My Best Travel Photography Hacks

Photographer Ed Mercer

By Ed Mercer, 

Chief Photographer/Editor


Photography, as we all know, is not real at all. It is an illusion of reality with which we create our own private world. – Arnold Newman

Hi, Ed Mercer here. 

I’m a pro photographer from Maine and I’ve been seriously into photography for over 40 years. 

40 years adds up to taking a lot of photographs over the span of my career. I’ve done all kinds of photography, and seen all kinds of changes in equipment and technology along the way.

However, without a doubt, one of my favorite kinds of photography is travel photography. 

You should keep in mind that taking great photos in exotic locations requires a lot of advance planning and knowledge to get the jaw-dropping photos everyone dreams about coming home with. 

By taking the time to plan before you go, you’ll get the best images possible to capture those memories of a lifetime.

In this article I want to share with you the many things I have learned over the years to ensure all your travel photos are amazing. After your  family and friends see your shots, they’ll be feeling more than a little jealous they weren’t along too.

So let’s get started! 

Tip#1 – Do Some Research Before You Leave Home

Doing your research before you travel is one of the smartest things you can do to make sure your photographs turn out great. 

Unlike years ago, you have the benefit of all kinds of online info at your fingertips to prepare for any kind of photographic situation you might run into during your travels. 

Make sure to check when the sunrise and sunsets are at your travel location. You’ll find that your photos typically look better during these early morning and late day shooting times. 

When the sun is directly overhead, it can cast some harsh unflattering shadows that can be difficult to eliminate, even with all of the editing tools at our disposal. An example of this can be found in the photo to the right. 


Sunrise/Sunset Apps

The photo to the right is the same as the shot above, but I simulated what it would look like with warmer golden light. There’s quite a difference the time of day makes in the hue of  the natural light 

If you go to this website:, you can find the sunrise and sunset times anywhere you’re travelling to. 

There are also all kinds of apps that you can get for your mobile phones to find this information.

An app I really like for this purpose you can find at It’s free and shows how the light falls on the land at any given time or location.


Tip #2 – Check Out Social Media

A quick search on Google will arm you with a wealth of information, but don’t forget about social media platforms such as Facebook. 

Facebook has groups in every city and country that you might travel and you can discover a ton from them. 

Here you can find what local events might be going on when you’re planning to travel to a particular location. 

You can also ask questions about the weather in a particular region, and find how large the expected crowds will be at places of interest (another reason to get out early to create photographs.) .

There’s also the possibility you’ll uncover a gem off the beaten path to get shots few other photographers will have. Here’s an example of what I mean.

social-media-icons copy

If Only I’d Taken My Own Advice…

When I typed Portland Head Lighthouse into my Facebook search box, I got a list of six different groups all giving great information about events happening at the lighthouse during different times of the year, along with other helpful information.

If I had only taken my own advice and did a check like this beforehand, I could have saved myself a lot of time. 

I would have known when and where to be on some of my first photo trips to this location.

As you can see in photo to the right, if you’re not there at the right time you have to fight for a good spot. If you aren’t in place early, you will also have to take all the tourists out of the photo in post processing (and that can be a pain!)



Tip#3 Post-Processing to the Rescue

Knowing what you can do with your final image in post processing is very important also as you can see in the two photos on the left taken at the same spot and time.

There was no one else here taking photos from this angle, and this shot turned out to be one of my favorites of the day.

Most photographers saw the image as you see it in the top photo, which is in a lot of shadow to be a good photo. It looks rather dreary. 

It just doesn’t impress like the photo below on the left.

But believe it or not, the 2nd photo is taken from the exact same location a few minutes later, with adjustments made in Adobe Lightroom CC.

So if you know what can be done in programs like Photoshop, Lightroom, and other editing programs, you get’ll those great shots that everyone else overlooks as being less than ideal.



Tip #4 – Know Thy Camera

Whether you shoot with a Nikon, Canon, Sony, a smartphone, or a tablet to take your photos, it’s very important that you know what you are doing in advance before arriving at your destination. 

You need to be fully comfortable with all the controls of your selected camera, and already have taken lots of photos with your camera prior to leaving home. 

It’s never a good idea to get a new camera the day before you are going on a trip and expect that your pictures will turn out great. 

