As a professional travel photographer and full-time travel blogger, I think it’s fair to say that I love both travel and photography. However, we obviously can’t travel all the time. With that in mind, today I wanted to share some tips on how to practice travel photography without traveling.
It’s very easy to fall into the habit of only using our cameras for one-off occasions, such as capturing events or when we go on vacation. However, in doing so, we put aside the habit of photography and our skills can become a little rusty.
Like any skill, photography takes time and effort to master, and regular practice helps us improve. If we only use our cameras when we’re traveling or at a special event, we’re more likely to forget key photographic concepts and our skills are more likely to falter. You don’t want to miss that perfect holiday moment because you don’t remember how to set up your camera quickly when it happens.
In this post, I’m going to go over a number of tips and options you have to improve your photography when you’re not traveling. These are all things I’ve personally found useful for keeping my photography skills relevant and up to date, even when I’m not actively traveling and taking photos. I hope you find them useful too.
Tips for practicing travel photography without traveling
This series of ideas should give you plenty of options for improving your photography skills at home without having to travel anywhere. You should be able to do all of these things from home, in your backyard, or locally.
These tips are also designed to work with all types of cameras. So whether you prefer to use a smartphone, compact camera, bridge camera, mirrorless camera, or DSLR camera, you’ll find plenty of ideas to get you started.
Practicing portrait photography with family and friends.
For many people, the main reason they take photos is to record moments with friends and family. It could be during a trip, at a special event, or just having fun at home. One of the main reasons we take photos is to record events that have meaning to us.
Taking portraits of people is an important photography skill that will serve you well in a variety of situations. This includes when you are on vacation so you can get photos of friends and family that you are traveling with. It will also allow you to get great photos when you are at home and want to capture important moments.
The good news is that you don’t have to go anywhere to practice portrait photography – you can do it at home! All you need is a willing subject to practice on. My advice is to get used to how different lighting affects the image, play with different settings that allow you to adjust the depth of field of the image, and try different angles and compositions to see what works well.
Practicing wildlife photography with pets, birds and other wildlife.
If you have pets, chances are you want to take good photos of them. Pet photography can be great practice for wildlife photography in general, which is a useful skill to learn for travel as well. Who knows what fun and interesting critters you might find on your travels that you’ll want to photograph?
In addition to practicing with your pets, you can also use other animals in your neighborhood to hone your skills. Birds or other animals, such as squirrels, can provide an interesting backyard subject that will allow you to hone your wildlife photography skills.
Techniques you should focus on include getting the composition right, tracking focus on potentially fast moving subjects, and learning to be patient around animals to get the results you want.
Take an online photography course
One of the best ways to improve your photography is to take a dedicated course. A good photography course will teach you all the skills you need to improve your photography, from the basics of how a camera works, through composition, light and of course how to use photo editing software correctly!
Some courses may also cover more advanced photography topics, such as long exposure photography, or astrophotography, and may include guides to photography with specific cameras such as action cameras, smartphones or drones.
Depending on your preferences, there are different courses on the market. Some provide information through videos, while others are primarily written. Courses may also include additional features, such as comments on your images and access to course member-only forums or Facebook groups.
Since 2016, I’ve been running an online photography course of my own, and have helped over 2,000 students improve their photography to date. The course is mainly written content with some video tutorials, and covers all the topics I mentioned above.
You also get feedback from me as you go, access to webinars, interviews and videos, as well as exclusive membership to a Facebook group where you can get feedback on your work and participate in regular challenges. You can do the course and improve your photography from home, no need to travel, and it will help you improve your images no matter what type of camera you have.
My course is available for an amazing one-time price for lifetime access, and I think you should check it out. Which you can do by clicking here.
Practicing low light photography indoors.
One of the most difficult scenarios for photography is when there is low light available. Most cameras struggle to produce great images when there is less light available, such as at night or indoors when dining in a restaurant.
Learning how to take good pictures even in low light situations, and to the specific limitations of your camera, are essential photography skills. Low light photography is really easy to practice at home, all you need is a subject and a low light situation. Try to take the kind of photos you would like to take when you are travelling, such as photos of your food, people, a piece of furniture or a room in your house.
