We’ve all seen those Instagram photos of amazing travel destinations that make you swoon with desire to go there. How did they get that shot? How did they capture that light, those colors, that moment?

The people that publish these photos may make it seem like a breeze, but they surely had to work hard to learn how to take them. That’s why we’ve compiled some of the best Instagram photo tips and tricks so that you too can learn to take incredible travel photographs. Keep these tips in mind the next time you go on a travel adventure, and pretty soon you’ll be taking pictures like a pro.

Always keep your eyes open for photograph opportunities

The best travel photographers keep their cameras with them at all times. They are constantly scanning their surroundings for compelling people and places to photograph, no matter where they are. Even if you aren’t a professional photographer, staying alert to the possibilities can lead to impressive Instagram shots that a person wouldn’t otherwise expect to see.

Did you stumble upon a street vendor selling the best fried food? Or a street performer doing backflips? Perhaps you see a particularly interesting building, or the light falls just so across a narrow walkway.

Having your phone ready for those fleeting, picture-perfect moments means you will have images that are unique. They will show a new side to wherever it is you’re visiting, and show more of your artisitic personality.

Generic shots of famous monuments or tourist attractions are something you should stay away from, because everyone has seen those already. They are predictable, and the predictable does not make for the most interesting photographs. Think outside the box and stay prepared.

It’s often the unexpected moments that make traveling so much fun, anyway.

Understand the basics of photography

We’ve already established that you are probably not a professional photographer. Even so, anyone who wants to crush their instagram pictures will benefit from learning the simple rules and practices that a student of photography would learn.

For example, there is the rule of thirds, which states that the human brain naturally prefers images that are organized by thirds. This could mean your shot of the ocean includes one-third water and two-thirds sky, or your picture of a local cake baker centers the person in the middle third of the photograph.

It’s this type of calculated organization that can push your pictures to the next level. On travel photographer Nomadic Matt’s website, he goes into more detail about the rule of thirds and other basics of photography, like framing your shot and using color to your advantage.

Most of all, he says it’s important to tell a story with your photograph. What does it say about the place you’re visiting and the people that live there? What emotions does it evoke? Thinking about these things before you take the pictures will result in photos that leave an impact on your viewers. Don’t be afraid to give them something to think about.

Light is also one of the most important factors in a photograph, as any photographer will tell you. You can use light to change the entire feeling of a picture; a harsh light will convey an intense atmosphere, while low light can be mysterious or romantic.

Generally, the best times to shoot are early morning and late afternoon. Sunrise gives a soft, dreamy quality to things, and sunset is what creates that magical yellow glow. Be aware of the light and how it’s hitting the things in your photograph, and you can use it to your advantage.

If you spend some time educating yourself on just the basics of photography, you will notice fast results in the pictures you take. It can mean the difference between an amateur shot that misses the mark, and a jaw-dropping image that stops a person in their tracks.

Understand the culture you are traveling to

This tip is crucial to telling a story with your photograph. Doing some research on the customs and beliefs of the local people will not only make you more successful at interacting with them, but will guide your eye when looking for things to photograph.

You might learn about a popular food they eat, or traditional dance they have. This is great photograph material that you can then seek out during your travels. Is there a cultural practice that shocks you? A type of dress that amazes you? These things will probably shock and amaze your followers, too, and can be a great way to share little-known information about a culture.

In a National Geographic article by Robert Caputo, he suggests you “talk to friends who have been there. Pick up travel information at the country’s embassy. Find whatever you can that is relevant, and devour it.” After all, don’t we want to immerse ourselves as much as possible in the place we are visiting?

The more prepared you are with knowledge about your destination, the faster you will find the perfect thing to photograph once you arrive. Don’t be afraid to be curious.

These Instagram photo tips, with a little practice, will help you up your Insta game. Pretty soon it will be your photos that people swoon over, and everyone will be asking how you managed to capture such magical moments.

So go out and explore, and don’t spend the whole time taking selfies!