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Travel Photography

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” — Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca

2019-02 Manufactured-Dreamscapes, 2020-01 Dubai, 2020-01 What we share, 2021-03-15 BJP Witnesses Of: The Everyday, Activity, Best of 2020, Burj Khalifa, Content, Dubai, Favourite, Favourite-30, Favourite-All Time, High Contrast, Middle East, Person, Photography, Places, Projects, Thing, Tourism - Performance, UAE, iPhone
Tourists in Burj Khalifa, Dubai UAE

All travel photography is about telling a story. Don’t believe it? Just think of that day, when showing your pictures to friends and family, how the conversation will unfold: you might start by telling them about what happened, what you saw, how you felt, what you ate, etc. The story you tell can be anything: the culture of the people you visited, the way they dressed, the food, the landscapes, the sights, the fun you had, etc. The question is not whether your pictures will tell a story, but how well they do it and whether it is the story you want to tell.

If you plan you are less likely to think after “gee I wish I took that shot …”

Thinking about what that story might be beforehand is the first step towards a better outcome. The question then is what is the story? How do we figure out what that might be? There are two places we can start looking: first, is the purpose of the trip, and second is research into where we are going. The first defines the nature or theme of the story, the second give us the background so we can better understand what we are seeing, which develops into what pictures to take.

Intentionality: The deliberate choices made by a photographer towards achieving some end; there is an objective.

The theme of a story can start with the reason for travel, for example:

Relaxation and escape
Travelling offers a chance to relax, unwind, and escape the daily routine. People often seek tranquility, beautiful landscapes, and peaceful environments to rejuvenate their minds and bodies.

2019-01 Cayman Islands, 2019-02 Manufactured-Dreamscapes, Content, Event, Event - Travel, Food, Locale, Photography, Projects, Resort, Sepia Tones, Travel, Vacation

Exploration and adventure
Many individuals travel to explore new places, experience different cultures, and seek adventure. They have a natural curiosity to discover the world, broaden their horizons, and step out of their comfort zones.

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Cultural immersion
Travelling allows people to immerse themselves in different cultures, traditions, and customs. They want to learn about the history, art, cuisine, and way of life in different parts of the world.

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Personal Growth and Self-discovery
Travelling can be a transformative experience that promotes personal growth and self-discovery. It challenges individuals to adapt to new situations, overcome obstacles, and develop resilience and independence.

2018-06 Gallery Show Ryerson Artspace, Adult, Age, Art, Art Gallery, Bright, Child, Content, Eyes Open, Face, Female, Frontal Face, Gender, Group, Hertha William II, Indoor, Male, Other, People, Person, Photography, Place, Projects, Smile, Teenager / Young Adult

Connection and Relationships
Travelling provides opportunities to meet new people, make friends, and build connections across cultures. It fosters a sense of global community and understanding.

1-1268360732, 2014-02 Africa, @VAu 1-161-297, @export-NationalGeographic, Adult, Africa, Age, Content, Event, Event - Travel, Eyes Open, Face, Female, Frontal Face, Gender, High Contrast, Image type, MFA-Book, MFA-DocMedia, Maasai, Ngorongoro, Number of Faces, People, Person, Photography, Places, Profile Face, Projects, Safari, School, Smile, Tanzania, Trades and Celebreties, Travel, Two Faces, VAU001161297, WorldHeritageSite

Education and Learning
Travelling is an educational experience that goes beyond textbooks. It offers firsthand knowledge of geography, history, art, and social dynamics. It also provides an opportunity to learn new languages and develop cross-cultural communication skills.

1-2853648455, 2015-10 Morocco and Ireland, @VAu 1-225-253, Boat, City, Content, Event, Event - Travel, Group, Harbor, Image type, Locale, Nature, Ocean, Other, Outdoor, People, Person, Photography, Place, Port, Ship, StreetScene, Travel, Unsaturated, VAu001225253, Vehicle, Water, Waters

Food and Culinary Exploration:
Food enthusiasts often travel to experience the diverse culinary traditions and indulge in local cuisines. Exploring the flavours, ingredients, and cooking techniques of different regions is a significant motivation for many travellers.

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Adventure Sports and Outdoor activities
Some people travel for adrenaline-pumping activities like hiking, skiing, scuba diving, or paragliding. They seek thrilling experiences and enjoy pushing their physical limits in exciting natural environments.

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Special Events and festivals
Travelling to attend specific events, festivals, or celebrations is a common motivation. Whether it’s a music festival, sporting event, religious ceremony, or cultural gathering, people travel to be part of these unique experiences.

