In an era when everyone has a sophisticated camera on their mobile phone, and we all share our travel experiences on social media, it is easy to start thinking, everything was photographed already, and I have nothing to contribute. The challenge for travel photographers today is to succeed in creating new and refreshing representations of our world. Is it possible? Probably so, but you will need to put in some effort. This article covers a few of the most important tips you need to know in order to capture great travel pictures and tell visual stories during your trips.
One way to take interesting travel photos, of course, is to challenge the viewer’s traditional point of view on the world with some sort of new technology. For example, extreme cameras, drones, VR, and 360 degree video are all relatively new tools which can allow us to show the world from new angles.
However, in this article, I am interested in offering a different way of creating new and exciting work – one that does not require you to travel far or purchase expensive equipment to enjoy it. I am not sure if drone photography will stay here forever, but there is one thing that humans will never get tired of: connecting emotionally to stories. That is what this article is all about.
Taking great trip photos requires that you can tell a story, not only about the people and places you saw, but about yourself and the way you felt – making each image a self-portrait.
Table of Contents
1) Don’t Just Show a Scene, Tell a Story!
Travel photography is more than just a log of your trip. Most people do not care about the places you have visited. Once we can understand that our job is not to document the places we saw, but to tell a story about how we felt while being there, something unusual will happen – you will start creating travel pictures that evoke emotions.
How can you do that? Before your next shutter click, ask yourself: what kind of “China,” “India,” “Cuba,” “Papua New Guinea,” or any other country do I want to convey in my work? Do I want my work to tell a joyful story? Or perhaps one that is sad and depressing?
Because there is not really an “India” or “Cuba.” They are all concepts we have in our mind. For one photographer, India can be a colorful kaleidoscope, while for the other, a place of joy, or a place of sorrow, or anything else. Viewers are not interested in seeing another postcard! They want to see your take on the place and time.
Think of your pictures as a feature film rather than a documentary representation of the moment. Ask yourself the most important question: what do I feel right now about this place or person? And use compositional tools to transfer that sense to the viewer, with the angle, color, space, background, etc., all adding to your message.
The Importance of Preliminary Research
Many of us make a tremendous effort to travel to distant places, just to take the same picture we have already seen before, from the same location, on the same time, in the same framing. To see for yourself, just Google Machu Picchu in Peru, or Horseshoe Bend in Arizona, or Kirkjufellsfoss in Iceland.
There is nothing wrong in that desire to create the same photo you saw before. Those locations, timing, and framing became such a cliché probably because they are so good. So, I believe that it is perfectly fine to have your own postcard, only as long as we fully aware of the fact that this is a postcard. But while postcards are nice to look at, they are not unique.
I believe that the first step on the path to unique photography is in conducting preliminary research. Yes! Draw inspiration from those pictures already taken, but think of new ways to introduce familiar places. Look for new (emotional, not physical) angles to photograph and tell new stories. For example, how technology enters an ancient tribe in Tanzania is, to my mind, much more interesting to watch than just another picture of a tribal person, wearing traditional clothes.
2) It’s Not the Equipment, It’s You
Most of the best pictures in history were photographed with equipment which is far less good than what most of us own. Luckily, great travel photography can be done even with the simplest equipment. So, re-think getting that expensive flash or camera before your next trip, and spend your time and money on a new course, book, or workshop instead. Any of those can help you craft your ability to tell better stories while you travel.
3) Be Prepared for the Effort
Most great images do not just wait for somebody to pick them up from the floor. Great pictures usually require effort, training, waiting and mostly, thinking! Quietly, too – even if traveling with a partner or a group, give yourself the proper time to work alone (or with a group of other photographers). Yes, even if you are traveling with your family and children.
Along with that, get up early. Come back again just to get that perfect picture. Use a local guide who can take you to those special locations and handle the frustration that “nothing works today,” just to get back on the road again tomorrow.
In conclusion, excellent travel photography is all about your ability to convey a sense of place and emotional experience in your work. Emotional experience is your own take on the situation and time. It is personal, and, by that, nobody can copy it!
Note from Nasim: When I met Oded Wagenstein last year in Tel Aviv, I was blown away by his mastery of portrait photography and his ability to evoke emotions through his images. This is his second guest post here at Photography Life, and I hope our readers enjoy learning from it. I also highly encourage you to check out Oded’s eBook “The Visual Storyteller – Creating Stronger Images” if you want to learn more about the power of visual storytelling.
Amazing short article. Thank you.
This is the best tip I have had in many years about travel photography. You are right about same places being photographed year after year sometimes in b&w, sometimes in colour, boringly same angles. Places, monuments are shot umpteen times by hundreds of millions of people from all over the world. So what is new in shooting them again. Interesting point in photograph would be connecting people with the monument.
Excellent article. Thank U.
I’m assuming this is only when one is traveling alone. That’s something I haven’t been able to do for years. But I think it also depends also on whether one is interested in stories that focus on people or where people aren’t involved at all.
Really made me stop and think…
And the pictures really depicted what oded was saying.
Not only did they illustrate odeds points they were actually incredibly evocative and beautiful.
Often times the articles are well written pictures when
Or vice versa, this one nailed it on all levels!
‘…….it is easy to start thinking, everything was photographed already, and I have nothing to contribute’: resonates with me. I enjoyed this essay. One of the things that always seems to be an add-on or an afterthought with the photographic essay is words. Well written captions can enhance a photograph no end. True, as the ole saying goes a picture is worth a thousand words; but words don’t come easy and require a tremendous amount of effort. Just getting the names of people pictured or background is a challenge. But once you have got this package; words-n-pictures you have acquired the basic unit of photojournalism……then you can begin to work; writing your story from a unique angle.
One of the best articles on photography of any kind I’ve read in many a long year and really applies to anything. I can see why your images are so good. Thank you.
Wonderful photos. Further lessons I derive from looking at them is: engage the heart, move around, be interested in people, forget yourself, be alert, learn to maintain a calm high energy, know your equipment so that it’s like a comfortable pair of old shoes. Thanks for the early morning visual treat.
I am not a photographer.But I have few photographs more than 100 yrs
Old.these all are from Nainital a hill station in Himalaya mountain.Is these have some value?
Thank you for great article and tips!