Take Better Travel Photos

5 practical suggestions that may help you

Getting the right shot often requires a lot of hanging around

… Research published earlier this year has suggested that there are an estimated 3.5 billion cameras currently in use across the globe.  The reality of this mind blowing statistic will be all too familiar to those of you that travel and take photographs, inevitably meaning that in the prettier and more interesting parts of our planet, if you decide to point your camera at something you will more than likely be sharing your vision with at least one other digital sensor.

So what makes one person’s travel photos better than another’s?.. and how can you improve the quality of your own?  Well, over my years of travelling it has become increasingly apparent to me that the truth about learning to shoot great images really only comes down to two things:

Life experience and camera experience.

Life experience is a very personal journey that every photographer essentially takes alone.  The way to learn from the life experience of other photographers is to study their photographs and use them as inspiration for your own journey but as far as I’m concerned I can’t tell you how to let your life experience unfold.  Only you can allow that process to happen.

Camera experience on the other hand is something that is a little easier to communicate. Camera experience represents the interface between your life experience and your photographs and is something that appears to evolve in a remarkably similar way across the careers of most photographers. As such, it is certainly something that I may be able to offer some of you some interesting insights into.

The internet is awash with tips on improving your photography which appear to ignore the simple fact that photography is an intuitive art form which owes everything to our innate human ability to understand what it is that we all find beautiful or interesting rather than to any set of cerebral laws that we could ever sit down and learn, so I’m not planning on making this an article about the rule of thirds or the ‘decisive moment’ or any of that stuff that I predict will blossom naturally in anyone who wholeheartedly practices this craft.

Instead, here I have summarized five simple practical choices that I made in my photography career over the years that definitely helped me to improve the quality of my images.  If any of them strike a chord with you then give them a go… they worked for me.

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1.  When shooting people, stop using your long lens so much

After many years of perusing the portfolios of aspiring photographers, I can safely say that the single most common factor I see leading disillusioned travel photographers to accumulate huge collections of mediocre travel images is an unhealthy dependence upon using long lenses for shooting pictures of people.  I hate to say it folks, but for most people the inconvenient truth about this addiction is the fact that it is born out of one thing and one thing only… fear.

I don’t think that it’s any coincidence that the English language has evolved the use of the verb ‘take‘ to describe the process of taking a picture.   For me, this etymological hint serves as a reminder to us that when we photograph someone, maybe we shouldn’t overlook the fact that we are in fact taking something from them and that in just about every other aspects of our lives, when we take something from someone we normally ask first and say thank you afterwards.

Why should it be any different in photography?  Asking and thanking involves connecting with people and long lenses make that a very easy thing to avoid.  They tend to put a large distance, both physically and emotionally between you and the people you are photographing which does a fine job of insulating you from any potential intimate interaction.

I’ve seen it many times before.  This lack of intimacy will show in your images.

Losing your big gun will mean that you will have to start connecting with your subjects again.  I know all too well how nerve racking that process can be.  Believe me when I say that even after all these years, I still get butterflies in my stomach when I have to approach a stranger in order to photograph them. That’s a fact of life for me but as far as I’m concerned a healthy and invigorating life involves addressing a lot of uncomfortable feelings like these, so if you recognize an aspect of yourself in what I’m saying then you will have to feel the fear and do it anyway if you want the power of intimacy to resonate within your images.

Don’t get me wrong.  There is a place in this world for long lenses… I  use a 200mm f2.8 and 400mm f5.6 but I would say that when I’m shooting people, I generally tend to use them in order to condense the background contents of my frame, often when I am photographing somebody in their environment.  However, using a long lens to pick off people in a crowd like a sniper shooting his victims is certainly something that I don’t condone if you want to make your images stand out from the rest of the drones of travel photographers who are regularly shooting unexceptional head shots and portraiture on their long lenses.

Using a long lens to condense the background contents of an image (400mm)

Using a long lens to condense the background contents of an image (400mm)

What about the fact that when you use a long lens you get more candid shots of people because they don’t know you’re taking their picture?

