Travel Photo Tips From the Masters

Who doesn’t want to be a travel photographer and earn their keep by exploring the world and capturing its essence for the rest of us to see? I know I do.

I was lucky enough to sit in on one of Traveler‘s photo seminars, led by award-winning photographer Jim Richardson and the magazine’s director of photography, Dan Westergren.

Even though I am immersed in the wonderful world of travel every day as part of Traveler‘s digital team, I discovered I had a lot to learn when it came to taking magazine-worthy photographs.

Though Jim and Dan believe in the importance of technique, they stressed that “the secret is in how you look at the world, not in how you turn the dials on the camera.”

“Interesting content trumps interesting technique every time,” they said. Half the effort is getting there.

Here are a few tips from the masters on how to get in the right frame of mind when you’re making pictures in the world:

Be comfortable with your camera and yourself: Don’t broadcast self-doubt. Learn your camera. If you are comfortable with your equipment, you can focus on relating to your subjects. Your confidence in yourself will instill confidence in them.

Tune in to the local frequency: Get a feel for accepted norms and expectations wherever you are. Adjust your manners to local custom. Find the local bulletin boards or chat up a store owner. Find out what’s going on, where, and how to get in on it.

Dress appropriately: Fit in with the social scene. Wear a costume if you’re shooting at Mardi Gras. Dress for church if you are going to church. It is one of the most visible ways to show respect for local sensibilities.

See the good in bad weather: It’s a cliche, but it’s true—rain, snow, and fog transform the world and lend it a unique mood and beauty. But make sure to go prepared: a simple baggie works wonders for keeping a camera dry.

Move in close and make friends: Don’t act like a spy. Put away the telephoto lens and become part of the moment. Successful pictures of people are almost never achieved from across the street.

Try the local food: Share a snack or a meal, but also share the customs. Seasoned National Geographic photographers have a rule: take at least one bite.

Understand the social contract: Your subjects are giving of themselves, and you are getting. Don’t abuse their gift. Build a relationship with a person first, even if it’s for 30 seconds, and then take the picture.

Challenge yourself to see things differently: Get in the middle of things. Climb up on top of something for a different view. “Dance around a tea cup”—find a scene that appeals to you and photography it from every conceivable angle.

Give yourself an assignment: If you have a reason for taking the pictures, you’ll feel more comfortable and your subjects may enjoy contributing to something worthwhile. Giving yourself an assignment may contribute some valuable focus to your endeavors.

And, last but not least, try, try, try: Shoot one good picture. Then find another way to shoot the same scene. Then find yet another way. Dan Westergren claims three times is a charm.

Want more? Attend one of National Geographic Traveler‘s photography workshops on Creativity with LightMastering Travel PhotographyNature & Landscape, and People & Places

Learn more about our photography seminar series >>

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  1. Gipsy
    March 19, 2014, 10:15 pm

    Thanks for a wonderful magazine and photo pages, photography tips and advice from the masters. I’m a total addict!

  2. Shamalka
    Colombo, Sri Lanka
    June 3, 2013, 12:59 am

    I’m an amateur and do not even have a professional camera with me. But one day I’m dreaming to become a nature photographer. Not as profession. But simply because my love with the amazingly beautiful nature. Next to human being, there’s nothing prettier than the nature. Thank you NG for your marvelous work to share the beauty of this beautiful mother nature. I really appreciate and honor your efforts. All the very best!

  3. Kathleen Marshall
    Bainbridge Island, Washington
    May 23, 2013, 7:41 pm

    From the travel writing and photography classes I have taken The answer may be yes or no. If it is editorial photography the answer may be no although it wouldn’t hurt. For Stock photography work the answer is definitely a yes, you must have a release. That means even if it’s a back shot of someone walking by, specific buildings have a copywrite and you can’t photograph them and sell the picture etc. It’s rather complicated to say the least!

  4. Paul Stanley
    Silver City, NM and Kino Bay, Sonora, Mexico
    April 13, 2013, 10:30 pm

    I have the chance to take pic’s of people in a lot af places in Mex especially, since I travel every year to various locations. I have logged over 25000 miles in Mexico, with over 3000pics.
    I have a question, when I take people pictures do I need to get a release to use the pictures for my photo shop ventures or to submit to contests in National Geographic and sale of.
    I always give them money or something I have in return.

    Nomad World
    March 30, 2013, 7:51 am

    Shooting at people it’s always a compromise, because building a relation means to take a “fake” picture, while shooting aross the road can be more natural, but it has his limitations

  6. Anton
    March 20, 2013, 1:08 am

    I do not have opportunity to attend NG training programs, but expert information which your web site provides is helping me lot.
    Thank you NG team.

  7. anand anikode
    Hyderabad, india
    January 9, 2013, 11:34 pm

    photographers like us wish to be a part of the greatest institution like yours …. which gives boost to do much more in this beautiful field.

    anand anikode ( Travel Photographer ) …. my website ANIKODE.COM

  8. Эльмар
    January 3, 2013, 5:31 pm

    я считаю что он отлиный мужик!

  9. Vibha
    November 25, 2012, 9:00 am

    It would be great if you could have online open forums promoting some sort of a dialogue with your talented photographers. I blog at and could do with help in taking better travel pictures. Thanks.

  10. Soumen Nath
    October 9, 2012, 12:36 pm

    I cant afford to attend a Nat Geo workshop. But such advise from time to time from your great masters helps me a lot. Thanks for the tips and advise.