I’m en route to Romania right now, and as with any new location, I’m shaking with excitement. Literally I start pacing on the plane as I get closer. Once I arrive at my hotel, I throw my suitcase in my room and head out the door to start shooting. Since the location is new, I photograph everything, like a first time safari photographer blazing away at every animal in sight. Eventually I get into a groove, and start focusing on images that are more meaningful.
Many workshop participants ask me what creative approach to take with travel photography. Their first reaction, similar to mine, is being a little overwhelmed and not knowing exactly what or where to shoot. Sure, we will get all the iconic images along the way. But what about the personal, creative images that we tend to like a lot more.
I’ve shot numerous assignments for travel magazines, and I still use the same approach editors gave me with those jobs. You have to tell a story, convey what it is like to live in that country. Your body of images should reflect iconic, classic elements, but also the emotion, flavor and smells of that area. I once reviewed images with an editor and went about explaining a particular shot and how the moment was so special. The editor replied, “Photos don’t talk, you have to convey that special moment visually.” Below is a list of subjects and tips for your next travel shoot. This list is meant to give you a framework to organize your shooting, but it is not meant to curb your creativity. Remember, if it is interesting to you, then photograph it.
-Research the location: There are two schools of thought on this. Some photographers prefer not to research an area so they are open to seeing everything new. I respect this approach, but I subscribe to doing research of the new area. First, I can find out when any local festivals or markets are happening. Next, I can figure out what images have been done, and how I might be able to do something new (editors don’t want to see the same shot, they want some new and creative). And finally, sometimes you find something totally new you would not have discovered roaming around town. The image above is in the main library in Prague. I found this ‘book tunnel’ while researching places to visit in Prague.
-Go out early/late: The light is better, there are less people on the streets in the morning, and often people are doing interesting tasks like opening up shop. Twilight, or the blue hour, is terrific for cityscapes. I once found a line of nuns walking into a church one morning; something I would have missed if I hadn’t been out at 6am.
-Photograph people: People define a location, whether it is nomadic herders in Mongolia or college students in Prague. Viewers are interested in what people are like in a country, they want to relate on the human level. If viewers see a Masai tending goats, then they have a better understanding of life in that area. If they see a edgy girl in a warehouse district, then formulate an impression Prague is edgy as well.
-Get the iconic shot: Probably one reason you decide to travel to an area is because you saw an iconic photograph of that place. You want that shot. This is totally fine, get that shot. Now figure out how to do a new and interesting view of that same iconic subject. Try different perspectives, lighting, time of year, aerials, using models…make it your mission to figure out an original, creative way to photograph the postcard shot.
-Photograph the food: I’m amazed at how many people define locations by food, and yet we as photographers rarely photograph it. We come home and talk about how great wine the seafood pasta was…and that is where it stops. I’ll admit photographing food is low on my list too, but with simple window light or a small diffuser on a sunny day, you can take a shot of that delicious burger before you chomp away. If you aren’t going to photograph your plate of food, how about photographing local food markets and cafes. This will also convey the culinary delights of the location. Or how about a simple backlit shot of a glass of red wine.