Candid?.. Yes, possibly.. Dull? .. most definitely.  I’ve often heard this argument used to justify hiding behind a camera, fostering laziness and producing bland, unengaging pictures IMO.  Why not try and get a candid shot with a short lens?… now that’s a real skill.

Try this technique next time you decide to approach someone to take his or her picture.  Instead of snapping them from a distance and leaving, try asking them if they wouldn’t mind if you accompanied them for a little while whilst you take some photos.  If they say no, then thank them and move on.  However, if they agree then in my experience before not too long they will have forgotten you are there, and your resulting images will have a far more intimate feel to them. This technique works particularly well when you are visiting people in their homes.  Just make sure you can give the situation your full time and attention, something that will no doubt involve forgetting about your cameras at some point.  The quality of your images will be a direct reflection of the degree to which you engage with both your subject and their environment… and in my experience, the most important aspects of this relationship will tend to unfold when your cameras are packed safely away in your bag.

2.  Start using fast, prime lenses

Not a lot of people realise this, but a fixed 50mm f1.8 lens is probably the cheapest lens you can buy for your DSLR.  Sadly, the first thing that many aspiring photographers do after they’ve spent a small fortune on a state-of-the-art digital camera is to go out and spend an equally exorbitant amount of money buying a zoom lens that, whilst it may well have the ‘latest’ auto focus and auto exposure technology, is very often stuck with an aperture that will only open as far as f3.5.

For me, some of the greatest photography happens in the places where light is delicate and soft. (See tip no. 4).  These are the places in which prime lenses really come into their element.  Rooms lit by fire light, dark corridors, very early mornings and late dusk… to get sharp punchy pictures in these kind of environments you will need a lens with an aperture that opens to at least f2.

I sometimes hear people say that you can compensate for a small aperture with ISO.  This is a grave mistake in my opinion.  If you believe this then you will be missing out on the incredible benefits of using fast fixed lenses.  Even your expensive f2.8 zoom lens will struggle in a room lit by candlelight, but pop a relatively cheap 50mm f1.4 on to your body and the room will literally come alive with potential images.

When people sing the praises of prime lenses they tend to focus on the image phenomena that these lenses produce, in particular bokeh and the really shallow depth of field that fast primes can give you.  Whilst I appreciate that these are great selling points for these lenses, what actually excites me more about using primes is the way that they can literally shift your whole attitude to image making by opening you up to new possibilities.  Allowing you to venture into very low light situations is one obvious opportunity but many of the ways that primes can influence your photography tend to be a little more esoteric in my experience. Somehow, their visual clarity and simplicity will influence the way you choose to use them and that can have quite a profound effect on the kind of pictures you produce.  Primes also compel you to zoom with your feet rather than the barrel of your lens offering you more dynamic perspectives on a situation and they do a great job of inspiring a more minimalist, uncomplicated view of photography that will definitely be reflected in your imagery.

Sometimes, I feel that zoom lenses encourage people to be a jack-of-all-trades whilst a beautiful fixed prime lens may gently tempt you to become a master of one.  In my experience, once you’ve started using primes, it’s hard to go back.

85mm – f1.2 – 1/8000 sec – ISO 50

Over the years I’ve owned just about every lens there is, but I can honestly say there’s still nothing quite like the feeling of going out into a vast crowd of people at dusk with just a 50mm f1.2 and a smile.  This is photography at its most Zen in my opinion.

If you’ve never owned a prime before, start by going out and buying yourself a second hand 50mm f1.8… it may just change your life.

3.  Stop using auto exposure

In my experience, as your photography skills improve, you will naturally begin to reject the automatic functions on your camera. (excluding autofocus, which I class differently)  The first one to go will no doubt be auto exposure.  Cameras aren’t too bad at predicting exposure when you are shooting in ‘flat’ light, but other than that they are terribly naive when it comes to predicting what you want.  Luckily for you, digital SLRs allow you to review an image instantly, so these days there is no excuse for messing up your exposure.

