10 Quick Tips for Totally Cool Travel Photos

Rick Sammon

When I tell people that I have photographed in more than 100 countries, they say, “Rick, you sure are a lucky guy.” Well, that is a true statement. But the following statement is also true: “The harder I work, the luckier I become.”

When it comes to travel photography, which of course is a lot of fun, hard work pays off. In this article I’ll share with you some tips to help you create great travel images while you are working hard and having fun—illustrated with some of my Canon 5Ds images taken during my August 2016 workshop in Mt. Rainier National Park. All of the photographs, except #9, were taken with my Canon 17-40mm lens (my favorite landscape photography lens) and my Canon 24-105mm lens. I used my Canon 70-300mm lens for image #9. The idea here: You don’t need a ton of lenses to get a ton of good photographs.

Okay, on to the tips!


1) Always – always – have your camera and a selection of lenses handy—and be ready to shoot. Fast. This photograph of a lenticular cloud is one of my favorites from my Mt. Rainier trip. I took it in the parking lot of the hotel as I walked out the door early one morning.


2) You snooze, you lose. Put another way, you can sleep when you are dead. To catch the best light, you need to be on site about an hour before sunrise and stay out until about an hour after sunset. Pack a headlamp so you can work your gear hands free.


3) Always pack an ND (neutral density) filter. In bright light, you’ll need it to reduce the light entering your camera so you can use slow shutter speeds to blur moving water.


4) Get it all in focus. In landscape photography, you want the scene to look as it looks to your eyes: Everything in the scene is in focus. To achieve maximum depth-of-field, use a small aperture (f/16), wide-angle lens (the wider the better), and focus one-third into the scene.


5) Use the “one shot” technique. Before you take a picture, ask yourself, “If I could only take one picture, what would it be?” Do that, my friend, and I promise you that you will get a higher percentage of creative images.


6) Remember that the most important element in a travel photograph is the mood of the scene. Sure, HDR (High Dynamic Range) is great and can produce some amazing images. But keep in mind these proven photo adages: Light illuminates, shadows define; shadows are the soul of the photograph.


7) Think like a painter. When composing a scene, if you think like a painter—that is, only include in the frame the elements that help you tell your story—you will get more creative images. And remember that cropping gives you a second change at composition.


8) Use plug-ins to help you awaken the artist within. Here I used the Van Gogh filter in Topaz Impression to add a painterly look to a scene that was both picture-perfect and painter-perfect.


9) All of the previous images illustrate a proven composition technique: The name of the game is to fill the frame. In other words, each shot is tightly composed. This photograph illustrates negative (empty) space, which can be useful for magazine art directors to use as cover shots.


10) Quick memory card tips:

  1. If your camera has two card slots, use both, so you have a backup.
  2. Don’t go to sleep, no matter how tired you are, until you have downloaded, picked your favorites from the day, and saved your images in two places—before you format your cards. When travelling, you do not want to get behind in your downloading and processing.
  3. On that topic: Always have lots of memory cards on hand, even if you travel with a back-up hard drive or drives. It’s not impossible that a hard drive or your computer could crash. If that does happen, you can keep the images on your cards and download when you get home.

Okay, my friend, now it’s your turn to go out and make, not just take, great travel photographs.