Whether you’re an avid world explorer or you prefer to staycation, a passion for discovering new places is often coupled with a desire to capture your memories – from the once-in-a-lifetime wildlife safari to the places we revisit that feel like a second home.
After moving to the UK from New Zealand over 4 years ago, I’ve spent the past several years attempting to see as much of the world as possible since it’s become so accessible to me - hopping on a train to Paris or flying to Marrakech are not viable weekend trips in the part of the world I grew up in! Naturally, I’ve steadily become more and more drawn into the world of travel photography, trying to learn and practice at every opportunity and I’m now at the point where I’m not sure if I’m travelling to take photos or taking photos of my travels.
Following on from an older post on the Wex Blog, which outlined some fantastic tips and ideas for travel photography, I’m going to add my two cents and share what’s worked for me as I’ve worked to broaden my geographic & photographic horizons...
Document the journey
The fact is we don’t just magically teleport to exotic locations; we get there by bike, car, rail, plane or any number of ways. That’s a big part of the travel experience and in my humble opinion it should be captured too. One of my most treasured images is a shot of me with my overstuffed backpack, grinning widely at Auckland Airport before setting off on a mind-bendingly long flight to London for the first time – it tells a story about my travel experience before I’ve even set foot on the plane.
A photo of the empty tube carriage as you make your way out to Heathrow at first light can conjure up the excitement and anticipation that comes with setting off at the very beginning of a journey. A photo of the coffee and croissant you had for breakfast on the Eurostar is part of the entire Parisian travel experience, even if you’re not quite in Paris yet.
Be ready and on the lookout for anything interesting or notable that’s part of the journey. Maybe this means keeping your phone handy (and in flight mode of course!) or a compact camera if using a DSLR is just not feasible.
Develop an eye for detail...
It can be easy to find yourself in awe of a sweeping landscape or overwhelmed by a buzzing street scene, but keep your eyes open and actively think about the smaller details as well. If you find yourself often shooting wider views then make a conscious effort to look for the detail in your surroundings as well. I find that photographing these quirky, beautiful or unusual things I notice helps me to recall the finer details of a journey - details I'm more likely to forget otherwise - so even if it seems silly or insignificant it’s still worth capturing as long as it’s intriguing to you.
Not only will this mean a more comprehensive record of your trip but it’s more visually interesting for people viewing your images later to see variation between wide angle shots and closer up images. People expect to see images of the Eiffel Tower in Paris but show them something unexpected or another layer of detail to the city.
...but don’t forget the bigger picture!
Conversely, if you’re more of a details person like me then it’s just as important to stop, zoom out and capture the wider scene too. The same 'rules' apply as above: a varied mix of angles, perspectives and fields of view make for a more visually interesting and comprehensive collection of photos.
I often neglect my 18-55mm lens, preferring to keep my Tamron 28-75mm attached to my camera most of the time but it's important to take the time to make use of the tools in your kit bag - if you don't own a wide-angle lens, hunt down that old kit lens and make the most of the wide 18mm end. Swap in your Nifty Fifty for 15 minutes and see things in a new way.
Photograph text, fonts & signs
Another idea to add to your travel photography repertoire is snapping signs and text. Have you noticed how street signs are nearly always in a different font in every country you visit? All the more interesting if it’s in another language or alphabet!
There’s often a lot of humour to be found in text and signs too, intentional or otherwise. On a recent trip home to New Zealand I took a photo of a hand written blackboard sign outside a general store in a fairly remote part of the country. The advertisement for “Bait + Ice, Hot Pies” absolutely made me smile and very simply sums up a big part of the Kiwi culture in just a handful of words.
As well as being visually interesting, it’s also useful as a reference point or marker for retracing your steps. It’s often come in handy, whether it’s to settle a debate on where we stayed in Ouazazarte or being able to recommend accommodation to a friend thanks to a photograph taken of an interesting hotel sign.
Here's another tip: if you're thinking of getting a photobook printed with photos from your holiday or compiling them in an album yourself, then take images of road signs, place names, interesting hotel, shop or restaurant signs, posters and symbols as they'll help tell the story of your journey. Instead of needing to include a caption about how you drove through a really interesting village and took a load of amazing photos, just pop in that great shot of the road sign indicating the place's name as an introduction instead.
