of commercial private property does not welcome photographing indoors on their premises. It may not be explicitly prohibited by law, but the local security staff might want a talk with you about what you need those photographs for. Some vendors might state this policy at the property entrance.
Unwelcome attention may also be directed toward you if you are photographing subjects relating to certain infrastructure (such as transportation). It may also be best to put the camera away in areas (such as inside a bank or at a subway toll booth) where money is being handled. Although many of the operators of such infrastructure are open minded about photography, front-line staff of some concerns can become nervous about the intent or nature of casual photographers. If you are intending to take a large number of such photographs, it is advised to confirm the limits of what is acceptable in advance.
For sound safety reasons, flash photography is prohibited in numerous environments (such as urban rail systems, bus stations, industrial plants, and some government facilities.) where the flash could be an unwanted distraction to staff or security personnel. Additionally use of a tripod may be seen as creating an undue obstruction. If planning on using either check with the operators, owners and staff well in advance.
Some people get their travel companions into every picture. Others focus exclusively on the places. Try to strike a balance. Including members of your group (especially if they’re your kids) can add some fun and personality to your photos. But a litany of “Here’s Stan standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. Here’s Stan standing in front of Notre Dame. Here’s Stan standing in front of…” can get tedious, not just to say but to look at. Try to capture your human subjects in the process of exploring the environmental subjects; a shot of Stan gazing into the sunset captures the experience better than him standing in front of it.
Similarly, share the camera, so that sometimes Stan is behind it and you get in some of the pictures too. Asking another camera-toting traveller to snap a picture of all of you (with your camera, not his), in exchange for returning the favor, helps to establish that you were in fact there together (though it puts you at the mercy of their ability to work your camera). Likewise, if you’re travelling alone, either get someone to take a shot of you at various locales, or if that’s not practical, at least try setting up a shot or two with a self-timer to prove to everyone that you really went there. Note that it’s usually advisable to ask someone with a camera at least as expensive as yours – less of a temptation. Of course, you can carry a selfie-stick. Often derided, but capable of taking some interesting shots if used well.
Some modern cameras have bluetooth or WiFi connectivity to your phone, even to the extent that they will let you view the current image on your phone screen, allowing great flexibility in angles and subjects.
Be sure to take a version of each photo in which clutter (such as people in the shot, if the main subject is something else) is excluded or minimized. Posing people in front of landmarks may be useful once to show they were there (the historic WWII photos of the US flag on Iwo Jima, of Hitler at the Tour Eiffel or of the Soviet flag raising at the Reichstag being the classic examples) but a photographic composition normally works best with one main subject only. Even if you don’t notice something extraneous (such as a lamp post behind your subject, top dead center) the camera will.
One of the most practical things to remember with a camera is that you are capturing “light”. If you are photographing outside, make sure the sun is to your back. If you are shooting into the sun it will throw off the automatic settings on your camera and you will have a very dark image. The same applies to shadows. Sitting someone in shadows and standing in the light to photograph them will likely be disappointing. The same applies to inside photography. Taking a photo with an outside window in the frame will throw off the automatic settings and result in a dark image of what’s in front of the window. If you must photograph a subject with a window or direct sunlight behind them, change your flash settings from “auto” to “always on” or the camera will see the bright light in the background and turn its illumination off, yielding a silhouette.
Photo tour companies
For those wishing to travel on a dedicated photography trip, there are companies that cater to this market. Photo tours and workshops allow interested photographers to travel to destinations with the primary goal of creating images. Some offer extensive photo instruction while others simply get you to locations where photography is exceptional.
Many people seem quite willing to spend large amounts on equipment and put a lot of time into photography, yet are reluctant to spend moderate amounts of time and money on training.
This seems, to say the least, odd. If you really want to take fine pictures, consider joining a local photo club, taking a local course, or even planning a trip that includes a workshop with a well-known pro.
Where a lot of experience in earlier models of camera or versions of software might have been clocked up, and intuition has worked for getting good shots, there is no harm in investing in courses oriented towards using more recent technology. Courses can cut through the obvious and bring out features and capacities otherwise not utilized.
There are also many books on techniques for capturing images. New York City devotes an entire independent book store just to photography; other large cities may have book stores devoted entirely to art – of which photography is a key segment. Be sure to grab a camera and test what you learn before you take your trip… you may start seeing all manner of formerly-unnoticed small detail locally which, when captured as images, actually turns out to be worth a thousand words.