Once you start taking your photography seriously, controlling every aspect of your exposure will become imperative, especially if you follow my advice in tips no.2 and 4 and start shooting in low light situations.

I’ve been using roughly the same simple technique for manually exposing for many years now:  Whilst making sure that I am always acutely aware of changes in light intensity, upon entering any situation the first thing I do is meter for the highlights in that place.  This means making a correct exposure for the brightest part of the situation that I anticipate to include in my frame.  Then I know that I can shoot away to my hearts content until I reframe or notice the light change, at which point I will adjust the aperture (or shutter speed) appropriately using the respective dials on my camera.

Pictures like this are impossible to shoot using auto exposure

More often than not, unless you are shooting outside on a really variable or contrasty day (which I don’t recommend anyway… see tip no. 4), or in a situation where a light source is erratic (e.g. Around fires burning at night) your exposure will be relatively constant and easy to follow, a skill that you will eventually end up doing subconsciously.  However, in the beginning when you are learning to manually expose you may have to shoot a quick frame and check the exposure on the camera’s review screen every time you feel that the light intensity has changed within your frame.  But don’t worry, it will become second nature the more you do it. I promise you.

4. Start shooting more photos outside of ‘office hours’

Time after time, photographers who are trying to break into the industry show me their travel portfolios and I’m amazed to see that 99 percent of their images were shot in the harsh light of broad daylight.  There’s normally a very simple reason for this.  Predominantly, people don’t like getting up early and by 5pm they are starting to feel hungry for dinner, but also I think that many photographers work office hours just because that’s what everyone else does and it makes their life easier.

Well, if you are one of those people then I’m afraid to say that your photography has hit a wall…  one that you won’t overcome unless you start venturing into more delicate lighting situations. This means stepping outside of your tour guide’s working hours or if that isn’t possible, swallowing your fear and knocking on a few doors to go and visit people inside their homes and places of work during the day.

I can already hear a lot of you protesting already… “Many cultural events only happen in broad daylight!”  Yes, this may be true, but I would say this to you…  IMO one amazing image shot in fantastic light is worth a hundred OK frames shot in the harsh light of a sunny day.  That’s my opinion.  In my experience, you can always find a way to make at least one shot in great light, no matter what the situation. You may just have to think outside the box a bit and invest in a little extra effort to help make it happen.

Nothing beats the golden light of the setting sun

During the daytime when it is sunny, shooting indoors allows you to work with the harsh light outside.  More often than not, all you need is a room with just a single window or a door letting light in to produce a lovely image.  For an easy way to shoot a timeless portrait when the sun is too harsh outside, the easiest thing to do is bring your subject inside, position them facing the source of daylight and shoot from a position to their side like this..

If the light is too harsh outside, bring your subject indoors

It’s such a simple technique used by pro photographers the world over and one that can improve the quality of your portfolio no end.  All it takes is a little extra organisational effort and some time to connect with the person you wish to photograph.  Oh.. and try not to forget your please and thank you.

As far as I’m concerned, when you are working outside you should be aiming to shoot as much as you can around dawn and from late afternoon onwards including night time, when you can work with the many colour temperatures of man-made lighting around to enhance your images.  If there is something or someone particular that you wish to photograph outside then my strong advice to you is to not even begin thinking about taking any pictures until the sun is low in the sky.

5.  Switch to ‘back button focus’

My final tip is only for people who use auto focus, but I would hazard a guess that this is probably 100 percent of you.   It’s a really simple technique that makes auto focusing and image composition much easier and faster.

As far as I know, all cameras come with the auto focus function assigned to the shutter button by default.  Normally, half pressing it will cause the camera to focus before you fully depress the button to take the picture.  If you wish to hold focus you are required to maintain this half-pressed position after every frame but often you end up refocusing each time you finish shooting a frame or rapid succession of frames.

By reassigning your auto focus function to a dedicated button on the back of the camera you can free up your shutter release button leaving it to do just one thing, the thing it does best… take a picture.  With this new configuration, (Using a Canon DSLR in manual mode), your thumb is now used to both focus with the back button and adjust aperture on the wheel and your first finger shoots images with the shutter release and adjusts shutter speed with the top dial.

