7 Rules for Perfect Travel Photos

Full disclosure: I’m not a landscape photographer, or a hobby photographer. When I go on vacation I rarely pack my camera. It’s my time to spend with my friends, family, and fur baby, Shelby. When there’s a camera in my hands, I transform into a different person and even with my incredible prowess of multi-conversation engagement, I can’t hold a camera and talk at the same time. So, I travel light with an iPhone in hand to grab those shots I just can’t miss. Here’s my rulebook to get the perfect travel photography without a pro camera.

1. Get a protective case for your phone.


My husband cringes every time I reach for my phone. I have a beautiful rose gold iPhone 6 plus, sans case. I carry it in my wallet for easy access but it won’t fit with a bulky, protective case, so for the past year I’ve carried it (free of damage) without a case. However, the first thing I do before heading to the beach is throw on an Otterbox or Lifeproof case. The last thing you want to deal with is a cracked or worse, unusable phone and camera during your vacation. Trust me, I speak from experience, and obviously still don’t heed my own warning. (Hopefully my father is not reading this post, I can feel the disappointed glare from here…)

2. Get inspired

Check out some Instagram photo experts to get ideas and inspirations for shots. Here are a few of my favorite to follow.

Travel + Leisure

Wish we were here. #TLPicks courtesy of @mary_quincy

A photo posted by Travel + Leisure (@travelandleisure) on

Kristen Alana

Searching for a natural tide pool to swim in, @dante.vincent and I undertook what turned out to be a bit of a dangerous hike through Arikok National Park from the back side, parked near Rancho Daimari. Luckily we took lots of water because even the strong winds couldn’t dull the punishing sun that beat down on us with no shade to hide under. It was longer and far more difficult than I’d figured it would be on the side of Aruba that’s visited mostly by people on horseback or ATV only. Still, we had gorgeous spots like this entirely to ourselves during the adventure and for a moment I was able to forget about the state of the world and be reminded of what a stunning planet it is that we’ve been entrusted with…

A photo posted by Kirsten Alana ? (@kirstenalana) on

This is a great example of an open composition. Take a step back and give the full story (see more advice in #3)

We Are Travel Girls

Wall murals and flamingos?! We need to find this spot on our next trip to Chicago! Love is great shot from Rosie @rclayton. Follow her page for more!

A photo posted by #WeAreTravelGirls For Feature (@wearetravelgirls) on

Amazing use of composition and color!

Round the World Girl

Feels like adventure…

A photo posted by Elise ? (@roundtheworldgirl) on

3. Think of your composition

Most people take photographs too close to the subject matter. Take a step back! Travel photographs are about telling a story. Include the surroundings, allow yourself to embrace the idea of your subject matter looking “small” in the photograph.

Who’s up for an adventure? ? #TLPicks courtesy of @switzerland.vacations

A photo posted by Travel + Leisure (@travelandleisure) on

#TGIF! Raise your hand if you’re going on an adventure this weekend. ?#TLPicks courtesy of @glaciernps, ?: @jonkreye

A photo posted by Travel + Leisure (@travelandleisure) on

In addition to thinking about your composition, think about your position. Get high, get low. You’ll be surprised the different type of shot you’ll get just by changing your view point.

Finally, don’t forget about your panoramic setting on your phone. You can get some EPIC shots with this setting. Take a look at a few my husband took on his way moving out west to college years ago…



4. Use the time of day to capture color.


Make your shots “pop.” The time of day you shoot will add to the mood of the shot. Looking to get a peaceful Namaste-esque photograph? Shoot in the early morning with the sunrise over your shoulder. Looking to get a romantic “kiss and dip” photograph? Head to the beach during the “magic hour.” Shoot around a few minutes before sunset for vibrant pinks and purples to get that oh-so-lovely swept-off-your-feet look.

To get more vibrant colors download Camera+. This is a quick, easy-to-use editing app that will take your photos from meh, to WHOA in seconds. See more about this app from my previous 7 steps for perfect iPhone photos.

5. Get a selfie stick. 

Yes. I know, you’ve been holding out on this purchase so you don’t look like a tourist on your vacay. I get it…I am just now purchasing one. But there’s a reason why these are so popular! It gives you the advantage to get a different perspective, a large range of motion and, once again, you get the environment around you essential to capturing and remembering those travel memories.

Epic underwater selfie ? Tag people you’d do this with ? cc: @thiagomlcorrea

A photo posted by SPACE WHEEL (@spacewheel) on

If you’re still hesitant to purchase, just grab your phone, lean it against a post, chair, umbrella, or iPhone tripod — whatever you can find — and throw on the timer. You’ll have to rush to get the shot, and pray no one runs off with your phone, but you won’t have to use the infamous selfie stick!

Check out this post for additional tips and trick for the perfect selfie.

6. Play with motion and video

Every mat has a story to tell. #justmymat

A video posted by lululemon (@lululemon) on

As a photographer, I’m always looking for the next big trend in the creative world. Ladies and gents, it’s here. I’m talking about gifs, moving images, and short videos. This idea was first introduced (to me) on Top Model. Tyra used incorporated moving images into the show and this blew my mind! Now, you see top fashion and wedding photographers using this method. Snapchat and Instagram have made gifs and short videos a popular way to share your vacation stories, with added bonus of making all your friends at their 9-5s super jealous.

7. Don’t worry about looking like a tourist.

My husband and I last year in Old Orchard, Maine. You know, just acting like tourists, not caring about the hint of disapproval in the background...

My husband and I last year in Old Orchard, Maine. You know, just acting like tourists, not caring about the hint of disapproval in the background…

Seriously, you’re never going to see these people again. Who cares if you take a million selfie shots and everyone sees you on the beach. Get over it. Live in the moment, enjoy your surroundings, and ignore the people giving you the side-eye when you pop your phone out to take the perfect wind-blown selfie.

The only downside to this is you may get a target on your back as being someone easy to pick pocket. Just keep your belongings nearby and camouflage your Birkin, Louis, or Tory beach bag with a Save My Bag from TSALT.

Follow me on Snapchat (@alxstylebook) for additional travel photography tips while I’m soaking up the sun next week. More about Stylebook’s Snapchat tomorrow!

  • The latest from Sarah
Owner + Photographer | Sarah Marcella Creative
I started photographing after rupturing my spleen while I was in high school. Yeah, it sounds made up, but I swear I’m telling the truth. was in marching band and happened to fall on my saxophone. This incident made it impossible for me to march for the remainder of the season. So, I did what any bored high school teenager does — started taking self portraits (at that time the word “selfie” was not invented). Turns out, I really enjoyed it! I started photographing everything and everyone. After graduation, I decided to head to Shepherd University for photography & digital imagery. My passion continued to grow as I started to photograph more conceptual themes, primarily the way women are viewed in modern media and the over editing that happens in the fashion industry. This is what has influenced and inspired my current work.

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