11 Common Travel Photography Mistakes to Avoid

Travel photography is a learning process. It requires patience, time, and a willingness to improve. No matter what type of photographer you are, you will make mistakes. This is especially true when trying to master a new technique.

There are, however, some common mistakes that can be avoided. So, I’ve compiled a list of the most common travel photography mistakes as well as some advice on how to avoid them.

Jen Composing an Image with a Tripod and Avoiding a Common Mistake in Travel Photography
Common Mistakes in Photography

1. Over-processing Photos

An Over-processed Photo of the Wadi Rum
Too Much Saturation gives Unrealistic Colors
Correctly Processed Picture of the Wadi Rum
Keep the Colors Natural

Editing photos using post-processing software is something every travel photographer does. However, most beginners are too heavy-handed with their edits. The most common mistake is over-saturation. This creates unrealistic colors that are often too bright. And, in extreme cases, you will see color banding, where the different shades of one color separate into distinct bands.

To see how I edit photos, download my free Lightroom preset.

Example: The photo above was taken at the Wadi Rum in Jordan, where it’s very hazy. So, adding saturation and dehaze produces an unrealistic image. If you went to the Wadi Rum, it would not look like the photo on the left.

Pro Tip: As a travel photographer, you want to transport your viewers to the location of your photo. A photo that has unrealistic colors will be less relatable.

2. Missed Focus

It’s essential to get the focus right while taking the photo. Fixing the focus in post-processing is either impossible or exceptionally difficult.

Missed focus most often occurs when using autofocus mode. In this setting, the camera chooses your focus points, and, sometimes, it focuses on the wrong part of the image. This is especially true if you are using a shallow depth of field (i.e., an aperture of f/5.6 or wider).

This can also happen in manual mode where you are always adjusting the focus ring. If you accidentally hit the focus ring or if your vision is not great you can end up with an image that is out of focus.

There are, however, several things you can do to ensure you focus accurately. The easiest thing to do is study the focus modes available for your camera. Then, find what works best for your type of photography.

I would also recommend using the back button instead of the shutter to focus when in autofocus mode. Like this, you will avoid accidentally taking a picture before focusing.

Pro Tip: After taking a picture, always verify that everything is in focus. You can do this by zooming to 1:1 magnification on the display screen.

3. Always Centering the Subject

Street Art in Paris where the image is not composed using the Rule of Thirds
The Subject is Centered
Street Art in Paris where the image is composed using the Rule of Thirds
Composed using the Rule of Thirds

When I look back at my early images, the horizon is almost always placed in the middle of the photo. The same goes for the subject. While it’s not the end of the world, nor the most horrendous mistake, it can leave the viewer confused. They might not be sure what half to look at or be able to identify the subject.

The easiest way to fix this problem is to use the Rule of Thirds.

In the Rule of Thirds, an image is divided into thirds, horizontally and vertically (2 lines for each to give 9 sections). Then, the subject is placed at the intersection of these lines. The same concept can be applied to the position of the horizon. Instead of placing the horizon in the middle, place it on either horizontal line.

By composing your images using the Rule of Thirds, you are clearly identifying the subject and telling your viewer where to look.

Example: In the photo on the left, the subject is placed in the middle and your eyes are drawn to the middle of the street. But, in the photo on the right, the subject is composed using the Rule of Thirds, and your eyes are drawn to the head of the child.

Pro Tip: To overlay the Rule of Thirds, use your camera’s grid feature or Lightroom’s crop grid overlay.

4. Not Knowing How Your Camera Works

It’s easy to buy expensive camera equipment and set everything on auto mode. But you will be missing out and limiting yourself. You should, at least, know how to use the three most important settings (shutter speed, aperture, and ISO). By doing this, you will be able to produce the image you intended to capture.

If you know how to use your camera to its full potential, you will have a world of opportunities at your fingertips. It’s something you won’t regret.

5. Forgetting to Change the Settings

Before taking a photo it’s imperative to look at the current settings on your camera. It’s not uncommon for photographers (at all levels) to take photos using the settings from the previous photoshoot.

Unfortunately, this mistake often goes unnoticed until the post-processing stage, when it’s too late.

Pro Tip: Make it a habit to always check your shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Take a minute to review these settings the moment you take your camera out of your bag.

6. Not Using a Tripod

Taking a picture of the Sunrise over Little Venice in Colmar required a Tripod
Use a Tripod for Sunrise Photos

There will be certain situations where you will need a tripod. Below are the most common scenarios.

  • Interior and evening photography
  • Blurring motion
  • Macro photography
  • When using a telephoto lens
  • Long exposures
  • Time-lapse photography
  • Self-portraits
  • Night and astrophotography
  • HDR (High Dynamic Range)

As a general rule, the slowest shutter speed that you can use (without needing a tripod) is two times the reciprocal of the focal length. As an example, if you are using a 100mm lens, 2×100= 200. So, the slowest shutter speed you can take a picture, without a tripod, is 1/200th second.

Using a tripod also slows down the process of composing a photo. As you start setting up your tripod, you will naturally look around for the best spot. This will force you to think about the composition of your image. And the final product is a high-quality photo with fewer mistakes.

7. Not Shooting in RAW

You should always shoot in RAW format rather than JPEG. RAW format captures all the image data recorded by the sensor when you take a photo. Since the information is not compressed, you have more possibilities in post-reduction.

