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Photo Editing Tips for Travel Photography

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You’ve just come back from the trip of a lifetime. You’re sorting through the thousands of photos you took. And you realize that they need a little extra to really stand out in a unique way. This is where you need travel photo editing tips.
Perhaps you want to share them with your friends and family or, better yet, you want to submit photos to a magazine or a blog. Or you just want to print the images and showcase them on your walls.
No matter the reason, editing your travel photos can add an additional element of interest and quality to your images.
A travel photography image of a temple in India
Now before we go any further, are you wondering how travel photography is different from say traditional portrait photography or even wedding photography? Does it warrant an article specifically about editing travel photos?
In my mind, it does and here are some key reasons why!

  • For the most part, travel photography involves a lot of outdoor photography (i.e. natural light) and primarily in 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, high ISOs (because of low light) or even using a flash.
  • And there might be a lot of distracting elements in your frame like moving objects, cars, buses, people, etc. 

For these reasons, editing travel photographs will be a little different from traditional studio or indoor photography where you have more control over movement, lighting and even wardrobe choices which affect image aesthetics.
Personally, the thing I really love about travel photography are the visuals in terms of people, landscapes and light and how well these elements all play together naturally.
A serene image of a boat on a lake with mountain behind

Before You Get to the Editing Stage

Here are a few things to keep in mind before you even get to the photo editing stage. After all, the point is to improve photos that are already good.

4. The Gear You Have Is Enough – If You Use It Well

One of the key things to remember in photography is that the best camera is the one you currently have with you. Don’t drool over gear that you don’t already own unless you have a very specific need. For example a long telephoto lens for an African safari.
Even that is not a deal breaker when it comes to getting fantastic travel photos. While you may not get those close-up wildlife shots, you may get the best wide angle photo that captures the entire story of the scene in front of you.
In my opinion, some of the best safari photos are landscape shots that give a sense of place, space and subject.

Photo of a girl taking a walk in a lucious forest and mountain landscape
On a back country camping trip to glacier national park, I was limited to a 60-year0-old film camera, three rolls of film and a DSLR with one lens. Some of my favourite travel images were created using the film camera.

3. Photograph in RAW 

This is one of the best things you can do for your travel photos. Travel photography can be unpredictable in terms of lighting and subject matter. Often times I will find that lighting changes within seconds and I don’t always have the presence of mind to check my exposure.
I photograph most of my images about ½ to 1 stop overexposed to fit my portfolio and brand aesthetics. This means that sometimes I run the risk of over-exposing an image to a large extent especially if I am photographing a series of images in close proximity under changing lighting conditions.
But I find that I am able to salvage almost all of them in post-processing if I photograph in RAW. This gives me more control than JPEG. 

A very over exposed image of the Italian countryside as seen from the train.
The Italian countryside as seen from the train – completely overexposed because I had so little time to adjust my settings.
A retouched photo of the Italian countryside as seen from the train.
But because I was photographing in RAW I was able to recover much of the details in the overexposed highlights and edit the photo to my taste.

2. Get It Right in Camera – As Much As Possible

While the editing process can help you take a photo from good to amazing, you won’t always be able to salvage a photo that’s bad to begin with.
And bad means bad exposure, slow shutter speed that causes motion blur, really high ISO grain because of very poor lighting and harsh shadows because of a strong flash.
If it’s severely under or over-exposed, too grainy, or improperly framed, editing can only get you so far.

1. Tell a Story

So often I see travel photos that simply capture the elements in the scene. They don’t really tell the story that the viewer is looking for. Before clicking the shutter ask yourself what story you are trying to convey and if all the elements are telling that story.
If there are distracting elements in the frame, they will affect the viewer too. Move yourself, recompose and take the shot again if possible. Learn the basics of composition and understand how aperture, shutter speed and ISO each work towards getting the right exposure in various lighting situations.
And most importantly, practice, practice, practice. Any chance you get.
A boat on a river passing colourful buildings in India

The Editing Stage

Alright so you have some good travel photos that just need a little extra work. Let’s look at some common editing tips that can take those images from good to great!

