A Broke Guide to Travel Photography

Broke Guide to Travel Photography

Article and photos by Daniel Kawka, videographer and photographer.

So, you just went on an amazing vacation, but all you have to show from it are grainy, dull photos you took on your phone. Some phones are capable of taking decent pictures, but you shouldn’t rely on them to be your main camera. Plus, it just drains your battery. Here’s my guide to equipment and how to take great pictures while traveling abroad (featuring model Alaina Whitney).


If you are adventurous, risk-taking, or a beach enthusiast, a portable weather proof camera is a great choice, plus it saves you the risk of dropping your phone in the ocean. GoPros are great cameras to have, but they can range anywhere from $130-$400 just for the camera, and that doesn’t include the memory cards or the accessories. A less expensive, alternative option is the Xiaomi Yi Sport Cam A7LS. This camera is only $75-$80 new, and I’m sure if you shopped around you can find them used for even cheaper.

1080p Video at 60fps
16mp Sensor

Xiaoyi Action Camera

I always have fun with these cameras, and I love the creativity that comes from using them. My favorite thing to do with these cameras is to toss them in the air – you can get some very interesting aerial shots without having to use a drone. And it’s much more interesting than using a selfie-stick!

Go Pro

Go Pro

If you’re not the adventurous type or don’t want all your photos to look like you took them out of a fish bowl, but you also don’t want to lug around a large DSLR Camera, point-and-shoot cameras are a great alternative. Canon Powershots and the Panasonic Lumix DMC series cameras are great choices to got with, but for the value, I would suggest the Sony Cyber-shot DSC W830 at $128 new.

20.1mp Sensor
720p Video
Focal Length 26mm-130mm

Sony Cyber Shot

Point and shoot cameras are great to keep in your pocket, bag, fanny-pack, or purse. They’re convenient for those pictures that need to be taken now without the hassle of having to open your camera app on your phone.

If you want to switch between different lenses, DSLR or Mirrorless cameras might be a route you want to explore. However, if you don’t have thousands of dollars to shell out, there are still great cameras out there that won’t make your bank account crawl up into the fetal position and cry alone in the shower. If you’re capable of getting that Canon 5D, Sony A7, Nikon D810, Panasonic Lumix GH4, or even a Leica without becoming the world’s best homeless photographer, do it!  In the mean time, I suggest the Canon T2i (550D). Canon has since discontinued manufacturing this camera, but you can still find places to buy them body-only for close to $200.

18.0mp CMOS Sensor
1080p 30/24fps Video
720p 60fps Video

Canon t2i

You should buy this camera body only if you have the choice. If yours comes with a kit lens, go ahead and use that as a paper weight. What I like to use are prime lenses, which are lenses you can’t zoom and have a fixed focal length. Most likely you’re going to encounter places with low light. That’s what these lenses are designed for, plus it gives your photos that great bokeh look (blurred backgrounds).

Canon STM series:
24mm f/2.8 – $150 new
50mm f/1.8 – $125 new

These lenses are small, lightweight, and you can still get great photos out of them.

Tamron Lens

For a lot of my vacation pictures, I typically get wide shots and group shots, and I rarely need to zoom in. But for those rare occasions when I do, a lens I like is the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8. It’s $500 new, and you can find them used for only $280. Awesome zoom lens, sharp, works great in low lighting situations, and it’s bokehlicious.

Bokeh Lizard

Another lens alternative that I will suggest, but not recommend, are old film camera lenses. Shopping around and having bought a few myself, you can buy these lenses cheap from $20-$150 with a wide range of focal lengths. With that, you will have to buy an adapter that will cost you about $15 and up. I don’t recommend doing this because these are fully manual lenses – you will need to have an understanding of how f-stops work in coordination with your camera settings and your environment. These lenses are also old, and the internal lenses may be dusty, mildewy, dirty, and may require some deconstruction to clean. If you’re lucky, you may get a clean lens. But if you know what you’re doing and don’t mind shooting manual, this can save you some serious cash for your lenses.

The last thing I will leave you with are a few basic rules on how to take a photo:

1. Candid photos are more interesting than posing for a photo

Candid Photo

Posing Photo

2. Include the background. Your friends and family want to see where you are, and not just a selfie.

Include your background

3. Frame your subject within your picture (windows, doors, etc.)

Frame your photo

4. Leading lines help guide the eye to your subject

Leading lines to your subject


5. Make it fun and creative (forced perspective, floating people)

Floating people photo
6. Edit your photos – don’t just use an Instagram filter. Just something basic like cropping and increasing the saturation and contrast will make a huge difference.

Before and after


Daniel Kawka

Daniel Kawka hails from the Land of the Lakes (Grand Rapids, Michigan to be more specific). Through out his younger years he’s traveled to Thailand multiple times for family visits, but embarrassingly has only visited 17 states. He currently resides in Los Angeles working independently as a videographer and photographer. To see his work visit danielkawka.com

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