Not being familiar with your camera and its settings beforehand can mean you’ll miss a lot of once-in-a-lifetime shots. 

  I cannot tell you how many times I have had people ask me how to change a battery or where to place their SD media card, or basic things like that before they even get around to taking any photographs.

Even though photography is about ISO, F-stops, and Shutter Speed no matter what type of camera you use, you need to know how to correctly use the right settings on your camera that apply to the conditions you’re shooting under.

For example, if you’re shooting at night, that requires a totally different approach to shooting early in the morning. 

Or if you try to capture a fast-moving animal with a very slow shutter speed, you’re bound to be disappointed.

You need to spend some time beforehand learning about the various settings on your camera, and practice using them before you leave on your trip. 

You have to feel so comfortable with changing your settings it feels like second nature and comes almost automatically.

Every camera has a different way to access the menus where you create your settings, and this can be very confusing. 

That’s why it’s not a good idea to take brand new equipment with you when you travel. You do not want to be frantically reading your camera manual and fiddling around trying to find the right settings when great photo opportunities arise before your eyes



Tip #5 – Take the Right Equipment

This is the equipment I bring along when I’m traveling. 

This may be more than some photographers might bring with them, but I like to be prepared for anything. 

  This is a pretty complete showing of what you might want in your Travel Photography Bag. 

Of course, this doesn’t include a computer and editing equipment, but thats a subject for another day.

So, as you can see from the photo showing all my equipment, I like to have at least 2 camera bodies along in case one fails or has issues. 

However, don’t feel you have to run out and buy two new expensive cameras before you leave on your trip, either.

Lots of times, you can pick up a used second camera body very reasonably, in great condition. It also helps to cut down expense if both your camera bodies can accept the same lenses. 

This isn’t always the case, even if both cameras are from the same manufacturer. So make sure you check into this before making a second camera body purchase.

Another tip I have if your looking for lenses to compliment your travel photography is to look into lenses made by third party companies like Tamron, Sigma and Tokina. 

They are usually excellent quality, but much less expensive than lenses made by the camera manufacturers like Canon and Nikon.

I only have 2 lenses I take with me. One is an 18-55mm zoom lens and the other is a 28-300mm zoom lens. 

These 2 lenses will handle just about any shooting situation I’ll encounter and keeps my equipment load lighter. 

There’s no need to bring along every kind of lens you own when you travel. 

I always have a lightweight tripod with me, as well as a gorilla tripod in case I want to wrap a camera body around a pole or bench.

And I include a selfie stick to use with my I-Phone 6-plus for video and selfies.

I also bring extra camera batteries, multiple sd cards, an image sensor cleaner, light meter/ flash meter, and a portable flash unit. 

There’s nothing worse than your battery dying in the middle of a golden photo opportunity, or finding out you’re unable to take any more shots because your card is full. 

So make sure you have extra essentials on hand. Remember, depending on where you’re traveling, you won’t always be able to find critical items like SD cards readily available.

The last bit of equipment in the equipment photo above is my camera backpack. 

That backpack is larger than what some photographers might use, but I prefer using a backpack over a bag so I can evenly distribute the weight of my equipment.

Shoulder bags tend to get very heavy after a long day of shooting.

Try out your backpack before you go. Make sure it’s comfortable to wear and it doesn’t chafe you neck or shoulder. There’s nothing worse than being uncomfortable when you still have a long day of shooting ahead of you.

Tip #6 – Proceed with Caution if You Snap a Stranger

The last bit of advice I would give you about travel photography has to do with including people in your photographs. You always want to be respectful of the people you want included as subjects in your photos. 

Don’t just hide behind a long lens and snap people without their permission.

Most people are happy to be in your photos and all you have to do is ask permission to include them. 

I do it all the time and I don’t think I have ever been refused permission to include someone in a photo. 

If you plan on using the photos of the people for commercial purposes, you must get a model release from them granting you permission to publish their photo and sell their photo.

Don’t think you have to drag paper release forms with you, because you can pick up a phone app with a release form. It’s accepted as a model release from all the major stock photography sites. 

  You can find the app at the web address here:


These sites have helped a ton of my clients in the past with SOLVING MAIN PROBLEM. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out and ask. I’m here to help!

Ed Mercer

Chief Photographer/Editor

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