I normally get blank stares when I tell people about switching to this configuration, so don’t worry if you’re currently sitting there frowning at the screen.  However, I have yet to meet anyone who went back to shutter button focus after they mastered this configuration.  It takes a bit of getting used to in the beginning but once it becomes second nature you will wonder how you ever worked any other way.

I can’t speak for Nikon users, but for all you 5D Canonistas out there… in your C.FnIV:Operation/Others custom function menu, Shutter button/AF-ON button should be set to 3:AE lock/Metering + AF start and the AF-ON/AE lock button switch should be set to 1:Enable.  (C.FnIV menu will then read: 3 1 0 0 0 0).  This will make the (*) button on the top right back of the camera your auto focus button, and disable the auto focus on the shutter button.

Update: If you’re a Nikon user, HERE is a great tutorial on how to configure your camera for back button focusing.  Thanks to @celenabeech for the link.

Pic: Copyright Timothy Allen. http://www.humanplanet.com

When a moving subject is not centred on your focal point, utilising back button focus will stop your camera trying to refocus each time you shoot a frame

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A quick recap:

1.            Face your fear and lose the addiction to your beloved long lens.

2.            Let fast prime lenses take you on an adventure into the twilight.

3.            Take back control of your camera by learning to manually expose.

4.            Get up early, keep shooting until late and stay out of the midday sun.

5.            Try back button auto focus. It worked for me and thousands of others.

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Still reading?  Join in the discussion on my Facebook page.

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63 Responses to “Take Better Travel Photos”

  1. John says:

    Truly an art form and very inspirational

  2. Wonderful tips Timothy! I am already trying some of these like not using the zoom lens and moving to prime…

    I am also very curious if you have some tips for mobile photography as well. I use my phone a lot these days and now realize that it’s an art in itself.

  3. […] length) lenses on your next trip as on of my favorite travel photographers Tim Allen suggests here: Take Better Travel Photographs. This will force you to slow down and think about what you’re shooting, and your pictures […]

  4. Latesh says:

    Dear Timothy,
    Thank you for your wonderful article.. I have used zoom lenses a lot and it has worked well for me. At times in crowded market I see something interesting far and with my zoom i am able to snap a candid moment.. I noticed when I walk forward with a prime lens the subject becomes aware and I am not able to get the candid expression..Most of my shots i dont talk to the subject..
    My question is
    1) how do I get candid moment with a prime lens ? When I use a prime lens many times i am not able to filter out distractions on time.. by the time i walk around I just miss the moment..
    2) is it a wrong to use zoom lens when you are doing travel photography ? Are there any rules ?

    • Timothy says:

      1) It’s a skill you must learn by practicing. The more you shoot, the better you will get at it. Very simple. When you can shoot a candid photo of someone on a short prime lens then you have become a better photographer. It’s more about the way you interact with people than your skills as a photographer.
      2) No. There are no rules for travel photography. Personally, I don’t use a zoom lens to shoot close up portraits of people, but you can if you want to. I just prefer doing it another way. It’s more challenging and you get far better photos in my experience.

  5. Jeff Bell says:

    I recently followed 1-4 and results were, for me, impressive.

    Thank you for the post. I used a 50mm 1.8 lens while I was in Delhi on the street and even though I am normally shy, there was so much activity it was easy to ask people or secretly take their photos. I have to give #5 a try. But I agree that above all you have to be brave and move in close.

  6. Yongwoo says:

    Thanks Timothy

    This is great for me.
    Lights and light… all we should be a soft light hunger.
    Tip 5 is just the solution what I was looking for.
    I’m going to be your fan!

  7. frank o'shea says:

    Any idea about how to make those setting changes on the 650D?
    I’ve managed to change the focus button to the star button at back; thanks, but my digit line up is this:
    00000310 where your 5D above reads 310000.
    Still learning.

  8. A simple Google search for “(insert your camera model here) back button focus” will give you tutorials on making the switch.

