Improving Your Travel Photography - Part 3

With several months of practice under my belt, I’m back with more tips and tricks to continue improving your travel photography. If you missed the first two parts in this series it could be helpful to start back at Part 1.

Basics of Photography

In the last post we started a discussion on the variables that photographers use to control the look and feel of their pictures. When shooting in full auto your camera will control these variables and attempt to adjust them in order to produce its version of the “best” picture possible.

Having an understanding of the main variables of photography though, can allow you to take your photography a step further - providing incredible effects or effortless shooting in difficult conditions.

Photography is all about light and all of these variables have different effects on the light that enters into your camera’s sensor making your photograph.

Shutter Speed:

Shutter Speed is the rate at which your shutter opens and closes. If the shutter is open for longer then more light will hit the sensor. The shutter speed also controls the motion blur (or lack thereof) in your photographs. The longer the shutter is open, the higher the likelihood that something is moving in your photo.

Improving Your Travel Photography | Shutter Speed


Aperture is a measurement of the openness of your camera’s lens. If the lens is wide open it will let in the maximum amount of light. Aperture also controls the depth of the field that can be in focus.

Improving Your Travel Photography | Aperture


ISO is a measure of your camera’s sensitivity to the light that is coming in and hitting the sensor. Shutter speed and aperture control the amount of light hitting the sensor and ISO controls how the sensor interprets that light. A low ISO will decrease the camera’s sensitivity and a high ISO can help brighten up even the darkest conditions. ISO can also control the “noise” in your photography. Dark images that are heavily reliant on ISO for their brightness can become very noisy or grainy and significantly reduce the quality of the image.

Improving Your Travel Photography | ISO

As mentioned, when shooting in full auto your camera will automatically adjust these settings in order to capture the “best” photo possible. If you want to take your photography one step further, it will be important to determine what the most important variable for a photograph or condition is and define that setting yourself.

Using Priority Modes

As we discussed last time, a basic understanding of how these variables work is crucial in creating the perfect shot. That said, manually adjusting every setting for every picture is just not feasible when you’re trying to roam the world and see EVERYTHING.

To shortcut that problem, we can use different “priority” modes to manually adjust 1 or 2 variables at a time and allow the camera to automatically adjust the other settings around our priority settings.

Some cameras have a specific setting to switch to “aperture priority” for example while others utilize “auto” options for individual settings. The application of these modes may vary slightly by camera, but this is where Youtube can be your best friend. For example, simply search “Aperture Priority Mode Fuji XT30” for a quick tutorial on how to achieve these effects on your camera.

Improving Your Travel Photography | Our Travels

Shooting in a priority mode will give you the speed and flexibility of achieving a specific effect without spending the time to define all of the settings. Your camera becomes a one setting, point and shoot. Even if you decide to manually adjust after seeing the priority mode shot, you will have a starting point to work from.

So let’s talk about the two priority modes that we’ve been using in our travels.

Shutter Priority

Life happens fast. When trying to capture a bird flying, a car driving by or your friend cliff diving in Costa Brava, in crisp and clean form you will need to shoot in shutter priority so that you can set a fast shutter speed.

Improving Your Travel Photography | Shutter Priority Mode

Conversely, if you want a smooth waterfall over a ridge or the traveling lights moving down a NYC street you will also need to shoot in shutter priority. Because these objects are moving, the time that the shutter is open greatly affects the way these photos would appear.

To freeze fast moving objects, you’ll need to shoot with very fast shutter speeds. Shutter speed is measured in seconds, so the smaller the fraction of a second (for example 1/1,000th or even 1/4,000th) the faster the shutter. This fast shutter speed will only allow a small amount of light to hit the sensor so the camera will attempt to automatically adjust the aperture and ISO in order to compensate.

To allow for some intentional motion blur, you’ll need to shoot with a slower shutter speed. How slow depends on the intended effect. This will allow more light to hit the camera’s sensor and your camera will attempt to adjust aperture and ISO accordingly to compensate for the increased light.

Aperture Priority

If your subjects are largely stationary or slow moving you may not need to prioritize shutter speed. Given this luxury, you can focus on lowering ISO and accurately controlling the depth of focal field.

Aperture is measured in f-stop. A very small f-stop (like f/2) means more light is being let into the lens. A large f-stop number (like f/20) means less light is hitting the sensor.

In aperture priority, your camera will automatically adjust the shutter speed and ISO to attempt to control the light hitting the lens for the best balance of light.

All of this light can have two effects.

The first is the most obvious. Increasing the openness of your lens will increase the light hitting the lens. If you are letting in more light through the lens, you will be less dependent on the camera’s sensor in picking up the light. Therefore, a large aperture can help reduce your camera’s reliance on ISO and can help reduce the “noise” or grain that a high ISO can produce.

The second is slightly more complicated. To avoid a very mathematical conversation requiring lots of drawings to thoroughly explain, we’ll try to keep it simple. The lower the f-stop, the smaller the depth of field that will be in focus for the shot. The higher the f-stop the deeper your focal field. If two objects are far apart from each other then a higher f-stop may be required in order to keep both objects in focus. If you're taking a picture and want the foreground to be the focus, a lower f-stop can allow you to blur the background.

Improving Your Travel Photography | Aperture Priority 

There is a bit of a give and take here. Minimizing ISO should always be a goal, but not worth losing focus on objects deeper in the shot. Some f-stop numbers that I’ve used as starting points when shooting in Aperture priority mode are;

  • Portrait (My focus point is near to me and I want to blur the background) - f/3 or less
  • Street (I’m walking down city streets and have objects at multiple depths, but I’m not particularly close to my first focus point) - f/5 to f/8
  • Landscape (I’m take a picture of my wife in front of a valley, or a mountain and I want the entire background to be in focus) - f/8 or up

These suggestions are heavily dependent on how bright it is in your environment and how still your objects and camera are. Low light or night time shooting can heavily change these suggestions.


Hopefully, these tips give you more confidence to get out and start taking your own amazing pictures. I know using these priority modes has greatly improved my speed and accuracy, helping me achieve the shot I want without spending hours to get it.

Share your favorite travel shots with us on Instagram @FlashpackerCo! To find more tips & tricks while traveling, check out our Travel Tips or see these suggestions in action in our photos throughout Our Travels.

About the Author

Stephen Gary | Flashpacker Co Stephen Gary is the co-founder of Flashpacker Co. He’s been a digital nomad for the past 5 years traveling all across the globe exploring new cities, languages and new passions. Find more from him over on our travel blog.
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