10 Photo Tips from National Geographic Photographers

National Geographic Photography Tips

Happy World Photography Day!

I love taking photos while I’m on a trip or just living life – it’s such a fun way to remember happy moments and share them with loved ones. As the incredible technology available at our fingertips continues to get better, I’ve been looking to improve my photography skills, too.

What better way to improve than to get some help from the best of the best? We caught up with National Geographic Experts to get their advice.

These elite photographers often travel with National Geographic Expeditions to work with travelers of all photography skill levels as they capture their once-in-a-lifetime trips, and they’ve got plenty of advice from their time in the field.

So, whether you’re embarking on an exciting safari in Africa with National Geographic Expeditions, sailing the Mediterranean Sea with Disney Cruise Line or experiencing magical thrills in the Disney Parks, these photography tips will help you capture memories of a lifetime wherever you are.  

1. Learn Your Gear

If you understand your equipment, you’ll have the ability to jump right in and capture all the right moments when they come. Photographer, ecologist and National Geographic Explorer Washington Wachira advises that knowing your equipment and its capabilities will ensure you make the most of each photo opportunity.

When traveling with National Geographic Expeditions throughout Africa, Washington finds endless opportunities to capture images of wildlife in their natural habitat. While working with travelers on these trips, he can help them master technical camera settings to ensure that they are prepared when heading out on expeditions.

2. Work with the Sun

Being aware of the position of your body in relationship to the sun is extremely important, says National Geographic Expert Camille Seaman.

Are you photographing into the sun? Is it to the side or behind? The natural lighting can really make or break your photograph, so make sure to consider this aspect before hitting that shutter.

While traveling with National Geographic Expeditions on trips like the Wild Alaska Escape and Journey to Antarctica Expedition Cruises, Camille is able to spend time with travelers as they journey together, teaching them about these lighting techniques and demonstrating other skills in real-time while they capture memories on their trip. 

3. Clean your Lens

Sneaky oil, water and debris on the camera lens are often the culprit when a photo comes out hazy and not very sharp.

Even though this tip might seem basic, says Camille, many skip this important step along the way. Whether you have a large camera lens or your smartphone, she suggests getting in the habit of carrying a microfiber cloth to frequently clean your lens, not just before and after an outing. 

4. Your Phone is your Friend

There’s an overwhelming consensus among photographers that may surprise you: top-of-the-line camera equipment isn’t required to capture amazing photos.

National Geographic Expert Drew Rush embraces and encourages cell phone photography on trips. On a recent National Geographic Expeditions trip, Canadian Rockies by Rail and Trail, he only brought his phone along, noting that it allowed him to pack lighter, move around easier and take high-quality pictures all the while.

Be sure to also shoot some videos on your device, he says. This can add great context to any moment you capture.

National Geographic Photography Expert Gianluca Colla

5. Stick with One Lens

Switching out your camera lens depending on each situation may sound like a good idea, but it may end up just being overwhelming.

Whether you’re headed to a Disney park or Yellowstone National Park for the day, it will benefit you to stick to one lens for the entire experience so you can master the one you’re working with. Plus, you’ll avoid missing memorable moments as you’re in the process of switching it out.

Drew will often share this advice on National Geographic Expeditions trips when travelers ask for lens recommendations in different situations. The answer is entirely subjective – you can shoot the same thing with all different types of lenses! You may miss a few shots along the way, he says, but you might also get a couple that really surprise you.

6. Bring Binoculars

Sometimes, the most interesting subjects aren’t that easy to see with the human eye. If you’re traveling soon, Drew suggests investing in a good pair of binoculars – just as you would invest in a great camera lens.

Drew has a passion for capturing wildlife in national parks around the world. Binoculars can really help to find what you want to photograph, he says, even if the subject isn’t in plain sight.

7. Look for the Whole Story

Take photos of everything! National Geographic Expert Susan Seubert suggests capturing everything along the way during your travels – the food you eat, the accommodations you stay in, and the people you meet (with permission, of course). To keep all those photos organized, utilize the album feature on your smartphone.

Susan has traveled on more than 40 National Geographic Expeditions departures as a photography Expert, and will be joining exciting Expedition Cruise departures in Iceland, Fiji and Antarctica in the near future.

8: Composition is Key

The way your subject is positioned in your photo is incredibly important to the outcome. Learning about composition, such as the Rule of Thirds (a guideline that suggests placing your subject in the far right or left third of your image), can really help to bring your snaps to the next level.

One really great way to prioritize composition – on either your smartphone or camera – is to turn on the grid feature, says Susan.

To learn about composition and practice your skills, Washington suggests taking three photos during each occasion – one vertical, one wide angle and one close-up or zoomed in photo. In doing this, you’ll learn about how composition can affect your photo and have a photo to use for different scenarios.

9. Show us Your Unique Viewpoint

Another universally agreed upon tip among these expert photographers is to show your unique view — not just the photo that you THINK people are going to want to see. While it’s easy to get caught up in trying to recreate a beautiful photo you recently saw in a magazine, a truly powerful photo captures your unique experience.

“A photograph is a way to extend the moment that you experience, and it often reflects how we see the world as individuals,” says Erika Larsen, a National Geographic Explorer and storyteller. When she works with travelers on National Geographic Expeditions itineraries, like her upcoming Norway’s Fjords and Arctic Svalbard trip in 2024, she encourages them to stay open to new experiences and let their creativity flow.

10. Be Reflective While you Edit

After you’ve snapped that perfect shot, you’re going to want to share it immediately – but it might be in your best interest to hit pause on that post. Erika encourages travelers to enjoy the present moment, allowing time to contemplate both your photos and the story of your trip. Spend time editing at home, instead!

Don’t go overboard on the edits, but make sure your photo is still telling the right story. Washington recommends editing images in both color and black and white. They communicate differently to the human eye, he says, and can be used for different occasions or to convey different moods.

You’ve got this!

Now, it’s time to go out and give it a try. If you’re ready to take your photography to the next level and explore the world with these amazing photographers and other knowledgeable National Geographic Experts, learn more about these once-in-a-lifetime trips at nationalgeographic.com/expeditions/.