Still my favorite travel photo I've taken. Venice, Italy. The two girls carrying the suitcases are my friends Emily and Anna.
As a self trained picture-taker (the word photographer sounds overly official for my amateur ability) I've found that the best way to get better shots is to know how to use your camera and to play around with what you're taking. My photography really improved through trial and error and what my photography teacher called "bracketing" or shooting the same shot on various settings. 

The Aran Islands, Ireland 
The important thing to remember with travel photography is that, unless you're shooting for Nat Geo, the pictures are really souvenirs meant to evoke memories (souvenir is literally "to remember" in French!) and to, maybe, help tell your own travel story to friends and relatives later. To someone else, the top photo looks like a pretty sunset along a Venetian canal. To me, it was the night I arrived in Venice after having come to Italy to live. I was traveling with Anna, a good friend who I could tell was going to become a great friend, and who was already living in Rovereto, Italy. She was so much of the reason I was able to make the leap and I didn't know if she knew how grateful I was for her. This the beginning of a new life after leaving my old life and my old job in New York. In that moment, Venice was, truly, the most beautiful and magical place I had ever seen. I think I even whispered to myself, right before I took that photo: "I cannot believe this is my life." I do read too many Italy travel memoirs that make me act like this, but still. 

From my own notes on trial and error in travel photography, I offer these tips on how to take great travel photos that will also mean something to you when you're home. 

  1.  Don’t take pictures obsessively. Part of being taking good travel photos is tuning your instinct to what will make a good shot and what is worth passing over. Believe me; if you’re wandering pretty much anywhere in Europe you’re going to see a lot of cathedrals—you won’t want to cherish every single one later. Travel is about experience, sensation and learning. You are there to be like Ralph Waldo Emerson’s eye that absorbs as much as possible without a filter. Also, it can draw negative attention to yourself as a traveler and be disrespectful to be constantly snapping pictures. Take photos when you feel inspired; don’t become a bloodhound for the perfect shot.
  2. Take pictures of what interests you. Maybe you’re like me and architecture, for example, is something you appreciate but not something that blows you away. I’m usually more interested in the history and story behind, for example, Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, than the actual structure itself, however stunning it is. Shoot street fashion, interesting cars, souvenir shops, something that evokes the feel of a place you will want to remember.

I love shooting street vendors and street food
3.  In defense of the camera phone. If you have a smart phone, you probably have a built in camera with 8 megapixels or higher. I have a DSLR that I never do heavy traveling without, but I also really like to have my iPhone with me to snap quick shots that are, sometimes, nearly as good as the quick photos I would snap with my Canon. Ideally, travel with both. If you are going on a walking tour, know to have your DSLR out and ready to shoot. But for walking around a museum or to for capturing a perfect cone of gelato, relying on your iPhone’s camera will save you sore shoulders and or backpack room and still get a good shot with a steady hand.

Yes, I shot this with my iPhone! At Parc Guell, Barcelona 
4.  Play with time of day. My favorite photos are actually night photos, which I just figured out how to take recently—and admittedly take practice. That’s ok. Play with your camera’s low light settings and definitely forget the flash. Cities especially, change at night and as the sun sets buildings and statues transform—capture it. Shooting in low light it’s really important to have the camera steady so balance on something like a bench or a lamppost or your friend’s shoulder. Early morning and bad weather also make for great, moody and memorable photos.
Rome at Dusk
The Pantheon, Rome
5. Get close, forget digital zoom. Get as close to your subjects--scenery, buildings, people--as possible. It's best to fill your shot--have a really up close shot of a sheep rather then all in a row. But when shooting people it's important to remember to be respectful, especially when traveling in foreign cultures. When taking a picture of a person, do not ask them to pose and do not invade their personal space. They're people, not souvenirs. 

My cousin Jake, left, and my brother Paul at Dun Aengus in Ireland 
6. Travel buddies make good subjects too. Traveling can some of the best memories and you will, as much as the place, want to remember when it happened, where you were in your life, who you were with. And don’t always have them pose! Catch them in their natural state of wander and/or goofiness. Also, you can and SHOULD take a picture of yourself, hostel bedhead hair or no. 

Yours truly in Charlotte, NC

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