Much like the act of travel itself, travel photography knows no boundaries. The art form combines a raw sense of adventure with experimentation and more traditional photography techniques to create one of photography’s richest and most thematically limitless niches—especially in a day and age where both the gear and ability to travel lend themselves to the artist at hand.
Of all travel photography’s many wonderful qualities, perhaps the most compelling is the ability to infiltrate foreign cultures and bring back a unique form of souvenir that works to identify other diverse and fascinating lifestyles. Every destination has its own customs and its own character, which makes travel a prime opportunity to engage with other cultures and discover what else is out there. More than the basic postcard or refrigerator magnet bought in a airport gift shop, travel photography allows for perspective and memories of time spent abroad, especially while reflecting upon the back story for the capturing of such images.
A tourist’s perspective may still be interesting and offer positive memories later on, but will be more superficial and certainly more common in the broad sense of things. Seizing an opportunity to live as locals do and through your camera, embrace the more remote areas and customs you find on your way, can give unprecedented depth to aspects of the country less noted.
Travel photography is a form of documentation as it allows photographers to visually record their travels in a powerful and enlightening way. By focusing on the lesser witnessed and more local customs, you can get up close and personal with your subjects, thus creating unique insight into the diverse lifestyles across the world. With photo-documentation you can also bring your research and reflection home with you in a handy digital format that can be easily shared with others. Whether traversing rural areas, taking an undiscovered back street, or seeking out the weird and wonderful corners of the world, any photographic journey is a chance to chart rarely explored territories.
The Finer Details
As a traveller, often the most rewarding aspect of your journey will be soaking up the foreign landscapes and taking mental snapshots of the exotic scenes you stumble upon. As a travel photographer, the reward comes from being able to use your technical eye to soak in these foreign locations while identifying photographic potential others might not see, paying the finer details of travel the attention it deserves.
From passing moments to creative perspectives, an essential skill for any travel photographer is being able to shed their tourist’s eye view and put their finger on the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of a location. With your composition rule book in mind, pursue offbeat framing opportunities and take chances on close crops to pursue a shot that does those details justice. Whether shooting scenery or human elements, you have a world of potential awaiting such a shot, so take in as much as possible. Angles, distance, lighting—all of these can lend themselves to the story of a particular area and its inhabitants.
A respect for other traditions and cultures is essential to mastering both travel and travel photography. Respecting the diversity of communities across the world is one of the only ways to fully embrace and understand their unique assets. This means taking the time and effort to understand the way other corners of the world work and allow yourself to become part of the surroundings. Most crucial to this is understanding that across the globe, photography is received by cultures in drastically different ways. Whereas people in some areas may be perfectly comfortable with having their photograph taken or even welcoming of it, others may be wary of an outsider’s perspective and less willing. Generally speaking, street photography rights are fairly liberal—most shots taken in public places on street level being fair game—but in order to befriend the locals and get up close and personal with your subjects, make a special effort to seek their permission.
Remember that the privilege of being able to photograph these fascinating environments and one-of-a-kind communities is a gift and it shows some consideration on your part to return the favour. In addition to seeking permission and being respectful, find a way to send your subjects some of your photos after the trip. Better yet, pick up a classic Polaroid and use it as a chance to hand out photographs to your subjects on the spot. This gives them a souvenir of your time in their community, and helps to build lasting bonds with the local people.
A Sense of Awe
While an attention to detail is a core element to the puzzle of travel photography, opening your mind and embracing the more abstract elements of the scene—the atmosphere, the smells, and sounds—is what will take your photography to the next level. Admittedly, you can never truly capture all of the senses in one two-dimensional photograph, but an ability to absorb your surroundings has a way of reflecting in the final product. Pay attention to the story of a situation, such as how people or animals are interacting, how the light falls, or what the change in scenery says. Paying attention to and capturing the greater perspective allows you to capture these elements less translatable to second dimension.
One distinction every travel photographer must learn to make is between senselessly snapping every person and thing that they pass and understanding a priceless photo moment when they see one. Taking a step back to soak up the beauty and abundance of a destination is a liberating thing and those feelings will absolutely show in the final shot. Likewise, keep in mind that regardless of talent, effort, or gear at your disposal, sometimes the photographic outcome can differ from actually being in a location (surprise!). Do not be discouraged if your photographs do not do the trip proper justice—sometimes the world can really only be seen outside of a picture frame.
For further tips and tricks in travel photography and photography as a whole, research before your trip to combine the insight of professional and experienced travel photographers and your own style. While traveling, work to hone your craft and ensure that you make the most of your travel and artistic experience.
Tori Atkinson is a content creator for Digitalab, which provides quality-printing services to professional photographers across the UK. Tori is a photography blogger who left her heart in Amsterdam and is committed to showing aspiring travel photographers the rewards of this glorious medium.