It’s difficult to define travel photography these days. I see the same photos on Instagram all the time. Overly processed landscapes and sunset shots, the same pictures of a famous landmark over and over again and thousands of posed selfies on a beach swing. Most of these photos are considered to be travel photography but for me that’s not what it’s about.
Travel photography is about showing a country and its culture, people, and natural wonders. For me, travel photography is National Geographic and Steve McCurry and not the photos intended to lure people to a destination. These photos are often fake and don’t represent the real thing.
Good travel photography, I believe, needs a hint of photojournalism to be honest and real. Here’s my advice and tips to make your travel photography more interesting and stand out from all the rest.
1. Include tourists
Traveling has never been easier and cheaper so it’s hard to avoid bus loads of tourists, especially around landmarks and famous attractions. So why not include them in your shots?
I know an empty Taj Mahal or beach looks amazing, but let’s face it, it’s just not reality anymore and including tourists is a creative way can make your photos more interesting. You can try to create a sense of place or size by adding a person in a photo of a landmark. It will change how your audience looks at the picture dramatically because suddenly they can, for example, feel the real size of a structure compared to that person in the photo.
You can also look for interesting or funny scenes. Tourists can act strange or do remarkable things so adding them in the frame together with the subject you want to show creates an extra storyline in your travel photography. Tourists also make interesting subjects by themselves. I always love to observe groups visiting famous landmarks.
2. Do portraits of real people and get their story
There are lots of portraits around of locals working in tourist destinations dressed in traditional clothing but we’ve all seen those before. Why not try to take a portrait of a real local. Someone who’s working or that you meet on the street.
Do you go to a bar every night and talk to the same guy who serves you a beer? Why not take his portrait and ask about his life. Most people love it if you’re interested in their life and including a story to a photo adds a lot of value.
Always try to approach people and ask to create their portrait. You can only make a good portrait when there’s some kind of interaction with your subject. Don’t shoot a portrait from far away with a big zoom lens. It shows.
3. Point your camera in the opposite direction
Famous landmarks and natural wonders make great travel photography but what’s on the other side? People often take the same obvious pictures or try to find a new angle at best. But it’s also really interesting to see what’s on the other side of where everyone’s pointing their camera.
Is there a similar view close by or is there a nice contrast you can shoot? Shooting with a different point of view is great when you want to try and make a photo story or series about a place. Don’t just get different angles of the same location or building. Get a sense of the surroundings too.
An equally interesting view of the town where I stayed on the other side.
4. Make an effort, don’t fix it in post-processing
This is a real issue with photography, in general, these days when it’s so easy to digitally enhance your pictures. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do some post-processing but out there are tons of pictures where people have replaced skies, taken out objects or added sunlight.
This has nothing to do with travel photography because then you’re just showing something that’s not real. Remember the “hint of photojournalism”? Why would you show something that wasn’t there?
Always try to make an effort to get the best shot possible. If you weren’t able to get the shot you had in mind, try again the next day or even a few hours later. Weather and light change fast sometimes and that can work to your advantage.
It’s so much more rewarding when you finally get a great photo of what you actually saw.
5. Go to lesser-known areas or destinations
Especially when you want to shoot portraits, it’s a good idea to get far away from popular tourist areas. The locals will be much nicer to interact with and you’ll more likely be able to ask for a portrait without being asked for money.
Another advantage is that you can discover new and interesting locations that may have never been photographed before. A small temple in a back alley where the locals go to pray or the favorite fishing spot of a local community. Those are the pictures that will stand out and make an interesting story afterward.
6. Street photography is travel photography and vice versa
I don’t like keeping these two genres of photography in different categories because when you’re traveling, you will most likely walk the streets – a lot! The street is where you can find the essence and soul of a country. The real locals with their real jobs and daily life going on around every corner.
I love to explore the streets of cities and towns to find interesting scenes and good stories. A lot of times when I visit a destination I don’t go to the popular locations at all and I try to stay in the quieter neighborhoods where I can see how the locals live.
The best travel photography is shot right on the streets, far away from any tourist destinations. You just have to look for it. Travel photography needs street photography and vice versa.
7. Don’t be afraid of the dark
I’m not talking about shooting a building using a tripod. Cameras are so good these days that you can easily kick up the ISO to 3200 or even 6400 and shoot handheld. Yes, there will be more noise but I think people are too scared of it.
Good photos will still be good with a reasonable amount of noise. When you go out at night, just leave your tripod behind for once and try to shoot handheld. You’ll get a different and often surprising result. I’ve shot some of my best photos at night, handheld.
Don’t worry if the resulting frame is not tack sharp. This doesn’t make a good photo look bad all of a sudden.
I hope you found these tips helpful. If you apply them and practice, you can make your travel photography more interesting than the average images. Please share your comments, questions, and images in the section below.