iphone photos

Taking breathtakingly beautiful, elegantly framed travel photos is the norm right now, but there are so many myths about what you need (and don’t need) to take those striking images!

For example, you don’t need a fancy camera, but you do need to know how to edit. You don’t need to have someone take photos of you, but you do need to know how to frame and some very basic lighting rules. So, how do the rest of us who are not top travel photographers end up with those incredible shots in far off, magical-looking lands? Of iconic skylines, landmarks and natural wonders?

There are definitely secrets to all of these things and I will share a few of my favorites here:

1. It’s not the camera that counts.

It’s how you use what you are shooting with. I love travel and I love photography, so a few years ago I bought a big pricey camera. And I never use it. I am not a professional photographer and learned early on that I can get incredible shots simply by using my iPhone or a camera that fits in my pocket. If you really want to learn how to shoot on a great camera, then go for it. But it’s not necessary to get beautiful pictures. Don’t feel limited by the equipment you have. Work with what you’ve got!

2. Frame it right.

Framing is so important and is what draws you to certain photos over others. It’s also what makes certain photos trend faster or go viral, whether you realize it or not. The most well-known framing rule is the “Rule of Thirds” and if you master this it will transform your shots. The basic idea is to divide up the frame into three equal parts and then position your subject – whether it’s a person, an object or a landmark – in either the left or right hand third, leaving the middle third open. This simple rule immediately elevates the image, drawing the eye in a far more interesting way. However – once you master this, you can break the rule! Some of the best shots have the focus in the center but those are often exceptions.

3. Stage it.

Sometimes to capture an amazing photo you need to create it yourself.  For example, I was on a beach in the Bahamas at sunset and loved the way a white shell was tumbling in the waves. I was watching it roll back and forth on the white sand and, while it looked beautiful, it was impossible to capture in a photo because it kept getting swept out to sea. So, I picked up the shell, placed it in the ocean foam near the shore where it wouldn’t get pulled away, crouched super low and got the perfect “natural shot” I’d been struggling to get before. The perfect shot takes time. Don’t be afraid to get creative with the staging and be patient, too.

travel photos
Image via Beth Doane

4. Use gadgets.

Gadgets are so helpful and they are not expensive. If you shoot on your phone, then research different camera attachments like wide-angle lenses and macro lenses that simply clip over the lens. It’s amazing the difference it can make. For great photos of yourself, avoid the arm-out selfie at all costs. Instead ask a friend to photograph you or use a remote control and a tripod.

5. Learn lighting.

To create the best atmosphere in your photos, you have to know the best times of day to shoot. To keep it super simple – the very best times to shoot are in the very early morning just after sunrise and what’s known as “Magic Hour,” just before the sun sets. This quality of light is truly the greatest gift to the seeker of Instagram beauty! Other lighting tips to keep in mind are to avoid shooting into direct sunlight because it can create lens flare and silhouette your subjects (not in a good way) and when light is directly above your subject it can create shadows that are not flattering to people or to things.

6. Be wild.

You have to be willing to be a little wild to get wildly amazing shots! I got one of my best shots ever on a trip to Ireland by pulling over on the side of the road after a thunderstorm and climbing down into a ravine where I was covered in mud and Irish thistles, but it was worth it! Don’t be afraid to shoot images from moving cars (as long as you’re the passenger…), or buses or trains and to pull over, climb on things, or under things to get that photo. And – if it’s a moving image and you are using your phone, then shoot in bursts! But please be careful and safe at all times! Photos are never worth risking injury or worse.

getting travel shots
Image via Tess Guinery

7. Look up.

Some of the best shots come from above. Always look up, especially when traveling, because in older cities that’s where so much of the great architecture is! Seek out angles that others normally don’t. Consider capturing the artistry of repetitive patterns in things like roof tiles, railings, and balconies. A change of perspective can open up a whole new world.

8. Remember inspiration.

Your photos should convey moments that moved you. They should represent what you felt about a person, a landscape, a season, a sunset or a country. Photos can tell so many stories and the best ones make us think about life in new ways. They make us truly feel and connect to our humanity. When we think about images that go viral they are often ones that tell a story without a single world. Those are the kind of photos you can look for every single day. Remember, to get truly powerful photos take your camera to a place or use with a person or a thing that inspires you.

Photos can tell so many stories and the best ones make us think about life in new ways. They make us truly feel and connect to our humanity.

9. Edit stylishly.

Editing is often what makes a photo really stand out. It’s where you get to be an artist and create your own style! Make a conscious decision to edit all your photos in brilliant colors, or all in black and white, or a muted and soft watercolor theme – whatever expresses your creative vision most strongly. Themes win every time because people want to feel part of your art and your story! I love Lightroom by Adobe and Unum. Both have great versatility and are highly regarded.

10. Practice.

Perhaps the most important of all. My friend Emily is an incredible professional photographer and photojournalist and we were just on assignment in the Middle East. She told me how she still spends hours practicing her photography and that all good photographers do the same. Set a goal for yourself to create one shot a day that you love and be sure to shoot wherever you go. Find beauty where you least expect it! I take photos everywhere, not just while traveling: While walking the dog, doing laundry or shopping at the grocery store. Uncover the beauty around you.

What kinds of travel photos do you relate to the most?

Featured Image via Becca Tapert


  1. I’ve just realized most of my photos were taken during traveling. And only a few pics from my charming home city of Lviv. You’re right about uncovering the beauty around us. From now on I promise to be more attentive to the world that surrounds me every day. Thanks for the inspiration.

  2. I love taking lots of pictures on trips and vacations but I don’t really know much about photography. These tips and tricks really helped!

  3. Great article and wonderful tips! The story behind the photo is often more important than the photo itself, so that is always something that I try to remember when I’m shooting. Just as a side note – “magic hour” is actually the time of day AFTER the sun has set (or before the sun has risen) when there is still light in the sky. It’s very soft light that provides zero shadows since there’s no harsh source, so photographers have coined it “magic hour”. The period of time just before the sun sets is known as “golden hour” because of the golden hues of the sun and it takes on a different quality of light than the harsh mid-day sun. The easiest way to think of it is the “golden hour” has a feeling of warmth and “magic hour” has cooler tones like blue and purple. Hope that helps 🙂

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