How To Get Perfect Travel & Instagram Photos

One of the number one questions I am asked is "How do you get those incredible travel photos"?

If you are a traveler, or you are just suffering from a severe case of wanderlust, then chances are you have found yourself glued to Instagram. We have all been there, scrolling through travel Instagram feeds, wishing our travel photos looked like the ones we see reposted time after time.

how to get the best instagram photos

Instagram photography has become an art form of it’s own, but I still come across dozens of dull travel photos. And let’s be honest, if you are not posting a dynamic photo, why are you posting on Instagram at all? Now is the time to accomplish those #photographygoals because I am here to tell you just how to capture that envy-worthy shot. 

Know the Basic Rules of Photography

Knowing the basic composition rules of photography is key. The first rule to understand is the rule of thirds, and even if you don’t use this rule for all photos, keeping it in mind can make or break some of your photos.

Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is essentially a guideline to placing the most interesting elements in your photo along imaginary guidelines, which are broken up into thirds, or at the powerful points where the lines intersect. Some cameras, including your iPhone, have a grid that can be set up to help you automatically find these points while photographing.

 (In this photo, I am the point of interest, so I am placed at a power point)

(In this photo, I am the point of interest, so I am placed at a power point)

Fill the Frame

Another important rule is to fill the frame. I am amazed by how many times people post photos on social media, and the subject of their photo is so small that you almost have to squint to see it.

woman nepal habitat for humanity

After coming home with some underwhelming travel photos from a trip to Egypt, I attended a National Geographic travel photography seminar. The best takeaway from the seminar was that, if the photo wasn’t as interesting as the subject was in real life, then you almost always were not close enough or zoomed in enough. The more you fill the photo with your subject matter, the more exciting the photo becomes.

Use Quality Equipment

angkor wat sunrise .jpg

I definitely cannot take credit for every aspect of my photos on Instagram feed - the equipment I use really helps me get those fantastic shots. I currently use a Sony A7sii, a GoPro Hero 4 Black, and a DJI Mavic Pro. Of course, not everyone can go out a buy a $3000 DSLR, when they are just starting out, but there are several inexpensive options that can allow you to take fantastic photos. Try to find the best camera you are able to afford, but remember that the best camera you have is the one in your hand, which means whatever camera you will carry with you the most. If your camera isn't with you, you'll miss the shot. 

I also use an incredibly discreet camera bag to stash all of my gear (The Claremont from Lo & Son’s), which looks more like a purse. In some places, I can’t leave my purse to get it out of the shot for fear it may be stolen. This way, an ugly camera bag doesn’t ruin otherwise great candid shots I’m in; instead, it adds to them. It also provides greater safety from creeps looking to prey on travelers, since it doesn’t look like a camera bag and prevents me from looking like a tourist. It also makes me less of a target for theft since you would never guess that I have a a lot of expensive camera equipment on me.

claremont lo and sons camera bag

Don’t Be Afraid of Strangers

What does stranger danger have to do with photography? Frankly, a lot when you travel alone. I’m often asked if I have a photographer that travels with me to take my pictures. Not yet, but apparently I am very good at making it look like I do! 

how to take photos when you're alone

Conditions (such as high winds at the Grand Canyon) and impromptu moments aren’t always made for tripods. I don’t always want a selfie stick in my photo, so I’m not afraid to ask strangers for help to get the perfect instagram shot. Even if someone speaks a different language, it’s easy to explain that you are asking them to take your photo. About 50% of the time you will get someone who is really enthusiastic about taking your photo; this is when you have the opportunity to be the director and tell them exactly how you want the photo to look, primarily by showing them examples.

In addition to providing examples for inspiration, I also instruct my new photographer to use burst mode. Burst mode is extremely easy if you have an iPhone; just hold the button down instead of tapping (even the iPhone6 is capable of taking 10 photos per second). This rapid fire photography allows me to adjust my facial expressions, posture, and the direction I’m looking, while also getting a variety of shots. It takes a period of 15-20 seconds, but this means one of them is bound to be good, even if the person taking the photo doesn’t know what they are doing!

This also means having a ton (as in hundreds) of photos to filter through, which can be time consuming. However, it is far better to have too many images to choose from than to have not enough. When there is no one around be sure to have a great tripod handy, or a selfie stick. I use the GoPole Reach because it’s very long, and I can often get pictures without the selfie-stick even being in the shot!