Things to master include knowing how to use your camera’s flash (and how to turn off your camera’s flash!), as well as knowing how to increase your ISO to compensate for darker environments.
Check your camera’s user manual
I can almost feel your eyes rolling as you read this advice. I realize that most of us find electronic device manuals a bit dry, and camera manuals are no exception.
However, every camera is slightly different, and the best way to start mastering all of your camera’s features is to learn what they are and how to access them. Most camera manuals are very detailed and will walk you through everything you need to know to get the most out of your particular camera model.
I can almost guarantee that if you haven’t read your camera’s user manual before, there’s likely to be some new setting, shortcut, tip, or feature that you’ll discover.
If you’ve lost or misplaced your camera’s manual, you can usually download an electronic copy from the manufacturer’s website.
Understand how your camera works
A camera is simply a tool that allows a photographer to take a picture. If you can understand how your camera does it at a high level, then you will be well on your way to taking better pictures.
Cameras offer a number of different features and settings, but at their core there are many similarities between different types of cameras. Understanding the basics of how your camera works will help you get the most out of it in a variety of situations.
Although every camera is slightly different, the basics remain the same, especially between different kinds of cameras, such as DSLR cameras or mirrorless cameras. To help you out, I’ve put together a guide on how to use a DSLR camera, a guide on how to use a mirrorless camera, and a guide on how to use a point-and-shoot camera.
These guides will help you understand exactly how to get the most out of your camera model.
Learn how to edit photos
Photo editing is a key skill in photography. This was true in the days of film, and it is still true in our digital world.
Luckily, editing digital files is much easier than editing film. For starters, you don’t need a darkroom or a bunch of smelly chemicals. All you need is some software and a little time.
Every digital image is edited at some point between pressing the shutter button and creating a usable JPG file. If you shoot in JPG, the camera applies a series of edits to your image when it saves it to your memory card, including sharpness, contrast, and saturation edits.
If you shoot in RAW, you will need to use photo editing software to convert your RAW files into usable images.
Editing your photos gives you more creative control over the final image. Editing allows you to do basic things like cropping and straightening a horizon, to more complex tasks like removing objects or replacing the sky in an image.
Photo editing is a valuable photography skill that doesn’t require you to travel anywhere to learn. You can practice with your image library, and I think it’s the perfect photography skill to learn from home.
When using photo editing software on a computer, Adobe Lightroom or Skylum Luminar is recommended. The former requires a monthly subscription, the latter is available for a one-time fee. You can also save 10 euros / 10 dollars on Luminar with the discount code “travelcats”.
For more options, including mobile, check out our guide to the best photo editing apps and programs.
How to handle a travel tripod
In my opinion, a tripod is an essential item for any photographer. You can see the reasons why you need a travel tripod here. In short, the main reasons to use a tripod are that they open up more photographic options, allow you to shoot in low light and prevent blurred images. They are also useful for getting better self-portraits and group shots.
The good news is that you don’t need a huge, bulky tripod to get better photos. Instead, you can use one of our recommended travel tripods.
They’re lightweight, designed to fold down small and are easy to pack and transport. They range in size from mini tabletop tripods to fuller sized travel tripods, so you can get the size tripod that works for your travel style. Travel tripods are also available in a wide range of prices for almost any budget, from around $30 to over $500.
Just like any tool, to get the most out of it you need to become familiar with it. That means knowing how to set it up quickly, how to attach your camera to it, and how to adjust it to get the shot you want. You can easily practice with your tripod at home, even if you don’t take any photos.
Mastering depth of field
Depth of field is a key compositional skill for photographers. Adjusting depth of field allows you to control how much of the image is in sharp focus and how much is out of focus. Really out-of-focus areas of an image create beautiful patterns, known as bokeh in photography.
Depth of field can be adjusted by changing your camera’s aperture, and a shallow depth of field, where the least part of the image is in focus, is often preferred for wildlife and portrait images. However, you can practice adjusting depth of field with any subject. It can also be simulated on a smartphone using the “portrait” mode.
To learn more about this topic, check out my detailed guide on depth of field in photography.
