Who doesn’t wish they could be a travel blogger? Just imagine traveling to the most beautiful parts of the world as your job. Dreamy. One thing travel bloggers have in common is that they make it look easy. Spoiler: It’s not. Just ask Rachel Rudwall, Emmy-nominated on-camera host, producer, camera operator, speaker, writer, photographer, and travel blogger. We caught up with her to get the inside scoop behind her hugely successful blog and Instagram @RachelRoams.

Rachel Rudwell, Founder of @RachelRoams

How did you start travel blogging?

Back when I was in college, I studied abroad in Spain and Scotland. I began writing blogs and shooting photography from my adventures around Europe. As a result, I landed an internship with a travel company that sent me to 15 countries across Europe, Asia, and Oceania to travel blog, shoot photography, and produce videos for the brand.

Where do you get inspiration for your travels? Do you set off with a shot list in mind?

The whole world inspires me, so it doesn’t take much to get me off my couch and into adventure mode. When I’m headed to any new destination, I do have a sense of what I’d like to shoot while I’m there (for example: penguin colonies in Antarctica, sushi masters in Japan, or camel trains in Morocco). The trick to getting the best shot though, is seeing what’s beyond the shot you have in mind. Instead of just focusing on your“dream shot,” let the scene unfold and show you what other magical moments are available to you.

Shot by Rachel Rudwall with an Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III Camera | M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 EZ Lens | 1/400 sec | F10 | ISO200

What are your top travel photography tips and tricks?

  • Be willing to get dirty. The best shots often come from actively seeking out a unique vantage point, whether it’s trekking to the top of a hill or lying down in the dirt to get a new perspective.
  • Mix up your angles. Move around, duck down low, climb up high —do whatever it takes to capture all the aspects of your story.
  • DON’T take photos of people without asking. A good way to get permission is to establish a real human connection first, whether that’s through buying what the person’s selling, attempting to speak the local language, or gesturing with your camera to ask, “Is this okay?”
  • Give yourself the freedom to play. It’s easy to take ourselves seriously when we want to be good at something, but taking ourselves too seriously gets in the way of actually learning. Not every shot you’re going to get will be gorgeous. That’s fine! What matters is that you’re giving yourself permission to immerse yourself in a new field.

What are the rules for strong composition?

The Rule of Thirds is a good starting point for crafting any strong composition. Believe it or not, our brains love when the subject of a photo is off-center! Incorporating leading lines will pull the viewer into the story you’re telling. Finally, including people in the shot will provide a sense of scale, perspective, and relatability.

What camera settings do you usually use for your travel photography? When do you make adjustments?

I shoot in manual, so my settings are always changing. Aperture and ISO are always determined by the quality of available light (indoors vs.outdoors, lit vs.unlit, etc.), while my shutter speed is usually determined by the motion I’m trying to capture. If I want to capture crisp movement in a well-lit place—whether a city scene or a wildlife scenario—I use a fast shutter speed (e.g.1/250). Conversely, for long exposures (e.g. shooting the night sky), I open the shutter for 1/30 of a second to capture as much light as possible, and set the ISO to 2000 so that the image isn’t grainy.

Pro Tip: I always shoot RAW. RAW files store a lot more information than JPEGs, which means you can bring out greater detail in the edit.

Shot by Rachel Rudwall with an Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III Camera | M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 EZ Lens | 1/60 sec | F4 | ISO640

Do you rely on any specific editing tools for your travel shots?

I’m inclined to keep my travel photos as true-to-life as possible, which means I typically limit my edit to color and contrast tweaks that help the image pop. I see a lot of people nowadays deferring to edit presets, which work fine if you want to create a specific look for your content. As a photographer, though, I believe you should allow yourself the freedom to break out of the preset box, and work to create a unique feeling with each of your photos.

Shot by Rachel Rudwall with an Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III Camera | M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 EZ Lens | 1/160 sec | F5.6 | ISO200

How can travelers avoid the cliché images like group selfies or “postcard shots”?

It’s tough in the age of social media to avoid the clichés because, unfortunately, the clichés get a lot of “likes.” If a shot of a woman in a flowy dress in a quaint alleyway does well on one person’s Instagram, everyone else is going to shoot that same exact image in hopes of getting likes on their gallery. But, if you want to distinguish yourself creatively — and be viewed as a photographer worth noting — make sure to avoid the over-shot vantage points and seek out new perspectives of your own.

Are any recent photography advancements poised to change the travel blogging game?

At the moment, mirrorless cameras and drones are two of the greatest game-changers for photography. Drones are popular for obvious reasons: they allow photographers to soar above the fray and shoot breathtaking images from the air. Mirrorless cameras, on the other hand, boast highly-advanced image capture systems that not only cut down on camera weight, but also produce eye-popping images that outshine their DSLR predecessors.

Do you have any tips for attracting traffic to your blog or building a following on social media?

The best way to build a community of followers is to engage in real conversations with people who share your interests. Seek out other adventurous souls, comment on their work online, and strike up a conversation about how fascinating the world is. Join photography groups on your social platform of choice, and then — through those groups — share your work. Make sure you’re not just blathering on about your own work, though; the idea is to share support, not just receive it!

Shot by Rachel Rudwall with an Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III Camera | M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 EZ Lens | 1/200 sec | F6.3 | ISO200

What's the most challenging aspect of being a travel blogger?

For me, being away from loved ones is the toughest part of my work. The fact that I’m on the road about 50 percent of each year means I can’t always make it to family gatherings, reunions with friends, or the weddings of people I love. Thankfully, my husband and I met while traveling, so he understands and supports my journey of connecting people to the world through travel storytelling.

What advice would you give your former self or an aspiring travel blogger?

It’s going to take a long time to establish yourself as an expert who’s worthy of a paycheck, so be prepared to invest both time and funds into building your dream career. If it’s what you truly love, it’ll be worth it every step of the way.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.