How to Practice Travel Photography at Home

miniature photo of a man photographing a penguin

David Wilder 

Scroll through photographer Karthika Gupta’s Instagram feed and you probably won’t notice anything out of the ordinary at first glance—there’s a photo of a man and a woman rock climbing and another of tourists looking at animals on safari.

But if you slow down and take a closer look, you’ll see that these “travel” photos are actually tiny scenes made using household materials, miniature figurines, and some very clever photography on Gupta’s part.

miniature photo of a man and woman rock climbing
Karthika Gupta

Gupta, like the rest of us, is spending more time indoors these days. As a travel photographer, it’s not an ideal setup, but Gupta is making the most of it by practicing her craft in new ways. She was inspired to take the clever indoor photos by the #OurGreatIndoors Instagram challenge, created by Los Angeles-based travel photographer and blogger Erin Sullivan.

Thanks to this and other photo challenges making the rounds online, amateur and professional photographers alike are staying active and honing their skills, even while respecting stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines.

“At the end of the day, it’s just getting out there and photographing, whether it’s in your backyard or from your balcony or patio,” Gupta said. “Anything to keep your creative juice flowing. It really doesn’t stop you from trying to perfect your art.”

Think you can’t practice your travel photography skills in quarantine? Think again. Even the pros are using this opportunity to stay inspired and work on their form.

“The last couple of days, I’ve been shooting these made-up scenes in my house with props and stuff,” said Stevin Tuchiwsky, an outdoor lifestyle photographer based in Calgary, Alberta. “It’s not the real thing, but it slows it down a bit to where you can understand some concepts better or understand why you might have framed it that way or why you focused on something a certain way.”

We checked in with a few travel, nature, and adventure photographers and asked them to share some useful tips for practicing travel photography at home.

miniature photo of a person diving
Stevin Tuchiwsky 

Experiment, Experiment, Experiment

With so much time on your hands, now is the perfect time to experiment and get outside your comfort zone. If you love taking wide landscape shots, practice doing portraits of your family members instead (if you live alone, practice with a pet or even a stuffed animal). If you typically photograph people you meet during your travels, mix it up and master the art of food photography. 

Even though you’re not taking travel photos, you’ll open yourself up to more diverse shots when you do get back out there. After all, travel encompasses so many things beyond the physical landscape or geography—food, culture, people, art, movement, and more. And no matter the subject, practicing the fundamentals will make you a better photographer overall.

“If all you have ever done is one genre of photography, branch out and learn a new one,” says David Wilder, a photographer based in Calgary, Alberta. “Food photography, product photography, or even fine art. Heck, get some incense, a flashlight and a dark room—now you can do some fine art smoke photography.”

Get to Know Your Camera

How many of us rushed to open the box when our new camera arrived, thumbed through the instruction manual for a few seconds, and simply started clicking? Sure, you can learn a lot about your camera on the go, but there’s no substitute for actually studying how it works and why. 

Take a deep dive into the manual (or watch the thousands of instructional YouTube videos out there) and figure out how to get the most out of all the buttons and settings on your camera. Practice shooting in different modes, then compare the results so you’ll be able to make quicker decisions when you’re on the move.

Now is also a good time to evaluate your travel photography gear and do some research on new technologies or tools for specific scenarios, like taking photos underwater or using a tripod to photograph animals and birds.

Return to the Basics

Even the most skilled photographers welcome an opportunity to revisit the basics—lighting, composition, depth of field, framing, and more. And you can practice these principles whether you have an iPhone or a fancy DSLR camera. The ideas are the same, even though the tools are different. 

In fact, now is the perfect time to practice taking better pictures with your phone camera so that you can spring to action when you’re out in the real world, even if you don’t have another camera with you. 

"It’s not just looking at something and clicking,” said Gupta. “Take your phone and turn on the grid view. Just kind of rotate it around to see different angles, different compositions, and see what catches your fancy. The goal right now is not perfection, but actually more so training your eyes to look at color, light, and composition in an aesthetically pleasing way."

Woman photographing dog in studio
Jessica Peterson / Getty Images

Play With Lighting and Perspective

And while you’re at it, try experimenting a bit more with lighting and perspective, which can help you capture unique images in popular destinations. Getting up at sunset or shooting from the top of a building will come in handy whether you’re camping in a national park or wandering around a big city like Paris

Take pictures at different times of the day, or use lamps around your house to create different effects. Master changing the exposure on your iPhone camera quickly so that you can react to dark or fluid lighting situations. “Always pay attention to the light, where it is coming from, the quality of the light, and what it is doing to your subject,” said Wilder.

And be sure to move around. Stand (carefully) on a chair, take some photos looking down from your balcony, or get low to the ground and take pictures of your dog, for example.

“We all see the world from eye level,” said Wilder. “The moment you change up your perspective is when your image stands out from the crowd. My best example is we all look down at pets, but if you get onto the floor with them, everything changes.”

Practice Photographing Small Details

In the same vein as the #OurGreatIndoors challenge, practice photographing small scenes or focusing on one object in a group. This will help you consider new perspectives the next time you’re at a street market or wandering through a botanic garden, for example. You’ll want to capture the entire scene, yes, but you may also want to photograph a particularly colorful piece of fruit or a bee resting on a flower.

“Often, photographers get stuck shooting the same sweeping hero shot every time they go out,” Wilder said. “Small details that really show what it’s like to be in a place are often ignored, so spend some time finding those details and shooting them.”

Enroll in Online classes and Webinars

Now is a great time to level-up your travel photography skills with classes, workshops, and webinars. Tons of photographers are sharing tips and tricks with livestreams on Instagram, Facebook, and elsewhere right now. 

You can also check out sites like CreativeLive, Skillshare, Nikon School Online, Professional Photographers of America, and Sony’s Alpha Universe.

Become a Photo Editing Pro

If you’ve got folders and folders of unedited (and unshared) photos on your hard drive because you just hate editing, now is the time to get over that roadblock. 

Aside from working through your backlog of unedited photos, use this time to become more comfortable with whatever editing software you use. Practice really does make perfect in this case, and it can also make you a faster, more efficient photo editor down the line.

While you’re at it, try editing older photos in different ways, suggests Gupta. You might stumble across a technique or a style you like even better than what you’re used to doing. “Crop them differently, or if it’s black and white, make it color,” she said.

Research Your Next Trip

Although it may feel a bit premature, start thinking about where you want to go when travel becomes safer, and start doing some photo-related research for that destination, too. 

Consider the best time of day or year from a photography perspective for visiting certain locations. Read how other photographers tackle shooting super popular tourist destinations. Look into off-the-beaten path locations that could produce some surprising or interesting pictures.

If you do all the administrative legwork now, you’ll likely get better photos and have more fun on the trip. Plus, research has found that simply anticipating an upcoming vacation can make us happier.