When shooting in JPEG, however, your camera applies a ‘preset’ then compresses the photo. So, white balance, sharpening, saturation, and contrast, are already applied to your photo before you begin editing. This makes it difficult to correct any mistakes in post-production.

So, why do photographers still shoot in JPEG?

The answer is file size. It’s true that RAW image files are larger than JPEGs. But if you have already spent money on a good camera, wouldn’t you want all the information that comes with the RAW file? Today, external hard drives are relatively inexpensive, so it’s no excuse.

Pro Tip: Take a photo in JPEG and, then, take the same picture in RAW. Now, edit both pictures, and you will instantly see the difference between the two file formats.

8. Crooked Horizons

Eiffel Tower with a Slanted Horizon
Crooked Horizon
Eiffel Tower with a Level and Straight Horizon
Straight Horizon

A crooked horizon is a common mistake in photography because it’s so easy to do. If you are holding your camera incorrectly or rush to take the shot, you will end up with a slanted horizon. And, even if everything is perfect, it will be the only thing your viewers notice.

There are a few ways to correct this error. The easiest is to use a tripod. This will keep the camera still and allow you to make adjustments before taking the shot. For an in-camera fix, you can turn on the grid feature. Like this, you can see if the horizon lines up with the grid lines. Finally, you can correct this issue in post-processing. In Lightroom, under the transform section (right-hand side), you can level your image.

9. Not Learning the Basics

Not learning the basics is one of the most common beginner mistakes in photography. Great photos come from a combination of skill and creativity. And you need a solid foundation to learn some of the more complicated techniques.

I recommend starting with the three most important camera settings, shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. All three elements control the exposure of your photo as well as motion blur, noise, and depth of field.

After you understand these concepts, you can move to more advanced topics, such as long exposure and HDR.

10. Buying the Wrong Camera/Lens

A Photo of Petite France in Strasbourg taken with the Correct Lens and Camera
Use the Correct Camera Equipment

Long before I learned about image quality, I bought my DLSR camera and lens. I started out with the Nikon 24-120mm, thinking I would never need another lens. But what I did not know was that this lens had several weak points, including poor sharpness at 120mm and poor low light performance. It was unusable at 120mm and in low light situations. And, for a travel photographer, this was very limiting. When I changed to the Nikon 24-70mm, the quality of images dramatically improved. Now, I had a lens that was sharp throughout the zoom range and worked well in low-light conditions. It fit my needs both as a travel and landscape photographer.

Don’t think you can buy one lens that will do it all. Instead, buy one good lens that can do the type of photography you want to do. And, then if you want to expand your niche, buy a second lens for that purpose.

In my situation, I knew that I would be losing a lot in terms of focal length, but I would be increasing the quality of my images. I, now, have a great everyday lens that corresponds to the type of travel photography I do.

The same idea applies to choosing a camera. If you generally shoot landscapes, don’t buy a vlogging camera. Take your time and research which camera meets your photography needs.

Pro Tip: Look at the type of pictures you take. Are they mostly landscapes or do they correspond more to street photography? Use your current set of photos to guide your decision. Then, when you need something more, find the piece of camera equipment that can do what you need.

11. Using Dirty Camera Gear

Photo of Petra Taken with a Dirty Camera Sensor
Dust on the Sensor

When you use your camera gear it will inevitably get dirty. And a dirty camera sensor or lens will affect your image quality.

The biggest culprit is dust, which creates little black/grey dots in your images. When there are only one or two spots it’s easy to clone them out, but these dust specs have a habit of proliferating. One spec can easily turn into many, and if oil gets on the sensor it can smear.

So, how can you protect your camera?

First, you should clean your sensor and lens frequently. Your lens can be cleaned with a microfiber cloth. In fact, I always have a few with me, and they are an essential part of my camera gear. When it comes to cleaning your sensor, you should be more careful. If you don’t do it correctly you can permanently damage your camera.

Second, always store your equipment with the caps on in an area where dust can’t settle on it. And your camera should never be stored with the sensor facing up. Always store it on its side.

Finally, avoid changing lenses in windy or dusty conditions. Make sure you are in a clean area where dust can’t enter during the exchange.

Example: In the photo above, the red arrows highlight a few of the dust specs that were on my sensor. It took me more than 45 minutes to scan this image and remove them all. I should have cleaned my sensor!

Travel Photography Resources

Travel Photography Tutorials

Landscape Photography in Depth by Daniel Kordon – This is the most comprehensive professional post-processing tutorial I have done.

Post-Processing Software

Adobe Creative Cloud – The best editing software (Photoshop & Lightroom) used by most travel photographers.

Raya Pro – The best plugin for Photoshop. A powerful luminosity mask software that simplifies your workflow.

The Nik Collection – A series of plugins for polishing your final images.

I hope you enjoyed my guide to the most common travel photography mistakes and found it useful. Here are some more articles related to travel photography that I think you might find interesting.

Jen Ciesielski
Jen Ciesielski

Jen Ciesielski is the creator of Dabbling in Jet Lag. She has lived abroad for over ten years, traveled to more than 50 countries, and speaks French and English fluently. Her areas of expertise include moving abroad, learning languages, and travel planning. Originally from the United States, she now lives in France, where she has been for more than six years. She has also traveled extensively around the country. She shares her experiences as an expat living in France and helps thousands of people plan their trips every month.

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