Look for pattern, colour & texture
If you notice recurring colours or patterns on your travels, make a point of photographing as many instances of them as possible to pull a great collection together. To start with, look out for features that are synonymous with a particular location, like mosaic tiles in Morocco or the bold blue and white colour pairing so often seen in the Greek Islands. Then move on to capturing any unexpected features you notice over and over again, like street art in Paris or Volkswagen Beetles in Peru.
Patterns, colours or textures don’t have to come in sets to be worthy of a photograph of course. If something catches your eye, then document it with your camera. After all, you may never be back in that same spot again. Another photo I'm quite fond of is of an old, rusty-looking door with the paint peeling off it that I took in France. I was really drawn to the ombre effect of the paint colours as it fades in and out of varying shades of turquoise.
Have some go-to shots in your back pocket
Looking back at my collection of travel photos I recognised a few similar compositions that I tend to return to over and over again, simply because they work for me and I like the results more often than not. I find it can be quite overwhelming sometimes when I find myself in a place that’s so visually interesting, like first stepping foot in the Souk in Marrakech or stepping out from a New York subway - it can be tricky to know where to start and it’s why I think some people just start snapping aimlessly at anything and everything. Going back to a composition or style of shot that you’re familiar with will help you slow down, focus your efforts and get you started capturing it all in a meaningful way.
I often find myself using walls in my shots, especially if they have an interesting texture or colour. If the place and time is appropriate, I often try to get down low with my camera resting on the ground and capturing a scene from that perspective too.
Of course this isn’t a suggestion to take the same shots and use the same compositions all the time or you’ll be bored of your own photos soon enough. It’s important to try new techniques as often as possible, but having some go-to shots in your arsenal for when inspiration is lacking or even too overwhelming, can be a handy tool too.
Forget 'travel photography', focus on the rest
OK, don't forget about travel photography completely, but I’ve always thought that good travel photography is a real mix of many other photography genres: from landscapes to street photography and wildlife to still life. I try to read about, view and learn as much as possible about other photography genres in the hopes that it will improve my approach to photographing my travels. Here's a few examples...
Learning more about street photography will play a valuable role in developing your travel photography skills, especially if you spend a lot of your time exploring towns and cities. Knowing what compositions can work well in an urban environment, developing a good sense of humour in your images and being subtle in your approach are skills that street photographers often excel at.
Want to read more about Street Photography? Paul Treacy's Introduction to Street Photography is a good place to start.
I love animals so reading about and looking at wildlife images is not a chore for me in the slightest, but learning more about it has definitely come in handy with my travel photography too. Whether it was an opportunity to photograph big cats in the Maasai Mara or a stray kitten in Istanbul, knowing about composition, eye contact and where to focus and how those factors apply to photographing wildlife, have helped me immensely throughout my travels.
Want to read more about Wildlife Photography? I wrote a post earlier this year about the lessons I learned from going on safari.
I'm not an expert at landscape photography by any means but I really enjoy viewing the work of others in this area and I think it's pretty obvious how learning more about it can improve anyone's travel photography. Whether it's a countryside scene at your doorstep that you're capturing or the Grand Canyon, knowing some of the key principles that landscape photographers use - keeping your horizon straight, using a tripod, the benefits of graduated filters - will be really helpful when you see that view that you really want to capture and remember.
Want to read more about capturing landscapes? This super landscape photography tips post might be just what you're after.
Last but certainly not least, I want to mention photographing food. Sometimes it's one of the highlights of travelling to a new place, especially if you're visiting a country famed for it's unique cuisine. If you've ever been inclined to pull your phone out to snap a photo of an impressive or beautifully presented meal, then read up on what photographers who shoot food for a living recommend you do to improve your images. If you don't like the idea of pulling out your DSLR at the dinner table, then think about how the principles of food photography might improve the detailed shots you take walking through a food market or capturing the sinful snack you picked up at the local pâtisserie.
Check out this guide to photographing food if you want to learn more, especially when it comes to lighting.
Travelling and seeing the world is an incredible experience and having the opportunity to photograph it is a joy and a privilege that I'm always grateful for. If I spent the rest of my life hopping from place to place with my camera, I still wouldn't know half of what there is to know about travel photography, so vast is its scope. But as the saying goes: lessons come from the journey, not the destination.