03 December 2015

Embracing the challenges of travel photography

When you go on holiday to beautiful places, it’s natural to want to take photographs that show these places at their very best. But with the challenges of crowds, weather, lighting conditions, etc, it’s often easy to feel discouraged.

I used to feel that way, but, after a very rainy day in crowded Nikko, Japan, which produced some photos I was delighted with, I began to be more accepting of these challenges, and, while still looking for ways to avoid them, I also embraced them. Here are some of my tips for how to take photos by embracing some of these challenges.

1.Crowds of people

When you’re visiting famous sights, you’re always going to have to contend with crowds. While you can try to avoid having people in your photographs by taking them from different angles or patiently waiting for a space to appear, taking another if someone suddenly walks into shot, or taking photos of the little details, I like to make use of the crowds by including people in my photos. I think that taking photos with people in them gives a great sense of the atmosphere of the place. If you accept that you are taking a photo of both the people and the place, I think it makes a better photo than if you are trying in vain to take a photo without people.

You can take a photo that includes lots of people

Take a photo of your tour group

Or zoom in to capture one or two particular people

Photograph the photographers

And people interacting with their surroundings

Some photos are so much better for having a person in them. Rather than waiting for a clear shot of a scene, try waiting until the perfect person walks into the perfect place in your shot.


I’ve been lucky with the weather on my holidays in general, but there have been a couple of extremely rainy days, one in Nikko, Japan, and one in the Cinque Terre, Italy. There’s nothing that we can do about the weather, so it’s better to make the best of it rather than be disappointed. By accepting the weather and trying to take photos that really capture the weather conditions, you can get some great shots. Just remember to protect your camera from the weather conditions.
One of my favourite things about capturing a rainy day is the umbrellas

And raincoats

Mist or smog



Don’t forget to photograph the puddles and or take some video to show how bad it was!


Don't be afraid to try to take photos out of the windows of planes, trains, buses and cars. They may not be perfect, but they record things that you may not be able to photograph again.

Keep your eyes open for unusual items when travelling by bus

This photo is all the more interesting for the reflections in the shrine and car windows of the building opposite

Mirrored surfaces are great for self-portraits!

Or you can use one to photograph a whole room from an unusual angle

4.Extraneous items

Whether it’s scaffolding in the Forbidden City or Kiyomizu Temple, or the many tents set up in preparation for Lucca’s comic festival, I’ve come across lots of items that were unwelcome additions in a beautiful scene. But repairs are necessary, and festivals have to happen. While the photos you take in these situations may not be exactly what you have planned, they do capture the atmosphere of the place at the moment you visited.
Photograph craftspeople at work restoring a historic monument

Record the preparations for a festival

If there hadn’t been a delivery van behind Puccini’s statue, I wouldn’t have thought to combine the statue and his birthplace window in one shot

Cars can be an interesting addition to a shot rather than a problem

5.Lighting conditions

Sometimes lighting conditions can be tricky, or not what you’re used to, and you don’t have time to wait around and see if they change. Remember that a cloudy day can often produce better photos, and a sunny day comes with its own challenges. Try finding shade, or shading your lens with your hand.

A bit of lens flare isn't always a bad thing

On a sunny day experiment with shadows

Or silhouettes

Try taking night photos

And don't worry too much about blur or streaks

6.A room without a view

While I wished that my room on the Italian Riviera had a sea view rather than one over the park, my parents commented on how lovely my view over this green area was! So it’s all relative. Take your views where you can get them, and enjoy any views that you do have, which will capture your own particular experience of the place.

A limited viewpoint can also be a problem when taking photographs in cities, so try taking some shots from unusual angles.

7.Lens limitations

When taking photos in a crowded place with an SLR camera, it can be a real pain to have to change lenses, and, anyway, you don’t want to lug lots of lenses with you. Choose a couple to carry with you that you will get the best use out of. Take all you can with one lens before changing them over. Sometimes using the “wrong” lens for a situation can result in interesting compositions. Practice to get the process of changing lenses down to a fine art. And always be aware of your surroundings and belongings.

Also, if you’re using an SLR, consider using your phone in some situations, whether for taking selfies more easily, taking video, quickly taking a shot on the bus or train etc.

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