Photography Tips for the Ordinary Traveler

Photography Tips for the Ordinary Traveler

By Ariel Newman

Monks in Luang Prabang, Laos. Photos by Ewen Bell
Monks in Luang Prabang, Laos. Photos by Ewen Bell

For me photography and traveling go hand in hand, and just like most travelers, I am no professional photographer. When I look back at all the pictures I have taken of the beautiful places I have been, the pictures can never do those places justice. Although taking photography classes would be really interesting and exciting, it is pretty unrealistic for me.

Photography for Travelers is a website devoted to helping the average photographer get more out of their photography. It is not a technical website for photography students or enthusiasts, but a rich supply of ideas and useful information on how to enhance the quality your travel photos.

Photography for Travellers was developed by a travel journalist named Ewen Bell. Bell has been a photographer since 1990. In 2007, he was named the Travel Photographer of the Year by the Australian Society of Travel Writers and he has years of experience in all aspects of photography including scientific, commercial, travel and personal work.

His work is regularly published in national publications all across Australia, international in-flight magazines and global travel brochures.

With an impressive resume like that, why run a free website that gives away all his secrets?

“I decided a long time ago that I wanted to make a positive difference to the world.” Bell says. “As a travel journalist I have some opportunity to share my opinions but I rarely get a chance to tell it like it is. Not to the extent I want. This site gives me a chance to share with the world some of the insights I have gained into travel, and what destinations are really worth going that extra mile to photograph.”

I was quite surprised at how useful the website is for the average traveler. There are articles on how to find and shoot specific locations like Shanghai and Angkor Wat, reviews on equipment and other photography websites, and articles to help you plan your next journey.

Shooting from tuktuks in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Shooting from tuktuks in Siem Reap, Cambodia

The websites was easy to navigate and enjoyable to look through. The articles are easy to read and really informative. I’ve compiled a list of the top three tips that I’ve found the most interesting and helpful:

Get Closer:

“‘Get closer’ is one of those simple pieces of advice that need very little packaging. I’m giving credit for this nugget of truth to Andrew Wuttke, a commercial photographer in Australia who is talented, passionate and well grounded.

“Sitting down at a cafe in Melbourne I told him about my plans to design photography tours, and with a half expired cigarette in one hand and caffeine hit in the other he offered this advice – ‘Get closer. That’s all you need to tell them. It’s the easiest way to make a photo better; it’ll make anyone’s photo better. Just get closer.’

“What I discovered on my learning curve of travel photography was that getting up close to the subject changed the perspectives for your composition, opening up entirely new possibilities for expression.

Angkor Thom at sunset
Angkor Thom at sunset

“Take a morning market, for example, where vendors line up with their fresh produce and shoppers mill through the narrow lanes. Standing back from the action prevents me from being able to isolate one subject over another.

“If I walk into the laneways I can shoot with a wide lens and make vendors or buyers detailed primary subjects. I still get the depth of bustle and colour from the rest of the market into my composition, but my intimate subjects in the foreground are clearly the point of the shot.

“And there is still flexibility in being up close. If I wanted a simpler image in that market, say a portrait of the vendor with a limited depth of field, I could swap to my standard lens, set the minimum F-stop and keep shooting. I’m not missing out by getting in there.

“When you get up close your subject becomes aware of you and the camera, you ask for consent to take photos, and the connection between photographer and the subject can evolve.

“In some cases the subtle moment of a scene will be erased by your presence, but in some cases a pallid ambiance is enlivened with the excitement of photographic interest.”

Angor Wat at sunrise
Angor Wat at sunrise

[GoNOMAD writer/photographer Paul Shoul’s has an interesting article on the importance of asking your subjects for permission to photograph them.]

Go Slow:

To take better pictures, Bell says, it’s important to take your time.

“As travelers we have a decision to make, whether we want to take the time to immerse ourselves in new experiences or just tick destinations off a list. Photography is no different.

“It seems obvious that independent travel will present the best opportunities for the camera, but there’s more to it than that. Slowing down your travel itinerary is one step, but the same effect happens when you physically slow yourself down as well.

“Walking from one part of a city to the other will give you new and unforeseen insights to photograph that you wont have seen if you took the bus across town. Just compare trying to shoot a village scene by hiking up the mountain, compared to pointing a camera out the window of a train as it speeds past the landscape.

“Slow is good.

“Observantly meandering through a section of crowded market, instead of rushing through to see the whole complex, will give you a chance to appreciate the unique charms on offer and tune in to the photographic inspiration. Having enough time in your itinerary to enjoy a relaxed pace also encourages you to make those all important connections, with people or the atmosphere, that lead you deeper into the narrative of your photography.”

Getting closer in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Getting closer in Siem Reap, Cambodia


“One way to improve your photography is to study the work of other photographers. Another way is to study your own. Rummaging through the collected works of master photographers is not an exercise in distilling the essence of someone else’s work, but a chance to learn new ways to express yourself.

“Sitting down with a luscious book of images published by a master photographer is always good food for the soul, and the mind.

“My family has given up trying to buy me innovative presents for Christmas; they know I simply want a lovely book of images so I can absorb some new ideas. Each time you glance at a photo that speaks with a voice, that speaks to you especially, your brain makes a note of it.

“Somewhere in the mind a part of that image is connected to all the other images, then filed purposefully to be recalled at a later date and influence your own creative expression. Photographers by nature are visual creatures who absorb what they see – we learn through example.

“There is a danger in focusing too much on specific images or techniques that belong to other photographers. You don’t want to end up shooting to a formula or simply recomposing another persons interpretation. But you also need to expand your horizons and take inspiration from beyond your current field of view.

“Elliot Erwitt suggests to go beyond just the art of photography for your research, ‘…Explore anything visual because this is, after all, how you express your artistry. Look at paintings, movies, drawings, sculptures – look at anything visual and try to integrate that into your visual sense.'”

For more tips and inspiration on how to develop your photographic creativity, check out

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