6. Adjust the Temperature 

I typically photograph in auto white balance (AWB) for all my work. I find that my camera (Canon 5D MIII) is quite accurate in judging the temperature of a scene and AWB setting is the easiest when it comes to figuring out the temperature of the final image.
Most of my adjustments are minor when it comes to temperature except for sunrise or sunset photos. Here I do more adjustments than I normally would to get a dramatic looking image.

Adjusting temperature in histogram
Temperature in LR adjusts how cool (move to the left) or how warm (more to the right) the final image will be.

5. Adjust the Exposure as Needed

As I have mentioned earlier, I tend to photograph overexposed 90% of the time. Over the years I have found that this style works well for my brand aesthetics.
I am not too concerned about blowing out my skies as much as I want a light, bright, airy look for my images that speak to my brand.
The exception to this would be when I am photographing landscapes that have a dramatic sky that I want to emphasise.

Adjusting the exposure slider in the Basic panel of the Develop module
The exposure slider in the Basic panel of the Develop module can be used to adjust how bright or how dark the overall image is. Key to note here is that adjusting this slider, adjusts the overall exposure of your travel image.

4. Add a Bit of Contrast

I like to add a bit of drama and punch to my travel photos especially those that are in urban areas. I love playing with the contrast slider to add some flair to my images. I’ll darken the dark areas and lighten the light areas, bringing up the contrast in the image.
I find that my happy number for contrast is around +25 to +35

Adjusting the contrast slider in the basic panel of the develop module
The contrast slider adds a little pop to your travel photos. Colors become a little richer, dark areas a little darker and light areas a little lighter. My personal editing adjusts contrast between 25+ to 35+ on the slider scale.

3. Adjust Whites/Blacks If Needed

I typically stop after step 3 but sometimes I’ll have an image accidentally too blown up because I did not have enough time to adjust my exposure. I was either moving or something just caught my eye and I took the shot.
In this case, I will adjust the blacks and whites in the frame to taste.

Adjusting the black and white sliders in Lightroom
Black and white sliders add more or less of these respective tones in the image. When the slider is moved to the right, whites become whiter/brighter and blacks become darker. Moving to the left has the reverse effect.

2. Crop/Straighten

Nothing worse than a crooked horizon line to ruin an image unless the tilt was intentional and part of the story. Before you call it quits with your editing, do a quick check to make sure your horizon is straight.

Adjusting the crop tool sliders in Lightroom
Clicking on the crop tool opens up the crop and straighten dropbox window where the angle of the image can be adjusted to straighten lines and horizons.

1. Remove Unwanted Objects/Elements

If there are any unwanted elements like poles, birds, bushes or other such items that could potentially distract the viewer from the main subject, you can use the erase tool to remove these unwanted elements.
You can fine tune your editing by adjusting the brush size, feather and opacity as shown below.
Fine tuning your travel photography editing by adjusting the brush size, feather and opacity in Lightroom

Extra Steps

These six steps tend to cover almost 80% of my edits if I have taken the time to get the image as close to what I want the final result to be straight out of camera (SOOC).
Some images need a little bit more fine tuning to bring out the best in them. I use some additional steps typically for images that are either being printed for clients or sent for publication. These include:

  1. Localised adjustments like colour correcting a specific area, dodging and burning (lighting or darkening) certain areas in the frame. The adjustment tool just above the basic panel will help you fine tune local adjustments like making a certain colour pop, darkening part of the image or even de-saturating a particular colour in one area of the image.
  2. Tonal colour adjustments either with the specific colour slider or using the tone curve

A beautiful indian building surrounded by water and mountains behind


I hope these tips will help you understand how to photograph and edit your travel photos. Remember that most of the images that you see out there in the professional travel space have been edited and retouched at least a little bit.
Learning the basics of editing travel photos will help you get noticed as a travel photographer who puts out quality work and could potentially lead to more opportunities.

Why not check out our post on the best monitors for photo editing next!

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