10 Travel Photography Mistakes to Avoid

Travel photography is easy especially if you know how to avoid these common travel photography mistakes.

10 Travel Photography Mistakes to Avoid

I have always been fascinated with photography. Like many of us, I first tried my hands at taking pictures with Panorama 35 mm Film Camera. Now it feels like ages ago, but that experience changed my world forever. Ever since that time a camera has always been my constant travel companion. Getting the camera also marked the beginning of my travel photography mistakes. Fast forward good ten-fifteen years and I got my first DSLR camera. Around that time I started traveling more and capturing new places, new experiences on my new camera. This time I managed to make even more travel photography mistakes. And although I’ve been taking travel pictures for years now, these 10 travel photography mistakes still slide in from time to time.


1. Relying on Auto Mode

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From my first travel photography mistakes, relying on auto mode was by far the biggest one. It was easy to use, and the pictures seem to be quite ok. So, for a year or so I stuck solely to auto mode. The waking point happened when shooting sunset at Joshua Tree National Park. I had my new DSLR camera, which I was proud of, but the pictures were nowhere perfect. In fact, they turned out to be rather pale, overexposed, and lost all the colors. 

I felt sick to my stomach when I saw images of that same sunset on my husband’s iPhone. They were as close to the reality as it was only possible. I knew right there, it was time to say goodbye to auto mode and one of the most common travel photography mistakes. It took me a few more months to take complete control of my photography with manual mode. I still use auto mode from time to time mostly to compare the photos taken with the different camera modes.

2. High ISO

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Overusing ISO was one of my most regretful travel photography mistakes. A bit of ISO is good. The ISO over 300-400 can add more noise to your travel pictures. Simple like that. However, during my latest big trips to Ireland and the Netherlands, I didn’t have too much time to play around with my camera settings. Instead of lowering the ISO to 100, I accidentally switched it to auto. It’s one of the biggest travel photography mistakes especially when shooting in low light. As a rule of thumb, the higher ISO, the more noise you get. Keeping your ISO below 400 barely impacts your travel photography. The ideal number, though, is 100 for the noise-free pictures.

3. Not Using Tripod

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Photo by Yash Prajapati

If I need to name just one thing I’ve learned from my travel photography mistakes is would be using a tripod. It’s a must-have tool for your travel photography even when you travel with somebody who can take pictures of you.

Most of the time I travel with my husband, and I’m pretty comfortable posing in front of him. But this guy simply can’t keep the camera straight. His hands seem to always shake a bit. It’s impossible to notice with your bare eyes. But these tiny hand movements are more than enough for the camera to register. And as expected, majority of pictures he takes of me are out of focus. To give you a better picture, out of 100 photos taken by him, roughly 80-85 lack sharpness. Thus, my biggest advice, always use the tripod to eliminate the blurry pictures and avoid the travel photography mistakes that come with them.

4. Not Checking Your Camera Settings

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Remember, my pictures from Ireland and the Netherlands? They had lots of grain. Yes, the ISO was high. And yes, I failed to double-check my camera settings, which was one of biggest travel photography mistakes during that trip. The worse thing I didn’t have another chance to go back to that place the next day to retake the pictures. 

5. Not Giving Enough Instructions

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Assuming that people understand that the purse you just took off your shoulder and put aside is not supposed to be in the frame is easily one of the most common travel photography mistakes. You and the person taking picture of you have different understanding of the photography. When you strive to have as few people in your travel pictures as possible, the other person might see the crowds as part of his or her travel experiences. Thus, in order to avoid these obvious travel photography mistakes, please do instruct the people how you want your photos to be.

6. Not Taking Enough Photos

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I wish, I took more pictures during my visit to Marrakech. Fearing some disapproval and resentment from locals, I was rather shy with my camera. Looking back, I regret not taking more photos of the locals. How awesome it’d be to go though my travel photos, depicting more of Marrakech’s lifestyle.

7. Failure to Make Contact with Locals and Other Travelers

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How can this lead to the travel photography mistakes? Very easily. If you focus on documenting the locals and their lifestyle in your travel photography, you need to see more real, non-touristy places. And who is better to accommodate you with this task than not the locals? But guess what, nobody is going to help you just because you carry a big camera. You need to make new friend among the local population. Even to take a portrait of the friendliest merchant in the souks of the Medina Marrakech, you need to ask for permission. People might get upset if you take pictures of them without asking first. On the other hand, hesitating to ask strangers to take pictures of you can leave you with some “impersonal” travel images.

8. Shooting Only in JPEG

I’m guilty of doing it for a long time. Call it one of my “favorite” travel photography mistakes. JPEG is, in no way, bad, but shooting in RAW is essential, especially if you edit your travel photos afterwards. RAW is file format that captures all image data, and since the importation is not compressed, you’re able to produce the higher quality images. To open your RAW images, though, you need to use different programs such as Photoshop, etc.

Shooting in JPEG or RAW is honestly a matter of taste and how comfortable you’re with editing your photos. I prefer to shoot in both RAW and JPEG. This way, I keep all the details of the images and have instant access to my photos if I need it.

9. Keeping Your Aperture High

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Photo by Math

The higher aperture, the sharper your photos, right? Wrong. And it might be the most confusing travel photography mistake ever. Ironically, the sharpest aperture of your lens, also known as the sweet spot, is located two to three f/stops from the widest aperture. Thus, the sharpest aperture is somewhere between f/8 and f/11. This travel photography mistake cost me many not particularly sharp photos.

10. Failure to Arrive before the Crowds

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This belongs to the most familiar travel photography mistakes, and yet, we still make it. Sleeping in sounds good, but it can cost a lot when you have only one chance at that particular destination. In order to succeed at the travel photography, you might want to build a few new habits. Waking up early, like really early, sometimes before sunrise, might be one of them.

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