Instagram Photographer
© Holly Lay

How to Take Kickass, Instagram-worthy Travel Pics

Instagram is one of my favorite discovery platforms for inspiration, from fitness to writing to travel. It makes my search so easy, and the images provide an instant idea of whether I want to follow someone or not.

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Which is why, in this age of short attention spans and big-name brands clamoring for our attention, Instagram is one of the best ways to build a fan base. That’s what makes it so great for travel bloggers and travel photographers. Take your Insta-game to the next level with these quick tips:

Find a Focal Point of Interest

You’ll often see recommendations to get a human being in your picture, whether it’s you, your travel partner, or a local. And that’s a valid point – it adds an element of interest and helps to tell a story. But, then again, what if you’re taking a photo of that gorgeous Japanese bowl of ramen or a panorama shot of the Grand Canyon?

So let’s tweak that tip to say: find a point of interest, human or otherwise. Include those intricately carved chopsticks next to the bowl of ramen, or wait till a bird or a plane (or Superman) flies into the frame above the landscape.

Another great trick is to bring some perspective into your photograph by showing how you are interacting with the shot: a sliver of the dashboard of your car, the far edge of your dinner table, etc.

See these pics:

Ripples in the Sand
Ripples in the Sand © Hamdan Mesfer Al Amimi

Use an Unusual Angle

Instead of your average beach photograph, hunker down and place your camera close to the sand. You’ll get the interesting texture of the sand, the approaching froth of the waves, and a sliver of sky, instead of a boring photograph that could be a stock image.

See these pics:

Get the Gadgets

You don’t have to travel with a fanny pack of lenses, straps, and tripods to get a good picture, but there are a couple of tools that can widen your repertoire. A waterproof case is my favorite, because underwater pictures are fascinating, even if it’s just of your toes amongst the coral.

You’d do well to get a GorillaPod too. With those bendy legs, you have a tripod that wraps around fences, iron railings, and branches, or sits pretty on a rock, and you can set your timer to get pictures of yourself, your travel group, or the scenery behind you. They’re also great for doing time-lapses without having your hands tremble from holding steady for so long.

Cliff Jumping, Malta
Cliff Jumping in Malta © Jon Rawlinson

Experiment With Timing

Photographers know of the ‘magic hour’ or the ‘golden hour’ – it’s the time before sunrise and after sunset during which the light is softest. It’s regarded as the most flattering light for photographs, (although I know if I’ve woken up before sunrise, no amount of golden light is going to flatter me …) and is recommended for landscapes and interesting structures. The shadows are more interesting, and the lighting is more of a glow, so you have a good chance of taking pictures that look like they’ve already had filters applied.

Timing also means catching the perfect action shot at just the right time. If you know someone’s diving or jumping, you could try using the continuous shoot mode or action/burst/sports mode so that you’re sure you catch the moment you want.

See these pics:

Make the Most of the Weather

If you’ve got bright sunny days and blue skies, your photographs are bound to be beautiful. But a rainy day with storm clouds gathering can be much more dramatic and moody, especially when you apply filters. On dark or rainy days, look for interesting contrasts of grey streets and bright rainwear, or reflections in puddles.

See these pics:

© Jesse Freeman


Instagram encourages you to upload square pictures (although, thankfully, that’s recently changed). If you’re taking pictures, compose them with the most interesting parts in the centre, so that when Instagram crops it, you still have a perfect image.

See these pics:

Plan Your Contrasts

If you’re photographing yourself or your travel companion, wear something that will stand out where you’re going, if possible. If you’re hiking Sri Lanka’s tropical forest, a red tee or jacket will stand out in vivid contrast against the green of the trees. Black or white looks great against the reds and browns of a rocky landscape. You see where we’re going with this. You could also carry a bright bag or a neon umbrella, or wear a pair of interesting shoes.

See these pics:

Silhouettes Against a Red Sky, Norway
Under a Blood Red Sky, Norway © Bjørn Heidenstrøm

Social Media Basics

And finally, when you Instagram your travel photographs, make sure you’re doing it right. Put your blog link into your profile when you set it up, so people can find and follow your other work. But most importantly, use the right hashtags. Tagging your pictures makes it easier for people browsing, and you’ll find that you get more followers like this.

A good formula for hashtagging is: name the location, name the mood or object, and name the theme. For example: #manila #philippines #cafe #delicious.

Use a couple of travel-themed tags as well: #travel, #instatravel, #trip, etc.

There are a few basic Insta hashtags you should know:

  • #latergram – picture posted much later than it was taken
  • #instagood – pictures that you’ve taken that you love
  • #nofilter – for when your picture is so good, you don’t need to use a filter
  • #instamood – pictures that convey a mood
  • #instafood – no prizes for guessing this one!

You could use tags that are universally used, or well loved: #summer, #beach, #holiday, #beautiful, #running, #airplane, #love.

Before you travel to a new place, do a little research. Find out if there are interesting architectural elements in the city you’re visiting, look for tips on catching a sunrise or sunset at the beach you’re going to be at, or ask if there are great viewpoints or landscape shots to be taken at your next hike. Is there going to be a vintage car rally or concert while you’re there? You can thank us when your photographs become infinitely more ‘Grammable!

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