  9. Steve says:

    Hello Timothy,
    Awesome work and many thanks for sharing your experiences with us. I am currently leaving and working in Mozambique; I find it often very difficult to take pictures of people on the street especially in the city. Some people don’t like it and they think you are doing a lot of money out of them. I wonder if you tip the people after you have taken their pictures? And how do you do with the language barrier?

    You find an opportunity for a picture and they see you as an opportunity to take your camera….

    • Timothy says:

      I don’t have a problem with tipping people for pictures, however i don’t often set out to take pictures of strangers on the street, so I don’t encounter the situation that much… these aren’t the kind of photos that I’m looking for. I would rather befriend somebody and then spend a day with them taking photos if they allow it. This way, money is often not an issue and the photos will show much more intimacy. These days I always work with a fixer/translator, so the language barrier is not a problem, but in the past I would always take my time to get to know somebody a little before I got my camera out. That helps immensely for starters. As a rule of thumb, when someone asks you for money in return for taking their picture I think you should always ask yourself ‘do I want to pay?’… if they answer is ‘no’ then just say thanks and walk away but don’t take it personally that they asked. A lot of people get quite upset when people ask for money for photos, yet these same people make many other financial transactions during their day which they don’t take to heart. People have a right to ask for money and you have a right to walk away. That’s the way of the world.

      A great ice-breaker is to carry a portable printer with you when you travel. I always do. In many places that I’ve been, printed photographs have far more value than a bit of loose change in your pocket and they bring you closer with the people you’re shooting.. which in turn leads to more intimate images. Everybody wins.

  10. Kate says:

    Hello Timothy,

    Thank you for sharing the tips! (and obviously for all your photographs, they really are amazing)

    I have a 5D Mark II and a 16-35mm F2.8 and i’m looking to buy 1, possibly 2 more lenses before my next travel trip next year.

    Which would you prioritise? Do you think it is better to have a 50mm F1.2 or 85mm F1.2 or something else? Which 2 would you take from your kit?

    Thanks in advance!

    Best wishes,

  11. Tim Carter says:

    Dear Tim,

    Thanks so much for such a brilliantly useful and generous post. I think I should write these down on a crib sheet for use in the field!

    What I would absolutely love to hear are some pointers or advice on post-processing images. This is the aspect I find trickiest. I was fascinated to learn that you shoot jpeg, but am curious to know what kind of tweaks/adjustments you make to your photos (if any!). Are there any particular adjustments you rely on more than others? This also brings up the mundane but important question of what programme to use, a potentially expensive decision I’m currently battling with myself. Would you share what you use, and maybe even a view of how you might process a typical photo from camera to blog?

    All the best,


  12. Scott says:

    Hi Timothy,

    Great article and great AMA on Reddit…I just read it last night. I really appreciate and respect your dedication to passing on and giving back to the community. When I become a famous photographer 😉 I’ll be sure to keep you as an inspiration.

    My question:

    With metering, do you find you use spot metering, centre metering and how big of a spot do you think is helpful. Do you find that you tend to expose 0 on the highlights?

    Also – regarding your point about getting close with your subjects, in my recent trip cycling around Senegal, I got into the habit of sharing my camera with people i met, teaching them how to use it and letting them snap some photos. It was a much more interactive photography experience, was a really interesting way to build trust, and get great shots, some of which I didn’t need to even take.

    Thanks again! great article

    • Timothy says:

      Hi Scott,

      I meter by eye so I don’t use the camera’s meter. It’s a side effect of taking so many photos for so many years, but especially easy to do these days since you can preview a test shot on the back screen. Theoretically though, I would never use a big spot since I meter for the highlights and using a large spot would inevitably blow them out. As a general rule I tend to slightly underexpose all my images and then adjust contrast in PP if necessary.

  13. Andy Dossett says:

    Hi Tim,

    I wish to bring up a point of ethics.

    Some of your advice could be misconstrued as encouraging ‘staging’. I know it’s open to interpretation, but to me ‘Travel Photography’ is a form of photodocumentary and essentially about capturing a real-life scene.

