How to Use Natural Light in Travel Photography

We all enjoy traveling and taking countless travel photos on our trips, don’t we? Why else are you reading this article! Travel photography is one of the most popular genres of photography today – especially with the advent of social media and the ‘share everything’ culture. People want to capture and post stunning photos of their travels to influence others, motivate others and in some cases also sell travel-related things.


But travel photography is so much more than that. Travel photos have the potential to connect us to our beautiful world. Images of places, cultures, art, and even food take us away from our mundane everyday existence. They can transport us to magical places we can only dream of visiting someday. Perhaps they remind us of a time when we too took that trip and had similar experiences? It can become a walk down memory lane.

So how can we improve our travel photos?

Many elements go into creating an amazing travel photo, but for the purposes of this article, we will focus on light – specifically natural light in travel photography. This is my preferred way of using light in photos. In fact, I very rarely travel with an external flash because of the extra weight and because I don’t like the look of flash in my photos. I know many people who use flash with amazing results – and more power to them!

There are several reasons why I use natural light in travel photography:

  1. It is readily available and free
  2. It provides a range of light variations so I can get creative with my travel images
  3. It is a super-large light source, a.k.a the sun
  4. It constantly changes from day to day and season to season

In order to use effectively use natural light in travel photography, you have to become an expert at reading and understanding the light that is around you as you travel. Light is affected by many things and light affects many things too.

1. Location and light

For the most part, travel photography involves a lot of outdoor photography in natural light and primarily in the harsh mid-day sun. Of course, there are exceptions where you are indoors in places like museums and restaurants.

In such cases, you will likely be dealing with indoor lighting and may even use a flash. So before you take a single photo, look around and analyze your location. This will help you understand how you can harness the natural light around.

Consider whether you are out in the elements with only the sun as your light source. Are you in a city where the light is reflecting off highrise buildings? Perhaps you are in a museum where there is a lot of tungsten lighting, and flash photography is not allowed?

Image: An early morning sunrise against Hawa Mahal In Jaipur

An early morning sunrise against Hawa Mahal In Jaipur

How you handle you camera settings will depend on the location and light at that location. Harsh mid-day sun outdoors means lower ISO and high shutter speeds.

Cityscapes may mean mixed lighting with shade and harsh shadows, so you need to adjust your ISO and shutter speed accordingly.

Museum lighting may mean higher than normal ISOs along with really slow shutter speeds. You will have to pay attention to camera shake while hand-holding at slow shutter speeds.


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