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How to Take Travel Photos Without Ruining Your Vacation

cute baby seal

My photographic journey started back in 2012 when circumstances allowed me to escape the corporate life and follow my dream to travel the world. My work is the combination of this new lifestyle and my fascination with nature. I visit and capture World Heritage Sites in hopes that my images will raise awareness for the need to protect and preserve our natural and cultural heritage for future generations.

At the beginning of my journey, I was seeking the classic holiday scenes: romantic dinners at the beach, mid-day walks in national parks, etc. This changed when I switched my camera from ‘Auto’ to ‘Manual’ mode and turned my (and my partner’s) vacation habits upside down. No more relaxation, no more romance. I turned our tranquil moments into photo expeditions. The first few trips were a massive disappointment for both of us. I was stressed, which meant that I was missing out on all the fun. And my partner was angry about me constantly moaning about how nothing matched my ideal vision.

Over the last four years, we’ve worked together on making sure to enjoy our vacations again. The holiday season has just started, and you might find yourself in the same situation I was back then. Whether you’re traveling with your partner, friends, or family, here is what you should know about how to take travel photos without ruining your vacation:

Do your research

The key to success for your photo shoot is advanced planning. This is why you should research your travel destination as much as you can. All the info is out there, so you just need to collect it and select the relevant part for your trip. Check out local photographers’ websites to get some inspiration and browse the most popular tags and locations in the world of social media for photographers.

In addition to scouting for locations, make sure you also find out everything you need to keep in mind, such as places that might not allow cameras or other equipment. For more detailed information, you can ask in online photography forums or get in touch with local photographers. Additionally, there are a number of photo guides available for a small price, that include exact GPS locations, camera gear advice, and more.

Manage your expectations

When it comes to planning, my advice is to write down a list of all locations and shooting options you are interested in. Kind of like a wishlist for the trip. Attach some lovely photographs to it and share it with your travel companion to see what fascinates them most.

Spend some time discussing the options and find a compromise between what each of you wants to do. Focus on a few locations that will result in a handful of great shots. Rushing around trying to cover everything will only result in far too many average images.

Find the perfect accommodation

From my own experience, the place in which you stay during your vacation matters a lot. Getting the desired shots will be so much easier if all you need to do is walk out of your room. This is especially important if you’re after those beautiful sunrise and sunset shots, want to practice some astrophotography, or just don’t have a rental car.

You might also want to look into self-catering locations. These are the ones I usually pick, as you can save money by cooking your own food and your schedule is not limited by strict meal times that are out of your control.

sunrise at matterhorn mountain covered with snow
“Matterhorn Sunrise” Staying at a hotel 3100m above sea level allowed me to sneak out in the dark two hours before sunrise and wait for the magic to happen. I was alone until the moment my partner turned up with fresh hot coffee that saved my life. – National Award Winner Slovakia, Sony World Photography Awards 2018

Choose your equipment wisely

Some painful decisions will need to be made when it comes to choosing which gear and camera accessories to get for your travels. First of all, you don’t want it to drag you down when on a hike or a city stroll. Secondly, you’ll need to take into account your luggage weight limit. And thirdly, there might be some gear limitations set by airlines or countries, so make sure to look into that.

Extra security checks at the airport are expected, especially if you’re traveling with a big camera bag or a drone. Regulations for the latter are very strict. Make sure you have up-to-date information, even for the transit countries.

Take the weather into account

Weather is usually so unpredictable. However, doing some research beforehand can give you a general idea of what to expect during your trip. For most photographers, bad shooting conditions are no more than a photography myth. In fact, they offer some amazing opportunities. Dramatic moving clouds, moody long exposures, beautiful raindrops…

Unfortunately, your travel partner might not be too happy to be left alone on a gloomy day. Be ready to channel your inner Herb Cohen to find an agreement about how you will compensate them for this in the following days.

small puffin under the rain
When you finally get to see the cute puffins, the pouring rain can’t stop you taking pictures of them! Skomer, Wales, UK

Engage your travel companion

We all know the moment when you finally find that mind-blowing composition, the light is just about perfect and then there comes that “are we going yet?”. Following this is the frustration of missing out on the best light, because you promised your partner that you know what you’re doing and it will only be a few shots. To avoid this kind of situations, find a way to include them in your shooting.

Pack a pair of binoculars and send your partner off for wildlife spotting. Show the desired location on a picture and ask for help with scouting. Anything that keeps them busy while you will take your few (hundred) shots. When outdoors, I recommend using a little walkie-talkie. It will allow you to stay in touch without cell coverage or extra roaming fees needed. Plus, it’s a lot of fun!

Don’t forget to set up your tripod and take a few pictures of you two together. Otherwise, you’ll get home only to realize there are no photos of you two together to remember the vacation by.

Fun times at Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, Chile
Fun times at Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, Chile

Make time for fun

When traveling to very distant lands, having some adventure time is an absolute must. It could be planned in advance or just something spontaneous. Flightseeing, snorkeling, paragliding, scenic train rides, boat trips… anything fun! Your travel partner will appreciate it and you’ll get an opportunity to do something different – and perhaps even take some interesting shots.

Personally, I usually plan a trip or two a few days into the vacation, to have a little break from my photographic schedule. Most of the tours start after breakfast, so I can still get some sunrise shots before taking the rest of the day off.

Prepare a Plan B

Sometimes, things don’t work out well. The puffins departed earlier than usual. The beautiful shrine is under reconstruction. There were some damaging landslides in the area and the site is closed. The park opening times have changed and you can’t shoot your desired golden hour shots. Big disappointment!

You could blame yourself and feel bad saying you could have put a little more effort into the planning. However, at this point there’s nothing to do about it. That’s why it’s always good to have a plan B or even a plan C. Take ideas from the wish list you made before the trip or simply ask the locals. There are definitely many hidden gems in every location.

The hotel we were supposed to stay at burnt down shortly before our arrival. We had to find different accommodation miles away from our previous location. This is a spontaneous spot that I picked from my wish list for a sunrise shot – and I was more than happy with my choice! “Cascada del Rio Paine”, Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile – Gold Award, Tokyo International Photo Awards 2017, Advertising -Travel/Tourism

Keep your work safe

Make sure to backup your photos regularly, preferably on two devices. This is an absolute must, as it can prevent the biggest disaster: losing your precious pictures. I create independent folders for each day and add a short description of the location or activity. After a few days of travel, it can get hard to remember which photo was taken where.

Never ever erase your pictures before you make sure they are saved. If you do this on a daily basis, it will be fast, and your companion won’t even notice that you are working on your computer.

Remember it’s your vacation

Take some rest, sleep in, relax and enjoy the time with your travel partner. Don’t get stressed if you were not lucky with the weather or shooting conditions. As long as you’ve taken a few amazing shots and had a great holiday, it’s definitely worth it.

If at the end of your vacation you feel the location has more potential, you can always visit again on a photo expedition!

Make sure to share the results of your vacation on your photography website!

Erika Valkovicova is a freelance photographer based in Prague and member of Our Place World Heritage Photographers. She has won many awards including MIFA Moscow International Photo Awards, TIFA Tokyo International Photo Awards, and Sony World Photography Awards. See her work at

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