    For example, under point 4, you say “If the light is too harsh outside, bring your subject indoors”. I find the notion of ‘bringing’ a subject indoors disturbing (unless a close friend, relative or paid-model). I mean not imply that you do not develop a rapport with your subjects, but I have all-too-often seen poor (in every sense of the word) unsuspecting subjects being man-handled by a would-be travel photographer for the sake of their Art, and with no consideration to the human they are using other than as a ‘cheap model’.
    I have even seen internationally reknowned pros asking for a photo and then proceeding to spend an hour dragging their subject around for the right light/backdrop. This would be off-putting to many people of many cultures, at best making it harder for those following in our footsteps, at worst leading to Human zoos (take the case of the Kayan women).

    Perhaps adding a point about consideration of one’s subject could be added to this otherwise excellent article.

    With regards,
    Andy Dossett

    • Timothy says:

      Hi Andy,

      I often join in the creative process with the people I shoot, so in this post I am actually encouraging ‘staging’… certainly, I wouldn’t have many portraits in my portfolio were it not for a healthy dose of intervention… but then again maybe you’re mistaking me for a documentarian in the traditional sense which I certainly am not. My style of photography involves interacting, not standing back and observing and as such you will see a lot of my own subjective personality reflected in the way I take pictures.

  14. After a slump of two years in my photography, I’ve found this post as the most inspiring one. Don’t know why, but I feel my photography has gotten worse, but I’ll manage to re-arrange that.

    On the back button, I started using it a few months ago and it does really change the whole picture situation. Now I’m mostly using a 35mm f2 lens, which I’ve found very challenging to use, since it’s not in my “comfort zone”.

    Thank you for the insight on the tips.

  15. Anonymous says:

    very nice photography and light seting …

  16. Hannah Denski says:

    I just wanted to say – thank you very very much – these was the best advise I have found on photography by far and am only kicking myself for not finding this earlier… have bought my Nikon D3000 exactly year ago, but only after reading this in late March have I started playing with ‘manual’… and proud to say never to be going back to auto.

    Greatly appreciate your share!


  17. Diana says:

    Hello. I love your photography, and your tips are very helpful!
    I am an amateur photographer and I am looking to get my work noticed. If you could check out my photography blog, that would be fantastic! :
    Thank you!

  18. A great post Tim, with so much helpful info thank you. I was wondering if you could explain in a little more detail how you expose for the highlights & what are the advantages? (No. 3) I was always taught to meter for the mid-tone, but feel I am missing a trick here. Thanks.

    • Timothy says:

      It’s a personal preference that suits my style of picture. I don’t like to see any blown out exposure in my pics except in the odd very rare case. If I expose for the highlights in my image then I know that this will never happen. You might notice… I hardly ever shoot in harsh contrasty situations, so this method works well for me. I like softly lit scenarios on the whole. Also, I shoot only JPEG, so my exposure’s must be spot on every time. If you shoot RAW then it’s absolutely fine to shoot for the mid tones, because you can salvage any exposure in PP. I find that metering for the highlights gives me the style of picture I like… often a little darker that if you would have metered for the mid tones, but more importantly full of the subtle colours that I search for at certain times of the day.

      • Thanks Timothy, I really appreciate your response. I will definitely give this a go as I often find I have an sightly overexposed shot which needs to be worked on in post. Intriguing to hear you only shoot JPEG – not something you often hear. I’m guessing you do this to save time in post, getting as you want first time? I suppose it’s all about shooting in a soft light.

        Thanks for your help here.


  19. Richard says:

    Timothy, thank you for the most useful tips. I’ve always had in the back of my head the idea that less is more especially when it comes to camera equipment. Thank you for the reminder now all I have to do set aside my slow zoom lense for a fast prime one.

  20. Chris Connell says:

    Such a generous and useful post. Thank you.

  21. tom says:

    re: Switch to ‘back button focus’

    you weren’t wrong about frowning at my screen 🙂

    how exactly does it make it easier to focus ? iv’e read the section 3 times now, and can’t seem to get why you recommend this ? is it something you have to try before understanding ?

    isn’t half pressing a button quicker than switching back and forth ?

