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A Guide to Mastering Travel Photography

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Kimberley CooleTravel photographer Kimberley Coole has spent the past decade exploring all corners of the globe with her camera, working as a photographer for Lonely Planet, as well as for various tourist boards and airlines.

With a passport packed with stamps and a portfolio full of beautiful photos, we thought she was the perfect person to share a few expert tips to help make this year’s holiday photos your best yet. Wherever you’re jetting off to, and whether you’re holidaying close to home or escaping to far off shores, follow her advice and you’ll be a travel photography maestro in no time!

Read on for Kimberley’s top tips to help you master travel photography before your next trip.

Smiling girl

Wait for the right conditions

Never be content with less than perfect conditions – if the lighting isn’t right, or if there is some scaffolding up (a travel photographer’s most hated addition to a building) rather than just settling for the shot, go back when it’s perfect.

Often you will have spent a lot of money getting to a certain destination, especially if it’s long haul, so it seems pointless to take images you know you won’t be happy with. When it comes to scaffolding, sadly you will need to go back in a few months but if it’s a simple case of bad weather conditions, these can change hourly and so you should still be able to get your shot during the same trip.

There’s no point shooting just because you’re there, you’ll always wonder how good the photo could have been under different circumstances!


Find the best time of day

Dawn and dusk are the most beautiful times of day to shoot, especially cities and landscapes, and in some places this means leaving your room at 2.30am to catch dawn, working until 11am to make the most out of the morning, starting shooting again at about 3pm when the light has become that little bit softer, and working until long past sunset, which in some places can be until around midnight .

If you don’t drink coffee on your travels, you certainly will if you decide to try travel photography, either that or get used to not sleeping very much!

One of the most rewarding aspects of travel photography is seeing the finished shot, and you soon forget those sleepless nights and coffee-fuelled days when looking at your perfectly lit shot.

Buddha statue

Head out in the magic hours

Many photographers refer to both the “golden hour” and the “blue hour” when shooting; it is important to mention that the term “hour” is used quite loosely, the amount of time for each period can be significantly less and many a photographer wishes that blue hour for example would last that little bit longer!

The golden hour, which is sometimes known as magic hour, is the first and last hour of sunlight during the day, when a specific photographic effect is achieved due to the quality of the light. Because the contrast is heavily reduced during this time the shadows are less dark and the highlights are less likely to be overexposed, plus the warm colour of the low sun is often considered desirable to enhance the colours of the scene, adding vibrancy to your images.


The term blue hour comes from the French expression l’heure bleue, which refers to the period of twilight each morning and evening where there is neither full daylight nor complete darkness. Blue hour generally starts about 30-45 minutes after sunset; bear in mind that this will vary depending on where you are and also the time of year.

The quality of light is an absolute gift for photographers and you can really use that quality of light to produce special colours in your images, it is also worth noting that many photographers find the best subjects for blue hour shots are well lit buildings or structures.

Do your research

Research is a travel photographer’s best friend, and is an essential job if you want to make the most out of a trip. Guidebooks and travel magazines are a great place to start as they will give you a glimpse into what you will be seeing, although every photographer has their own style and so what you see may not always be what you get, but as a starting point it can be very helpful.

Google Street View is probably the handiest research tool of them all; what else allows you to literally walk down streets looking for angles or shots? As a travel photographer you don’t always have a great deal of time in some places and so knowing what to expect and what you want to shoot gives you more time for photography and less time wasted wondering where to go.


Travel light

My kit has remained practically the same over the years – a Canon EOS 5D MKII, 24-105mm lens, 16-35mm lens, a number of LEE filters and my trusty Manfrotto, that’s it.

I always travel light; for shorter trips my camera bag doubles as both my suitcase and my actual camera bag, it gets split half and half – I really don’t see the point in carrying around tonnes of excess gear that simply sits in a bag; travel photographers must travel light, either that or have very strong backs…

As a small side note I always take extra batteries and a few big capacity CF cards just in case I run into power supply issues or go on extended treks to remote villages; it’s a horrible feeling knowing you can only take a few more shots before your card is full or battery runs out!

Smiling boy

Be sensitive

I have said it many times before and I’ll probably say it again in the future, but when photographing people it should be done with a high level of respect.

On more than one occasion I have walked into a village to find other tourists and photographers standing over the people, not talking or interacting, not getting to know about their lives and customs, but simply turning the people into objects and getting as many photos as possible.

Laughing girl

I will always ask permission before taking a photograph, and if the person chooses to decline, it is their own personal choice and is not a problem.

Interaction is the key and I often find that after spending time with people, either chatting, using hand signs or having a cup of tea, they are much happier to be photographed. After getting to know the person a little more they relax, smile and laugh – making a much better photograph.

It also helps to research traditions and customs beforehand; it all boils down to respect and given that you are in someone else’s village or home, you should know how to behave. Sometimes it’s just small things, but in some countries or areas there are strict etiquette rules that must be followed – so rather than offending someone by doing something that is deemed unacceptable, it makes sense to spend some time getting to know the basics before you arrive.

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Replies to “A Guide to Mastering Travel Photography”

  • Alexandra Lavizzari says:

    Thank you for these great and very useful tips. I fully agree with the author on every point – and do admire her photos, they are wonderful and strongly remind me of the time I lived in Thailand (and unfortunately wasn’t yet interested in photography).

  • Said Hany says:

    Excellent tips. Hope to see more. Thank you.

  • Andrew Tombs says:

    Thank’s Hayley, I’m spending 3 weeks in LA staying with friends,and a few days in San Fransisco. Thanks for the tips, I will travel lighter and pre order the coffee.

  • S ll says:

    Thank you for the tips, I will set my alarm clock earlier next time when I travel.

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