Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Experiential Travel Photography

12 Things You Don’t Photograph—But Should

If you come home from every trip with a similar assortment of photos—monuments and museums, landscapes and skylines—it may be time to adjust your filters. We’d never tell you not to snap a shot of the Sphinx or the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but to expand your photographic repertoire (and impress your friends!), why not look beyond the obvious tourist sights? Think graffiti in a Parisian back alley or a pickup soccer game in a small Brazilian village.

Photograph These Things When You Travel

Read on to see 12 unique things to photograph on your next trip.


stained glass

Many religious structures boast stained glass windows, sometimes hundreds of years old. Visit at just the right time, and a window can refract enough light to make a spectacular photo. Experiment with zooming in on various details in addition to snapping a broader shot of the whole window.[st_content_ad]

And don’t just stop at stained glass. Broken windows on a condemned building can create interesting angles; a house cat peering out at the street can add a touch of whimsy; a colorful flower box can turn a photo into art.


cemetery in latvia

Underground or above ground, every town, city or village has a cemetery—and we’re not just talking about the famous ones like Pere Lachaise in Paris (where Jim Morrison is buried) or Recoleta in Buenos Aires (the resting place of Evita Peron). Both large graveyards and quiet churchyard plots can make for atmospheric photos. Try different angles (including close-ups of particularly interesting headstones) for effect, or go early on a misty morning to capture a sense of spookiness.

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soccer game in morocco

For a true glimpse of local life, it’s important to see how people spend their leisure time—and that’s often on a cricket pitch, soccer field, or baseball diamond. In any town on any weekend around the world, there’s almost always some kind of sporting event going on. Grab your camera and catch the locals in action.

Taking photos at games will help you practice action shots. For the best results from a distance, use a zoom lens and high shutter speed (at least 1/500).

Food Stalls

malaysian food market

Who doesn’t love a bustling food market? Markets mean color, and color can bring a photo to life. Try squatting down with your camera to use a pile of vegetables or fruits as a vivid foreground, or zooming in on colorful bags of spices. Don’t just focus on the food; also consider snapping a few shots of the people selling their wares. (Keep in mind that it’s courteous to ask permission first.)

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door in chefchaouen morocco

Church doors, cathedral doors, pub doors, damaged doors, and cottage doors are just a few of the entranceways that make for potentially striking photos. In some cultures, doors were once carved instead of painted as a symbol of wealth and status; the more elaborate the carving, the more money the person inside had.

Turn your camera to a vertical orientation to get the full effect of a colorful or carved door; also consider zooming in on unusual door knockers or zooming out to include part of the street for more context.


tunnel with silhouette

Tunnels normally mean trains, but there are all types of tunnels such as street underpasses, subways, archways, and mines. Photographing these tunnels with the right light can change the dynamic of the photo. Consider taking a shot of a person walking through a tunnel with the light behind him or her, creating a silhouette effect. Or turn the camera on an angle to transform a straight channel into a diamond shape. You can also use the tunnel as a frame for an interesting subject on the other side.

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Moving Objects

rickshaw in india

To photograph moving objects—like a train pulling into Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station or a child running down a sidewalk in Jerusalem—you don’t need a tripod. Point your camera at the subject and match its speed with your hands. The result will show the object intact and the background blurry, creating an illusion of motion.

Street Art

street art in brooklyn

Travel around the world, and you’ll find that each city has numerous examples of murals and other street art. Rio de Janeiro has caricatures of footballers on its houses; locals in San Jose, Costa Rica, paint their fences; and London has Banksy originals worth millions. Urban painting often depicts political struggles or social messages, like those you can see at the Coit Tower in San Francisco or Falls Road in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

As with any art, try zooming in on eye-catching details or colorful sections of a larger piece for a different perspective. Including a person or a vehicle in the foreground can help give a sense of scale.

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boats in the philippines

Close to the coast in any country, you’ll find boats. For memorable photographs look for things like reflections in the water, colorful catamarans, vessels with paint peeling off, fishing boats stranded after the tide has gone out, yachts leaning into the wind, or cargo ships unloading their goods onto the dockside. Take photos in the early morning or just before sunset, and watch the light change the colors in your picture.

Night Lights

london tower bridge at night

These may be the most difficult shots on this list to capture, but also the most effective if taken right. Use a tripod and put your camera in manual mode if it’s a DSLR, with a wide-open aperture and a high ISO. If you’re using a phone or a point-and-shoot camera, look for the night setting and hold the camera as steady as possible. (Better yet, brace it against a railing.)

A shot of someone walking under a lamppost can make for a striking artistic pose. Reflections of street or car lights in the rain can also give an amazing perspective. Other visual classics are colored neon lights, twinkling lights at a Christmas market, and streetlights illuminating empty roads.

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vespa in italy

From colorful Jeepneys in the Philippines to Cuba’s vintage cars and London’s famous double-decker red buses, the wildly varying vehicles of the world can make for fascinating photography (as well as a window into the local culture). You can capture them either in motion—a rickshaw wending its way through a jam-packed Kolkata street—or at rest, such as a rack full of bikes in Amsterdam or a Vespa parked on a cobblestone street in Rome.

Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with the owner of a vehicle that piques your interest—you could get not only a photo but also a lasting memory out of it.

Train Stations and Tracks

train tracks

Some of the great photographs worldwide are of trains and stations, but what most people don’t realize is that railway lines make a unique perspective in a photograph, too. Train tracks coming together can be a powerful image, giving a sense of distance and inspiring thoughts of far-off lands while leading the viewer deeper into the photo.

Many train stations have unique architecture too, such as Grand Central in New York and Waterloo in London. Old-fashioned clocks, high arched ceilings, and blurred passengers rushing by can all make for memorable photos.

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—written by Tim Campbell

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

By Sarah Schlichter

Deputy Executive Editor Sarah Schlichter's idea of a perfect trip includes spotting exotic animals, hiking through pristine landscapes, exploring new neighborhoods on foot, and soaking up as much art as she can. She often attempts to recreate recipes from her international travels after she gets home (which has twice resulted in accidental kitchen fires—no humans or animals were harmed).

Sarah joined the SmarterTravel team in 2017 after more than a decade at the helm of Sarah's practical travel advice has been featured in dozens of news outlets including the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Budget Travel, and Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "A journal. Even years later, reading my notes from a trip can bring back incredibly vivid memories."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Road tripping and hiking through the rugged mountains of Patagonia."

Travel Motto: "'To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.'—Freya Stark"

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Aisle. I get restless on long flights and like to be able to move around without disturbing anyone else."

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