Understanding the exposure triangle
One of the most important concepts to master when learning photography is the concept of the exposure triangle. This concept helps explain how your camera actually captures the image, and describes the three main controls you have to adjust how bright or dark the image is.
This brightness or darkness is known as the exposure, and since there are three main controls to adjust the brightness, it is described as a triangle.
The controls you can change on most cameras and some smartphones are ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. Changing each of these also affects the look of the final image beyond brightness, with different settings changing the motion, depth of field and noise of the image.
This is an important topic that can take a bit of time to get the hang of. I recommend you start with my guide to the exposure triangle in photography.
Taking pictures of the movement
A common photographic subject when traveling, or even at home, is photos of moving subjects. These subjects can be people or animals, such as children running or pets, or things such as vehicles or moving water.
Moving subjects pose unique challenges for photography. First, there is the issue of focusing on a moving subject, so it is important to master your camera’s focusing capabilities and learn how to follow a moving subject.
Next is the issue of motion blur. If an object is in motion, it can appear blurry in images. This may be a desired effect, for something like car headlights at night, or it may be something you are trying to avoid, as in the case of a portrait of a person or a photo of a bird.
In either case, you can control motion in your images by learning to master your camera’s shutter speed. So my tips for motion in photography are to learn how to control your shutter speed, and the effect it has on your images, as well as how to set your autofocus to track moving subjects. Some good subjects to practice with are children, pets, or backyard wildlife like birds and squirrels.
Practicing macro photography
Macro photography is commonly used to photograph very small subjects, and is often associated with imaging small insects. However, macrophotography can include any object photographed in the foreground.
To achieve true macro photography requires a lens that supports 1:1 magnification, known as a macro lens. This means that the size of the subject in real life is the same size as it appears on the sensor of your camera. Macro lenses are available for all types of cameras, including clip-on versions for many smartphones.
To practice macro photography at home all you need is the right type of lens and some subjects to photograph. There are many subjects that can work, from jewelry to insects to flowers. Just look for something that is small and intricate to get the best results.
Learn how to photograph food
One thing many of us love to do when we are on vacation, or even at a local restaurant, is to take pictures of our food.
If you’ve done it, you may have noticed that food photography is quite difficult. Many restaurants are poorly lit for photography, and getting great food photos (or any photos for that matter) in low light conditions can be a challenge.
You can practice your food photography skills at home, which can help you learn to overcome some of these limitations. All you need is a plate of food to work with. My tips are to learn how to use the available light and how to set up your camera to get the best results. You can also practice setting up a nice table and explore how different angles can make a plate look good.
Learn the main techniques of composition
Composition is one of the most important photographic techniques to learn. Composition has to do with how the different elements of the shot work together to create a cohesive and attractive image. The ultimate goal should be for the subject, or subjects, to be clearly defined and obvious to the viewer as the main focal point of the image.
The other elements of the shot should complement and enhance the subject, and not distract or confuse the viewer.
There are a number of common compositional techniques you can use to achieve this, which are often referred to as rules of composition. However, these are more like guidelines, as you don’t need to follow them rigidly to get a good image.
Popular composition techniques you can practice on your own photos at home include the rule of thirds, leading lines, use of color, spacing and separation, and symmetry. Check out my guide to composition in photography for lots of tips and ideas on these and other composition techniques.
Make the most of sunsets and sunrises.
It can be hard to stay motivated to use your camera while you’re at home, but setting specific times to get out and shoot during the week can be a great idea. Two of the best times of day to get out shooting are sunrise and sunset. The light at these times, which photographers call the golden hour, is usually warm and ideal for photography.
So if you can be outside during these hours and have decent weather, you should have good light to practice your photography. If you’re an early riser, you can take advantage of sunrise, and if not, sunset is probably your best bet.
When we travel, it’s good to take pictures of ourselves in the places we visit. Often, people just pick up their phone camera and take a picture, but this doesn’t always result in the most flattering or well-composed self-portrait.
Practicing your selfie skills will ensure you get the best photos of yourself and the people you’re traveling with. And, like the other tips in this guide, it’s a photography skill you can learn at home.