Stop Feeling Embarrassed

instagram beach travel vietnam

I don’t allow myself to feel embarrassed when taking travel photos anymore. Even if people judge me for using my selfie stick, or the fact that I may look really funny crouched down to get a good angle of some nearby scenery, I just stopped letting it all bother me.  The fact of the matter is, most people are so self-absorbed that they aren’t paying much attention to me anyways.  

Though it is not the most impressive of my talents, I’ve mastered the art of the candid pose. Pictures where you are smiling are great, but they aren’t as interesting on the eyes. I look especially silly to others when faking a candid pose, (like when gazing into the distance) but I have stopped caring. At the end of the day, I’m the one that has the beautiful photos and has turned my Instagram account into a huge part of my business.  

Plan Ahead

I wait for the timing to be just right, as the best photos are captured during that sought-aftergolden hour when the light is perfect. This is one I learned from one of my friends who has over 700,000 instagram followers. Noon light is the worst, for it casts weird shadows on faces of subjects and creates a flat boring light for scenic shots. The best is to get up early for sunrises or wait around until just before sunset. This golden hour creates the most aesthetic palette for capturing scenery and people, as the light is less harsh, more forgiving and void of awkward shadows.

monkey temple nepal trusted travel guide girl

While most people aren’t waking up early for the good light, they will stick around for sunsets. This is why if you are going someplace that is super touristy, I recommend waking up before sunrise to get the shots you want without the crowds. It takes some dedication, but it’s well worth it! When I can’t get a shot during golden hour, I still try to take note of the best lighting options. Always avoid a shadow on your face because you’ll hate the photo the moment you see it.

Another way that I plan ahead is by researching the places before I go. You can use Instagram and Google to see what cool images people have shared by location. I do not look to copy, but it definitely gives great inspiration, a sense of how you want to tackle the photographs, and sometimes these inspiring images are too good not to pay homage to! Just remember when you copy a photo to try to give it your own spin and let it represent you! Using someone else as inspiration is awesome but exact replicas are boring (if not plagiarism).

Learn to Edit

Yes, I edit my photos. No matter how great a photo is, sometimes it isn’t able to do justice to the experience I had. In a perfect world we wouldn’t have to color correct, sharpen and saturate, but if you want to keep up with everyone else, you need to edit your photos! I often spend 20 minutes editing a photo before I put it on Instagram.

learn to edit photos lightroom

My favorite editing tool is Adobe Lightroom, however if you are keen to use your phone, the best apps for editing are SnapSeed and VSCO. On SnapSeed I am able to select certain parts of the image and adjust accordingly without messing with the rest of the photo.

For example, I was in St Lucia and had this great image on the beach, but it was a little dark. I was able to adjust the color to bring back the colors I saw while on the beach, as well as lift the shadows. What remained was the integrity of the rest of my photo, and a photo that created an accurate depiction of my actual experience as opposed to a photo that made my experience not look as beautiful as it actually was. Editing isn’t lying, it’s just another form of art!

Be Adventurous

I take risks to get great photos. I hang off ledges with steep drops, I climb up to steep heights. I’m not careless and I take as many precautions as I can, but I’m not going to let the fun pass me by. By taking risks and being adventurous, you will get photos with more interesting perspectives that others without courage only dream of.

nepal monkey temple.JPG

Just be careful and smart, and take caution to heed any posted warning signs that you may encounter. Recently in Norway a traveler died trying to get an instagram photo at Devils Rock, and even more recently a woman tumbled to her death when she tripped into the Grand Canyon. I’m not encouraging you to act recklessly - I want you to stay safe for a lifetime of adventures. I am, however, encouraging you to climb mountains, seek great heights, and tackle fears to get to a place for the most incredible photo.

adventure travel instagram photo luca race school laguna seca

Lastly, photography is all about expressing your unique point of view. Find a style that you like, make it your own, and stick with it. You won’t get there overnight - just scroll through my Instagram and see that the process to go from average to exceptional has taken well over a year. 

If you are inspired by my tips to create some rad instagram photos be sure to tag me so that I can check them out! (@TrustedTravelGirl)

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