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How To Take Professional-Level Travel Pictures

Vacation memories are an important part of remembering where you have traveled to. It is almost every traveler's dream to shoot vacation photos that look like they were torn out of a National Geographic magazine. Of course, you can do a quick point-and-shoot of something that captures your eye, but wouldn't it be nice to have those memories look good enough to frame and hang on the wall?

Gary Arndt, SATW and NATJA Travel Photographer of the Year, has the experience and understanding of what is needed to shoot breathtaking travel photos. He has taken the time to share some of his experiences and offers tips to help amateur photographers shoot amazing travel photos that look as if they were taken by a professional photographer. It does not matter if you are climbing the Himalayas or going to Disney with the family. These tips will help you shoot magazine cover-quality photographs.

Photo Credit: Gary Arndt

Having the right pieces of equipment with you can mean the difference between travel photos that are just okay and those that are award-winning quality. However, taking along the best pieces of equipment may not always be the best option. Travel restrictions, portability and weight of the equipment can sometimes make it difficult to take the best of the best in camera equipment along with you.

"Because I travel full-time, I can't carry around a lot of camera gear," Arndt said. "As such, I'm usually thinking of the minimum amount I need to get the job done, not what would be perfect."


Before going on vacation, learn about the area. Study everything there is to know, including special landmarks, important monuments, buildings with unique architectural features and natural areas. It is also a good idea to learn about the country and the local culture. All of these will help you find the perfect backdrops, unique people to photograph and a better understanding of where the photographic hot spots are.

Keep in mind that shooting landscapes is very different from shooting portraits. You are forced to rely on weather conditions and the time of day and year. "You can't illuminate a mountain, nor can you move it," Arndt said about the difference between shooting portraits and landscapes. He said with portraits you can move and post your subjects, as well as use artificial lighting and reflectors as needed.

Photo Credit: Gary Arndt

Everything from the time of day to different weather conditions can have a huge impact on the look of a photograph. Clouds, rain and available daylight all have an impact on the clarity and dramatic feel of travel photos. If you are looking to shoot photographs with high levels of clarity, Arndt suggests to shoot when there is very low amounts of humidity in the air. This will cut down on the haze and make it possible to see further into the distance.

"That being said, you don't always want clarity," he continued. "Just a few weeks ago I was in Meteora, Greece. The first day the skies were overcast and conditions were okay at best. The next day, the clouds were even lower, but conditions were better because it made everything more dramatic."

Related: 9 Professional Tips for Taking Insane Adventure Photographs


Many times when traveling, you want to hurry up and capture the photo as quickly as possible. Taking your time to compose your photograph can make a huge difference in the outcome, especially when you conduct a little bit of editing before printing, posting or publishing it.

"The biggest thing is to take time to compose your photos properly and then do some minor editing of the photo once you've taken it," Arndt suggested. "Even when I use a smartphone, I always adjust things like exposure and contrast before publishing it. Cameras aren't perfect and you need to adjust your photos to make them their best."

Speaking of smartphones. They are very different from SLR and other digital cameras. However, that does not mean you cannot take amazing travel photos using one. Arndt said the principal behind taking a great photos is the same on both. "Composing the image is exactly the same," he said. "Be aware of lighting conditions, and as I mentioned above, take the time to edit your images."

Photo Credit: Gary Arndt

When shooting travel photos, look for subjects that catch you eye. This is different for each photographer and can include everything from background to lighting and a unique building to how someone is dressed. Arndt said any number of things can catch his eye when choosing to shoot a photograph.

"The way the light strikes something, the expression on someone's face or the juxtaposition of something and its environment," he continued, "you know it when you see it."

Related: How to Take Better Travel Photos


Over the years, Arndt has visited all seven continents and has found some to be more photogenic that others. When asked, he said there are many photogenic locations, but the following would be included on his short list of destinations:

  • Antelope Canyon, Arizona
  • The Namib Desert, Namibia
  • The Old City of Jerusalem
  • Banff and Jasper National Parks, Alberta
  • South Georgia Island

Before going on vacation, learn about the area. Study everything there is to know, including special landmarks, important monuments, buildings with unique architectural features and natural areas. All of these will help you find the perfect backdrops, unique people and give you a better understanding of where the photographic hot spots are. Also, keep an open mind while traveling, because many unexpected photographic opportunities will come your way.

Arndt does a combination of planning before leaving and discovering things once he arrives at a destination. "I'll do a Google search to see what images people have taken from a place previously," he said. "In the end however, you have to shoot under the conditions and circumstances you encounter once you are there."

About Arndt

Back in 2007, Arndt sold his house so he could travel around the world. His plans originally included only a year or two of travel, but as of today, it has turned into eight. In the beginning, he knew nothing about photography, but has learned along the way through shooting thousands of bad photographs. Learning from is bad photographs, Arndt has been improving his photographic talents along the way.

"Being on the road was probably one of the best educations you could have for becoming a photographer," he said.

Arndt was chosen as the SATW Muster Award during an annual competition for travel photographers. To enter, he had to submit a portfolio of 20 images that were taken within the last two years. The top portfolio is determined by a panel of judges.

Arndt was selected last year to be the NATJA Travel Photographer of the Year after submitting his photo essay of Haida Gwaii in British Columbia.

The next time you plan to travel, remember the advice from an award-winning travel photographer like Arndt. Through some trial and error of your own, you too will be taking amazing travel photographs before you know it. No matter what you do, be creative and have fun with your travel photographs.

Heather Landon is a freelance writer with more than 20 years of experience. She has combined two of her passions - writing and travel - to share her experiences with others. You can read more of her articles at

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