We prefer to use a tripod whenever possible to take photos together, as we find the results are usually better. However, it’s not always possible to set up a tripod, so we also travel with a selfie stick for our phone. This allows you to get a better angle and composition in the shot, and not be limited by the length of your arm.
We have a detailed guide on how to get good photos of yourself. You can put these tips into practice before you head out on your trip.
Join a local photography club
In addition to taking an online photography course, joining a local photography club or camera club is a great way to stay motivated to use your camera when you’re at home. Photography clubs can vary greatly in how they are organized and what they offer.
Not only can these meetups be a great way to learn new camera skills and stay motivated to use your camera, but it’s also a great way to learn some new local photography venues and meet some fellow photography lovers.
Explore fun photographic effects and techniques.
Another idea to improve your photography skills at home is to try something completely new and different. Don’t be afraid to let your mind go crazy with things to try – you can take pictures of all kinds of fun things at home!
Try photographing soap bubbles in the sink, taking “fake” travel photos at home, trying some fancy editing techniques, playing with reflections, sunbeams, lens flares, light trails, throwing liquid in the air and letting it freeze, painting with light…. the list goes on!
Being at home is a time when you can push your creative limits and try new things. Some of these things will turn out well, some of them might not, but you’re sure to have a good time and get some great photos. If you have kids, it can also be fun to get them involved.
If you’re looking for ideas, Instagram, YouTube or Pinterest can be great sources of inspiration for some new homemade photography ideas. You can also look for fun photo aids like a lensball or prism, as well as props or 360 cameras, for more fun!
Research travel photography equipment.
Probably one of the most popular questions we get from readers is what type of camera they should upgrade to take better photos.
Photographic equipment can make all the difference in your images and what you can achieve. However, your skill as a photographer and your knowledge of how to properly use the equipment you have is arguably the most important factor in getting good photos.
That said, understanding why you might need a more expensive camera, or the difference between a smartphone and a DSLR, is definitely helpful. Most photographers, as they go through their learning journey, find themselves limited by their equipment and need an upgrade at some point.
This can be to get better photos in low light, to capture better shots of fast moving subjects, or to shoot in specific scenarios, such as underwater.
The most important thing when deciding on an upgrade is knowing what problem you’re trying to solve, and being able to choose a camera that solves that problem and allows you to get the photos you want.
To help you make that decision, we’ve put together a detailed guide to the best cameras on the market today across a range of camera types. They also go into detail about what to look for and why, so you can make a fully informed decision.
For starters, we have a detailed general guide on the best travel camera. We also have detailed specific guides on the best compact camera, the best bridge camera, the best action camera, the best mirrorless camera and the best DSLR camera.
Try lenses at home with rental services.
If you have a camera where you can change the lens, such as a mirrorless camera or a DSLR, you may have already realized that the lens you choose to use makes a big difference in the images you can take.
You may want to capture an entire landscape with a wide-angle lens, take great portraits with a large aperture lens, or photograph wildlife and distant subjects with a telephoto lens. You may also prefer a “walk-around” lens, allowing you to do most things without having to carry a bag of lenses with you.
In any case, when you start researching lenses, you’ll quickly realize that lenses are expensive, and that purchasing a lens for every situation might not be feasible in your budget.
Instead, you’ll want to choose the best lens or lenses for your preferred style of photography. To help you decide, a good option is to rent a few lenses at home, try them out and decide which ones suit you. Then you can make the right investment.
There are a variety of services you can use for lens rentals. We recommend Lens Rentals, which has a large selection of lenses from various manufacturers. Their shipping costs include the cost of shipping the lens and return shipping costs. Even better, they have a program where, if you like the product, you can buy it directly from them.
If you’re looking for a new lens and don’t know what to look for, check out our guide to the best lenses for travel cameras, which will give you some options to get you started.
Learn how to use your camera’s focusing tools.
For most of the photos you take, your goal will be to get your subject in focus. Most cameras and smartphones offer a variety of focus modes, depending on the situation.
These range from standard focus, which only focuses on one point, to continuous focus and tracking systems. The latter options can be used to follow a moving subject and allow you to capture sharp images even if the subject moves between shots.
There are also a number of even more advanced focus tracking systems that can automatically identify common focal points, such as the eyes of people or animals in your shots. This can make it even easier to get sharp images.
