A professional grade camera is not necessary to capture outstanding vacation and scenic photos. In fact, with the following five steps, it’s possible to start capturing beautiful landscapes right away.

1. Know Before You Go

Being in the right place at the right time takes more than just luck. Before I depart for a travel destination, I prepare a shortlist based on pre-trip research. Specifically I want to know the exact time and location of sunrise and sunset, as well as the moon cycle. By far, the best tool I’ve found for this is the Photographers Ephemeris. They have a free Mac and Windows desktop program, and a slick app for purchase with iOS and Android devices. Using the info from the Ephemeris, I was able to position myself accordingly for the most dramatic light on the Colosseum in Rome. 

2. Use the Weather to Your Advantage

While we all enjoy pleasant blue skies, they lack the interesting atmosphere created by inclement weather conditions. Of course shooting in the rain can be uncomfortable and possibly even harmful to your camera. To be safe, head out right after the storm. I’ve even waited out storms in my car while watching the system pass by on my phone’s weather radar app. Your efforts may be rewarded as mine were with a double rainbow that spilled over the mountains in Canada.

As an added benefit, heavily visited regions tend to have fewer tourists cluttering the scene during weather events. Even in Central Park, located in the heart of Manhattan, a heavy snowstorm kept most people inside, leaving a peaceful winter landscape undisturbed.

3. Be Persistent

Rarely do experienced photographers walk up to a scene with their camera, and immediately capture the peak moment of drama. If you watch a pro at work, they arrive early, exercise patience, and wait for the elements to converge in a brief but brilliant moment. Ansel Adams was notorious for returning to the same spots in Yosemite National Park while searching for the perfect conditions. If you have a favorite spot near your own home, try to visit it in each season. A dull scene in summer may prove brilliant in autumn.

4. Creative Camera Control

Understanding aperture and shutter speed are important, but don’t be afraid to be creative and experiment. For example, you can try new techniques like setting a slower exposure time and slowly spinning around while making the image. Remember, there is no definitive right or wrong way in art, just your own individual vision. Have fun with it, and you’ll begin to push your camera and yourself to new places.

5. Explore

Every popular tourist destination has a well worn patch of dirt where the grass has been worn down by visitors shooting year after year. Often, there’s a better vantage point just a few steps away. To avoid lazy compositions, compose with your feet, and explore the surrounding area. On an excursion in Greece, I got off our ship and took a quick record shot. Then, just by walking down the pier, I noticed a much better angle with the setting sun hitting the bow. The shots were taken just minutes apart, but the second attempt was much more dramatic due to a different perspective.

Photos and Text by Chris Corradino