While it’s true that all you really need is your camera in a new place, travel photography takes much more into account. You’ll get the best photos if you plan ahead and learn about where you’re headed so that you can capture a new place and its residents accurately and respectfully.
What Is Travel Photography?
Travel photography is photography without geographical limitations, portraying a sense of place and time, a country and its citizens, as well as their customs. It’s about documenting a rich cultural history or celebrating a uniquely breathtaking landscape.
Travel photography is the pinnacle of many photographers’ professional careers, offering a sense of freedom and movement. Travel photography has blossomed as an entire genre of photography thanks to global tourism, the internet, and the adaptability for aspiring photographers.
Professional travel photographers often work alongside tour operators, providing photography courses to travel enthusiasts. The beauty is that once you leave your front door with your camera in a new place, anything you encounter can qualify as travel photography.
Capturing Travel Behind The Lens
Travel photography is captivating because there is far more to it than just sunsets and selfies. Doing some research before embarking on a journey to a foreign land gives you the chance to learn more about the culture of the people you are visiting and helps you to prepare a shot list of places you intend to visit. That way, you won’t be wasting precious time on your trip figuring out where to go and what to see.
Setting your intentions will help you to better understand your mission, so journaling and jotting down your ideas before you leave is always a smart idea.
Your senses are often overwhelmed when you travel. Everything you see, smell, taste, hear, and touch are different from what you are used to at home. Usually, it is your sense of sight and what you are looking at in the present moment that takes the front seat. Your task is to figure out how to use your lens to preserve the feelings you encounter when you travel.
Pursuing The Art Of Travel Photography
The most important thing when taking travel photos is to be respectful and sensitive to cultural norms. Depending on where you are, it may not be okay to take photos in public at all. In many places, it is not appropriate to photograph children, elderly people, or private and religious figures without the appropriate permission in advance.
The challenge lies in trying to blend in. The travel photographer needs to look casual but remain eagle-eyed at all times. I find it best to linger for a few minutes. I’m always ready and happy to engage with a local by exchanging smiles and then a few words. Finding a human connection works wonders.
Pursuing travel photography as a hobby or a career comes with its challenges. From the minute you land in a foreign country, your time becomes precious. Opportunity can strike at any moment and serendipity and synchronicity play huge roles in the somewhat accidental nature of travel photography. A lot of it comes down to luck.
Your taxi driver from the airport might know of the right areas or people that you are wishing to photograph and so conversation plays a big role in gaining local information that will lead you to secret photographic treasures.
One generally doesn’t have time to be hassling with memory cards and uncharged battery packs. Travel photographers need to be out and about, hunting down the moment that presents itself.
One thing to make sure you plan out in advance is whether your battery or laptop is able to use the same plugs and voltage as the country you are visiting. Even if you have a plug adapter that will fit the outlet, you probably need a voltage adapter to keep electronics from getting fried. Appliances in the United States run on 110 volts, while many other countries use 220 volt outlets. Without planning ahead and getting voltage converters, you may not be able to safely charge your battery packs without damaging them. Be sure to check before you go!
All the spontaneity of travel photography requires ease of mobility, so I prefer a camera with a zoom lens that I can squeeze into a day pack rather than lugging lots of heavy gear around.
I’ll start my morning by writing out a shot list of places I want to go during the day that I can easily go through and check off. This allows me to consider different gear, like packing filters and tripods, or extra batteries and memory cards. My camera remains at my side in a discreet bag and my hotel room is for downloading images and recharging batteries at night before bed.
Travel photography requires a great deal of patience. Often one can make the mistake of snapping away immediately and being satisfied with the first shot in a crowded marketplace or a park. But if you wait a while longer and play with different angles and watch the flow of people as an observer, your photographs will get richer.
Cast your gaze around your new environment before you just ‘point and shoot’. Remember that you are a visitor. Take notice of a landmark and have a plan to find your way back to where you are staying, but then allow yourself to get lost along the way. Download offline maps to your phone so you can use GPS if you don’t have data while you’re abroad. Then, you’ll still be able to navigate back to your hotel if you get disoriented in a new place. Even if you’ll have data abroad, you never know where you’ll lose service, so better safe than sorry!
Postcards in airports or cafés will often highlight local tourist spots that may be worth seeing, and they will often have simple maps that will give an aerial overview. This will really help you to get a sense for the size of the place that you’re visiting. Look for a clock tower building or a high vantage point for a bird’s eye view during your visit.
Weather and lighting and the usual rules of photography apply: a foreboding church will photograph well after a light drizzle; a countryside pasture will look resplendent in the evening light. Plan ahead to take pictures during “the golden hour” around sunrise and sunset to get softer lighting to add reds and yellows to your photos.
The best advice is just to travel light, remain conscious of other people’s customs, and allow yourself to get a little lost along the way.