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How to Balance Taking Travel Photos While Enjoying in the Moment

by Kyla Steeves

Whenever you’re traveling abroad, it can be challenging to put the camera down. Everywhere you turn, there’s picturesque landscapes, candy-colored buildings and of course, iconic landmarks.

But you might find that you’re only experiencing the destination behind, or in front, of the lens — especially if taking travel photos is a priority on your trip.

Whether you’re wanting to fill the pages of a travel photo book, or need fresh content as an Instagram influencer, you probably put up with the side-eye glance of judgemental travelers. And that’s great you do! Those photos are for you, not them. However, you shouldn’t miss out on being in the moment while capturing the moment.

For example, it’s reasonable to return home with a full memory card of Myanmar photos because you may never get the chance to visit again. But while you’re getting the perfect pagoda portrait, it’s possible you’ll miss a monk taking a photo of the sunset on his smartphone.

That’s why balance is necessary. A viewfinder doesn’t give the whole picture.

So how do you remain present when trying to get a share-worthy shot? Here are a few tips to try on your next (or current) adventure:

Designate days for taking travel photos

Depending on the length of your trip, you don’t have to lug around your camera the entire time. Besides, carrying your DSLR around everywhere is exhausting — not to mention an added risk factor.

Imagine this scenario. You stumble upon a pristine beach and want to go for a dip. With a backpack full of expensive camera gear, it isn’t wise to leave your bag unattended. So you opt out and forego your chance of spotting a turtle.

If you’ve got a few days or more in a destination, try to designate one day for taking travel photos. Maybe it’s the first day of exploring when everything is new and exciting. Or, maybe it’s the last day because you already know the best photo spots. Choose a day that works best for yourself and itinerary.

As for the rest of the time, get out and explore. You might come across an amazing adventure. Without a camera in tow, you’ll have better mobility and won’t worry about getting your bag wet or stolen.

Be selective with your travel photography

How many of your travel photos make it on social media? Are you sorting through a bunch of okay shots until you find one good enough to edit? Do you look back and wonder where the majority of your photos were taken?

That’s because some photos aren’t worth taking in the first place. It may seem like a good idea to pose in front of a random Italian street or take a photo of your thirteenth pad thai, but the reality is, that photo will never leave your camera roll. Honestly, you don’t have to capture every moment of your trip.

Instead, be selective with your travel photography. It’s about quality, not quantity. Take out your camera only when you know it’ll mean something at the end of your travels. Or, if it’s guaranteed to be an outstanding shot — like at golden hour when the lighting is ideal.

Rely on your smartphone camera

Smartphone cameras are getting better all the time. Nowadays, you can snap a photo on your iPhone and someone will think it was professionally taken — especially in portrait mode. That means you don’t need to buy a fancy camera before your trip. And if you already have one, consider saving space in your carry-on. Or better yet, leave it locked up at the hostel on your non-photo taking days (see above).

Your smartphone is easy to access and light to carry; it doesn’t take long to reach into your pocket and take a photo. And you can relax knowing that if a photo opportunity comes up, you’ll have a quick way of capturing the moment — meaning you can actually enjoy being in the moment.

However, be aware of the temptation to use social media on your smartphone. Just because you’re in a wifi zone and have your phone on hand, it doesn’t mean you need to watch every Instagram story. But that’s a topic for another time.

Hire a professional photographer

…Or just hire a guide and pay them extra to help take photos

If you really want to get amazing shots without sacrificing time figuring out manual mode, consider hiring a professional photographer. There are lots of great services that have photographers who specialize in travel photography — like flytographer.

By booking a session, you’ll get high-quality photos of yourself in the destination. As a solo traveler, it’s a great way to relieve you from asking strangers or setting up a tripod. And the photographer is local — which means they’ll know all the secret photo spots where tourists can’t be found.

Final thoughts

There really needs to be a mindset change when it comes to balancing between travel photography and living in the moment. But with the above tips, you’ll soon discover you don’t need thousands of photos because you’ll have thousands of stories instead.

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