How To Take The Most Enviable Holiday Snaps

8 December 2016
Read Time: 7.3 mins

We all follow wanderlust-inducing travel photographers on Instagram and wish, or wonder how we could make our photos look that good. Well truth be told, there are a few simple rules you can work by that can greatly improve the calibre of your own shots. A guidebook of sorts for taking better travel photos, even when you’re using a Smartphone. Here are twelve tips to get you well on your way to taking the best travel photos you can.

Research Before You Go

This is probably the most important thing to do to get the best photos you can. Look online for where the best vistas are, the tourist hot spots and where else you can go to get shots away from the crowds. It’s also a good idea to read blogs about the locations you’re going to and the best time of day to photograph certain landmarks.

mount wellington sunrise hobart Heading up to Mount Wellington at sunrise was the perfect time to take photos there, with Hobart below, covered in hazy morning light. (Image: Jacques Van As)

Rule Of Thirds And Leading Lines

These are the first rules of photography to learn. Divide your frame into thirds and put your main object on the interception lines. To make it easy, your phone camera can do this for you (on an iPhone under Settings, Photos & Camera, tap the button beside Grid to turn it on. On an Android it’s an option under the Tools menu in the camera app.)

When photographing always look for natural lines that draw the eye into the subject, such as a road leading to a mountain or light drawing into a focal point. This is called a leading line and adds drama and impact to the shot.

sydney surfers sunrise This image of surfers in Sydney very clearly shows the rule of thirds vertically, with the sand, the ocean and the sky equal thirds. (Image: Vicki Fletcher)

Focus And Depth Of Field

It might sound obvious, but it’s easy to mess up: whatever you’re taking a photo of, this object should be in focus. Smartphones generally have poor depth of field too, which means you need to be creative about framing your shots. A good trick is to get low to the ground when photographing a landscape, which gives an interesting foreground and perspective.

girl and mountains Focusing on the girl in this photo rather than the view gives a sense of the scale of the mountains and a feeling of being there. (Image: Jacques Van As)

Put Someone In The Scene

I’m not talking about posing with smiling faces in front of the location. Instead take a photo of a friend, or get someone to photograph you enjoying the view or experiencing the location instead. This gives ambiance and hints at what a good time you’re having being there. Plus landscapes always look better with people in them.

girl in front of uluru This photograph is not the typical shot you often see of Uluru, yet with the girl in the frame, it still gives the sense of scale of the rock and a feeling of being there yourself. (Image: Vicki Fletcher)

Look For Daily Life

Good travel photography shows a snapshot of a culture, a city, a way of living. Capturing people going about their daily business, typical streets and other interesting, but regular things you see.

tokyo street This photo immediately takes me back to Japan, with the colours, buildings and winter light. The guy at the vending machine just in the shadows is typically Japanese, as so many things are paid for via vending machines. This to me is a glimpse of daily life in a Tokyo neighbourhood. (Image: Vicki Fletcher)

Do Subtle Edits

When editing look at the tonal contrast to enhance the brightest or darkest sections of the photo, look at how dark or light you want the shadows to be, and the contrast. Photos that have a high impact are often quite simple with one striking focal point, such as a person in a large landscape or a bay at the base of mountains. So don’t go overboard trying to enhance all of your shadows and clouds and things or it becomes too busy and can (surprisingly) look too washed out despite all of the details. Edit your photo, then go back at reduce your adjustments by 50% and you should land on a good result.

surfer bondi morning The surfer in this photo perfectly shows the scale and stillness of Bondi Beach at first light. (Image: Vicki Fletcher)

Use An Editing App On Your Smartphone

There are heaps of excellent editing apps you can download for free or a small fee. The Adobe Photoshop Express, Snapseed and Litely apps are all good choices for editing your photos to make them look more professional.

brisbane bridge sunset This phone I quickly snapped on my iphone and then edited using the Snapseed app to enhance the sunset colours. (Image: Vicki Fletcher)

Get Action By Shooting In Burst Mode

Most Smartphones have a burst mode, allowing you to shoot multiple photos quickly, freezing the action. When driving along in a vehicle for example, you can do this to capture the scenery passing by. It doesn’t always work, but often you will get a great shot or two that you can use. This feature is also useful when animals or people are moving quickly, such as jumping in front of monuments.

girl on beach Shooting in burst mode allows you to freeze movement, which is important for injecting life into a photo. (Image: Vicki Fletcher)

Go Further

When visiting national parks and popular sites expect lookouts to be packed. The key to getting better photos than anyone else there is to venture further. If hiking, look for a slightly different route to take or a higher lookout to get to for better, and more likely human-free photos. At monuments look for a different side for a new perspective to shoot it from. Explore further than anyone else and your photos will reflect this.

freycenet national park man standing on rock This photo was taken from the top of Mount Amos in Freycenet National Park. The main attraction here is Wineglass Bay, which most visitors view from the main lookout. We opted to climb the adjacent mountain to get away from the crowds and were rewarded with uninterrupted views across the whole national park, sans other people. (Image: Vicki Fletcher)

Crop Don’t Zoom

Zooming in, particularly on your phone will greatly decrease the quality of the image. Rather take the photo and then crop it in an editing app to only include the section that you want. This also give you more options when you look at the photo for a second time, when often I change my mind about the shape or area I want to include because I am removed from the subject and have a better perspective on the photo.

sydney skyline sunset This photo was originally much larger, however I cropped it to only frame the city skyline. As Sydney's skyline is quite iconic, it's quickly recognisable as such and gives the photo more impact as there are not too many elements thrown in together. (Image: Vicki Fletcher)

Capture The Small Details

Patterned tiles or on walls, lines in architecture, plants, movement of water, food – travel is enhanced greatly by the small details. Capturing these along with larger landscape and people shots gives a well-rounded image of the destination and, if you’re sharing on Instagram, gives a well rounded display on your page.

girls shoes and socks standing at crossing I took this photo in Tokyo while waiting at a city crossing. I think it perfectly captures a subtle but very common fashion subculture that to me is immediately recognisable as Japanese, without showing very much at all.. (Image: Getty)

Golden Hour Is Always Best

It can be difficult rising early when you’re travelling but sunrise is the best time to photograph. The light is soft and pretty, city streets are empty and people have a golden glow. If you’re not a morning person sunset is also good, however you’re likely to come across more crowds at this time.

mona vale pool sydney sunrise Sunrise and sunset make for the most dramatic colours and shadows, especially when capturing large landscapes. (Image: Vicki Fletcher)

Finally, Don’t Share Everything

It’s very tempting to snap and share every moment of your travels, but believe me, the more you do, the less impact your shots have. If you want to show what an amazing holiday you’re having, only share the best photos, you’re Instagram feed will look more like a travel photographer’s too!

To cure your case of wanderlust and get your travel photography on, head to your local Flight Centre store or call 131 600 for  the latest deals around the globe.


Vicki Fletcher

A writer and photographer for Flight Centre, Vicki loves road trips down unknown tracks, hiking into mountain ranges, following locals to the best food in town, and spending long afternoons people watching in city squares. She's written for publications across Australia and Europe. Top travel tip: always look up. Follow Vicki on Instagram @vickijanefletcher.