Whatever your camera system and the focus modes it offers, the main thing is to understand exactly what options you have. You don’t want to lose focus on an important shot because you had the camera in the wrong focus mode.
Get a photo guide to your next travel destination.
If you are planning a future trip to somewhere that you are particularly looking forward to photographing, you might consider getting a photo guide to that place. You can find photo guides to most of the most popular places in the world, both in the form of published books and online articles and blogs.
For example, you can get photo guides to places like Yosemite National Park, Zion National Park, and Iceland. You can find articles on travel blogs, such as my own guides, which include places to photograph in London, places to photograph in Paris and many more.
These can not only provide you with tips and places to take photos in these locations, but can keep you excited about travel photography between trips.
Create a photography portfolio
An important skill to develop as a photographer is the art of self-curation. When you go on vacation, chances are you take hundreds of photos. However, the reality is that even close friends and family may not want to see all the images you’ve taken.
Learning to filter your images and share only the best ones is a key skill. One way to hone this skill is to create a website with your work. This will force you to evaluate your photos and choose the ones that truly represent your work.
There are a variety of websites where you can create an online photography portfolio. There are everything from paid options with all the features designed specifically for this purpose, to creating a nice looking dedicated profile on a social network like Instagram. Depending on your needs, there are quite a few options to choose from. You can use some of the simpler ones for free to host photos to show off to your friends and family, or pay for a more professional website that includes a range of theme or portfolio options.
Some of the photography portfolio websites that will also allow you to sell your photos online as well. If that’s an option you’d like to explore, I recommend you check out SmugMug, where you can create a great looking portfolio website and also sell your images.
I have a full review of SmugMug here, and you can also save 15% if you sign up with this link. I also have a round up of other photography portfolio websites here.
One fun photography subject that you might want to learn how to take pictures of is the night sky. Learning how to photograph things like the moon and the stars will require that you master a number of different photography techniques. It will also require that you understand more of the features of your camera.
Plus, you may get some beautiful images of the night sky as a bonus! All you need to learn astrophotography is clear skies and minimal light pollution. If you live in a city, you may have to leave the city to be able to do star photography. However, full moons are often visible even in the middle of a big city at night.
I have a guide to photographing stars, as well as photographing northern lights, which are a good place to start.
I hope this guide has given you lots of ideas to improve your photography from home. I also wanted to share some other photography content we’ve written that I hope will also help you take better photos.
We have a guide on how to use a compact camera, how to use a DSLR camera, and how to use a mirrorless camera. We also have a guide on how a DSLR camera works.
Knowing how to compose a good photo is a key photographic skill. Check out our guide to composition in photography for lots of tips on this topic.
We have a guide on what depth of field is and when to use it.
We’re all about getting the most out of your digital photo files, and to do that you’ll need to shoot in RAW. Check out our guide to RAW in photography to understand what RAW is, and why you should switch to RAW as soon as you can if your camera supports it.
We have a guide to the best photo editing apps including free and paid options.
You’ll need something to run your photo editing software. Check out our guide to the best laptops for photo editing for some tips on what to look for.
Colour accuracy is important for photography – check out our guide to monitor calibration to make sure your screen is set up correctly.
If you’re looking for a great gift for a photography-loving friend or family member (or yourself), check out our photography gift guide,
If you’re looking for a new camera, we have a detailed guide to the best travel cameras, as well as specific guides to the best hiking and backpacking cameras, the best compact camera, the best bridge camera, the best mirrorless camera and the best DSLR camera. We also have a guide to the best camera lenses.
If you want a camera or lens, but the prices are a bit steep, check out our guide on where to buy second hand cameras and camera gear to find some money saving options.
We’ve got a guide on why you need a tripod, a guide to choosing a travel tripod and a round-up of our favourite travel tripods.
If you’re looking for more tips for different situations, we’ve got those too. Check out our guides on northern lights photography, long exposure photography, fireworks photography, star photography tips, snow photography and cold weather photography.
Finally, if you want to take your photography to the next level, check out my online photography course.
And that’s it! As always, we’re open to your comments and questions. Just post them in the comments below and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.
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