10 practical tips to help you succeed as a travel photographer

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This article was produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

In September 2023, The Masterclasses by National Geographic Traveller (UK) returned with a brand-new series of expert-led online sessions for aspiring travel writers and travel photographers.  

Each hour-long session saw an expert panel of National Geographic Traveller contributors focus on a different aspect of the modern travel photographer’s toolkit, with the likes of Teagen Cunnife, Matt Dutile and Holly-Marie Cato sharing practical advice on everything from picking the right gear to photographing animals in their natural habitats. 

These 10 pieces of advice can help you improve your travel photography, from building your portfolio to using your gear optimally and connecting with your subjects.

1. Plan ahead

“Do your research and get familiar with your own equipment before you travel…Get ahead of the game, pre-visualise and make a plan. When I go to a place that I’m not familiar with, I can start recycling and adapting those ideas to suit the environment.” — Renato Granieri, The art of wildlife photography in travel

2. Maximise your time on a shoot 

“There’s never ever enough time on a shoot. Mostly, though, we only have a day or two, or sometimes just a few hours, to capture animals for a story. Regardless of the weather conditions, I’ll head out and see what surprises me. Getting out and seeing what’s happening around you is the only way to guarantee you’re going to get images. Don’t talk yourself out of shooting just because the weather isn’t perfect.” — Teagen Cunnife, The art of wildlife photography in travel

3. Use local guides to your advantage

“Choose experienced safari guards — they know where the animals will be and can predict behaviour. When you’re choosing a safari operator, pay specific attention to what’s written about the guides on the websites and look for places that have mentioned that their guides are highly awarded or extensively trained. There’s a really big difference between a guide and a guide with photographic knowledge; communicating to a guide who understands composition and lighting is so much easier.” — Teagen Cunnife, The art of wildlife photography in travel

Side view of a photographer with a camera.

Persistency and practice were named ​as top tips for aspiring photographers looking to develop their skills.

Photograph by Getty Images

4. Use kit to connect with your subjects 

“I bring a little Fuji Instax camera with me. And that’s for when I’m going into more remote regions so that I can not only ask for a photo but give one back as well. For me, I’ve found that this opens doors to getting people to sit for portraits. Because, if you’re always just showing up and you’re this guy with this big camera coming up in front of them, there’s a little bit of shyness and reticence. But if you can sit with them and open up a little bit of a dialogue, even if you can’t exchange in the same language, that’s a really great way to get them involved.” — Matt Dutile, Picking the perfect kit for your assignment 

5. Stay safe as a lone traveller  

“I always dress to blend in. For example, what I’m wearing to photograph a high-end restaurant and what I’m wearing to go and photograph agave fields is going to be different. I want to blend in so that I feel comfortable and so that the people around me feel comfortable. There are certain places that you’re going to stand out, but just try to be aware of what’s going on around you.” — Lindsay Lauckner Gundlock, Picking the perfect kit for your assignment 

6. Stay inspired 

“I’ve been doing this for 15 years now, but every week I seem to discover a new photographer that I’ve never heard of. As long as someone’s out there creating amazing images, I’ll always be inspired by that. Another part is looking at art, or a place itself. We are storytellers, so I think you can be inspired by the story of a place, a people, an idea, all on its own.” — Matt Dutile, Picking the perfect kit for your assignment  

7.  Use social media to find contacts

“Go on social media. Often, when people get hired, they might thank the person who gave them the job. So, follow other photographers and look in their captions and actually read who’s hiring them, who did they work with, and then follow those commissioners.” — Holly-Marie Cato, How to go professional 

8. Present your work to photo editors 

“Something that I’ve always done is to create a PDF or something that sort of has a layout that looks like the [finished] article so that the photo editor can kind of get an idea of what your story is. When you do that, you might realise that you don’t have the right photos for a story — and that really teaches you what storytelling is.” — Nori Jemil, How to go professional 

9. Know your destination

I think if you’re especially interested in [photographing] some region of world, it really helps to be there. Spend time there and get to know the local traditions, the language or local culture. That can definitely help when presenting a story.” — Ulf Svane, How to go professional 

10. Shoot with passion

“I’m really strong on finding your niche and making sure you’re passionate about it. I could say “build a portfolio”, but often, and I think especially with Instagram, you could build a portfolio of work that you don’t even like. If you want your work to last, if you want to be able to sell that work and really make people believe in it, then be passionate about what you photograph.” — Holly-Marie Cato, How to go professional

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