    • Timothy says:

      It’s not a question of it being quicker (they’re both roughly the same). It’s about isolating the focus button so that it doesn’t interfere with the action of pressing the shutter. It will certainly make more sense as you start using it… and more so if you are shooting in fast moving situations.

  22. hello sir,
    very nice photography i saw, you to share this things are very help to beginners, thank you lot i love your prof.& your photos what a work & dedication i really awesome i try to as good student of timothyallen have wonderlful year with healthy & happy to your life i pray god give, am beginner to in my face little works please give me to suggestion and thank to add as friend in your facebook

  23. Ryan J. says:

    Awesome tips! I’m going to give that last tip a real go. But it sounds like a good idea in theory.

  24. Alex says:

    Dear Tim,
    Thanks a lot for this post, your precious advices, and inspiring stories. I’m a 5dII user, and I’m looking at carrying my gear in tropical or very cold environment. In your experience, what’s the most effective way to protect it from water splash, condensation etc … considering the goal is to go off then beaten path? besides using sealed backpacks, silica, any non standard approach you’ve found handy over the years?
    I’m referring to the 2 canon bodies covered in mud on your web site…. Did they survive the ordeal? 🙂
    Thanks a bunch and “Bon vent” as we say in France.

    • Timothy says:

      For both those environments, an Ortlieb waterproof bag is essential. Get one big enough that you can fit your whole camera bag inside with all your gear. In the wet, it gives you peace of mind that nothing will get soaked when you’re traveling. In the cold, you can use it when bringing gear from outside into the warm…. close and seal the bag outside and then let everything acclimatise to the warmth inside before opening it up. This will stop condensation. Silica packs are pretty useless in my experience.

      Other than that, if i’m working in the rain I drape a chamois leather over each camera…. on old trick I use to use when I was a press photographer. It keep them dryer and easy to wipe if it gets really bad.

      Mind you… take everything I say with a pinch of salt… This is what happened to the last person who asked my advice on shooting in the cold…


      • Alex says:

        Geeez, I see… Well prepared improvisation seems a must have in that line of job.

        one last question, just out of curiosity, if I may. What guides you when you have to balance – photo wise – what you think is important to do and what may be a successful endeavor ?

        Thank you and all the best !

  25. Otilia Tavares says:

    Your fotos are absolutly wonderful.
    The best I have ever seen.
    I would like to say that when I was watching some of your fotos I fond my self crying with out knowing why.
    I fond my self wondering if I could ever gain at least one foto as good as the one’s I say.

    Thanks for sharing. If you ever thing on cooming to Portugal I would be glad to meet you.


  26. thielges says:

    This is an excellent informative and inspiring article. Thanks so much for sharing your insight. I recently started using a fast wide angle lens and will be putting your advice to use.

  27. Laura Cook says:

    I have stumbled upon this article a while after its publication but I just wanted to say thanks for this tips and namely Tip 5! I am a 5d user and did not realise this could be done either and have quickly amended the way I shoot accordingly! Much better! I am already a massive fan of prime lenses and my 50mm rarely leaves my camera. Most of my work is in West Africa and with my lens at 1.8 I have been able to get great shots in even the darkest of homes.
    Thanks for taking the time to do this article.

  28. […] Take Better Travel Photos – Timothy Allen’s article is one of the best I have come across about improving your […]

  29. […] Take Better Travel Photos – Timothy Allen | Photography | Film Website and blog of photographer Timothy Allen … BBC Human Planet … Travel photography … Planeta Humano […]

  30. Thank you Timothy. I am a huge fan of your work. Your images are mind blowing and inspirational. I love how straightforward you are in your words. I point and shoot as often as I can. A lot of times when asking a stranger if i’m allowed to archive a moment.. I get the answer no. It’s worth asking ’cause the very few times I get a “yes”, I end up with frames that truly intimate and beautiful.

    Thanks again! You’ve given me (continued) courage.
    Keep shootin’.

  31. […] his post entitled Take Better Travel Photos, Timothy shares his tried and true advice to capture more honest, emotionally charged and mentally […]

  32. Sofia says:

    Timothy, you are awesome!
    I love your work! Amazing photographs… Thanks for sharing your thoughts it really helps.
    I love the back button autofocus! I will not go back to the default settings 🙂

    You Rock!

  33. Storm says:


    I know it´s probably not your style, but I know I would, and probably a lot of others, would like a 6th point on this list: How to edit your photos.

    (I understand a professional photographer must keep a few secrets for himself)

    • Timothy says:

      I have no secrets about editing I’m afraid. To be honest, editing is completely subjective and totally depends on what or who you’re editing for.

      Personally, I don’t care much for anything except the absolute definitive picture from any one situation. However, if you are editing for a client, then it’s important to put all the other stuff in too. I certainly do.

      My advice for better editing would be to get feedback from other people, especially those who’s work you respect. People like different pictures for different reasons, and it’s important to understand why IMO.

      Saying that though, at the end of the day I think we all shoot pictures for ourselves, and if you’re the kind of auteur who wants to preserve their own personal style, then I say pick the stuff you like and forget the rest!

  34. Ian Mylam says:

    Brilliant. Thanks for sharing your knowledge, Timothy. Your images are stunning.

  35. Simone Anne says:

    Thank you so much for this tutorial! I feel really silly not even knowing that there was an option to switch the focus button. I’ve been doing this really silly thing ever since I got my 5D: I focus on auto focus and then switch to manual to start shooting so that I can compose without messing up the focus. It’s ridiculous. ha ha. So time consuming and absurd! Thanks to your tutorial I can now be a lot less silly about taking photos that are composed well AND focused properly. ha ha. Thank you!! 😀

  36. JULIAN says:

    Simplemente, genial!!!!

  37. Hi Timothy
    I just saw your incredible photographs in the Leeds Alumni magazine (the first one I think I’ve ever read). Incidentally I also graduated from Leeds in 1992 in ecology (with zoology as a subsidiary, although I don’t think we met). I recently took some time off to travel to some pretty remote places and indulge my passion for photography and I just sent my pictures to Getty Images, on the off-chance, and surprisingly they offered me a contract! I just wanted to say that your advice on this page is the best I have read. Luckily I’d independently arrived at 4 of them but the back button focus is new to me and I only wish I’d known about it longer. Thanks again and all the best with your amazing career.

  38. I’m a big fan of a long lens from close up. I’d probably be just as well served with an 85mm, but I regularly make travel photos of people with a 70-200mm from just a couple of meters away. Definitely no mistaking my intentions with something like that 🙂

    Totally agree about the back button. It’s always the first thing I set up on a new camera.

  39. Julien Dorol says:

    Nice post Tim, I do agree 200% with it.

    Most of my succesfull pictures come from My 50mm 1,4. I love this focal lenght as it “forces you” to get a real connection and complicity with the subject.

    And complicity is what speaks in the frame.

  40. jilske says:

    Thanks for the tip on the back button focusing (and Celena for the Nikon link)!
    Quick question, how do you meter exactly? Do you use center weighted on the highlight areas?

    • Timothy says:

      Over the years I’ve learnt to recognise the correct exposure by eye without needing the meter. However, if you can’t do that just take a test shot and check it on your camera’s preview screen to make sure the highlights aren’t burnt out. After a while you’ll get quite good at guessing exposures, especially in the familiar situations that you tend to shoot in a lot. Practice is the answer.

  41. Celena Beech says:

    http://www.rickykphotography.com/tutorials/camera/back-button-focusing/ shows you how to back button focus on Nikon if you are interested in doing this.

  42. Nicola Albon says:

    Thanks for these tips. I couldn’t agree more about using the light at the beginning and end of the day and using short focal lengths to get close to people.

    As a street photographer, I find I get better photographs when I’m in the midst of people than when I step outside to observe the scene – unless I want a wide angle set-up shot.

    I have a Canon 50D. I shall have a look to see if I can change the autofocus button.

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