2019-02 Manufactured-Dreamscapes, 2019-04-Arles-Residency, 2019-Artist Residence, Activity, Animal, Arles, Arles-Keywords, Arles-Residency, Bull, Camel Riding, Christmas, Content, Cultural Events & Activities, Europe, Face, Favourite-All Time, France, Mammals, Number of Faces, One Face, PR-Traditional Practices, Person, Photography, Places, Profile Face, Projects, Roman Amphitheatre, Thing, Unsaturated, Vertebrates

Our research will give us details of what to expect at our destination and examples of what we will see. These details might be historical facts, events, food, etc. Researching photographs others have taken will give us ideas on what to shoot when we get there.

One of the more important things about our research is it will help us understand, interpret, what we see.

With our destination decided, the purpose of our travel and research in hand, the way to transform this information into something real, something we can work with, is to think about the decisions we need to make, such as:

  • Destination
    • Research objectives: what do we want to see, which subjects will aid in the story telling, are there specific sites that we should visit at the destination? Some sources:
      • Government Websites (Travel advisories)
      • Travel Websites
      • Travel blogs
      • Photography Websites
      • Social Media
      • Local Tourism Websites
    • Planning: Identify which sites at each destination you want to visit
  • Timing and logistics
    • Research objectives: when is the best time to visit each destination / site based on weather conditions, local events, seasonal attractions, crowds.
    • Planning: schedule site visits for appropriate time; prepare travel logistics such as transportation, accommodations, permits and advanced purchase of tickets.
  • Shot list and storytelling
    • Research objectives: what pictures should we take? How should we compose them? Review other people’s photographs
    • Planning: Developing a shot list or visual storyboard that outlines the specific shots or scenes we want to capture to form the narrative.
  • Equipment selection
    • Deciding on the appropriate camera gear, lenses, and accessories to carry on the trip. This may vary depending on the specific needs, such as landscape, portrait, or low-light photography, weight or equipment, our age, …
  • Shooting techniques
    • Choosing the right shooting techniques and camera settings to capture the desired mood, lighting, and composition. This includes taking multiple pictures using different exposures, depth of field, shutter speeds, different angles, and other technical aspects.
  • Post-processing
    • While post-processing happens when we get home, when taking the picture we might think about how we might process the picture: should it be black & white? Do we want a panorama?
    • When we get home, making choices about color correction, cropping, sharpening, and other adjustments to enhance the visual impact of the photographs and align with the storyline, mood or feel to be created
  • Photobook design
    • Planning and designing the layout of the travel book, including the sequencing of images, text placement, and overall aesthetic.
  • Writing and Captions
    • Crafting compelling and informative captions or descriptions to accompany the photographs to add depth and context to the images, providing readers with a better understanding of the locations and experiences.
  • Publishing options
    • Considering the various options for publishing the travel book, such as PDF for electronic distribution or physical book.

At this point, we have a theme and an idea of the photographs we want to take. That is we have our objectives; we can proceed with intention. But we might just ask a few confirming questions: Is the trip practical, doable? Have we discovered several potential stories? How certain are we? Uncertainty is ok, but we should be comfortable the plan is doable as it is better to fix things now than in the field.

Reality check: regardless of how much planning you do, serendipity will raise its head and a new story will emerge, either during or often after the fact.

One other question comes to mind: How much should we plan and how detailed should it be? That depends on the individual. Detailed plans can be comforting. While estimating what we think the shots should be before we start the trip seems to be a good thing, the reality is all travel has an element of discovery. This means that we could discover new story lines during our trip; it could even mean coming to the realization that our plan isn’t working. As boxer Mike Tyson said “Everybody has plans until they get hit for the first time”. In other words, we need to be flexible and not let a plan prevent us for following a new, better story. This can lead us to the uncomfortable question of whether planning is worth it?

In my view, it is the research that we do that is the most important because it enables us to see what is important when we travel. When we see a building if we understand the architecture, we can draw in a whole historical and cultural context. Our shot lists, site plans, schedules, etc. are useful when we don’t know what else to do; they get us out there, but when we’re there, use the research to see and interpret.

There is also the uncomfortable scenario when, after shooting for weeks with one story in mind, we get home and look through our work and discover there was a much better story. While there is little we can do to prevent this from happening, we can minimise the impact by taking lots of pictures, of different things, some which may not seem important at the time, from many different angles and orientations, and hope for the best. This is a shot-gun approach, but it might help.

There is a lot of advice, so much that it can be overwhelming and confusing. What ever advice you choose to follow, it needs to make sense to you and it shouldn’t stifle your work or cause you to second guess. The intentions are yours alone:

  • Be unique. Good luck; any place you go a million photographs have already been taken
  • Find a unique location. Good luck. Search on the internet for the place you want to go to see how many people have already been there
  • Shoot during the “Golden” and “Blue” hours. That’s nice, but what about the daylight hours when your actually doing something?
  • Take pictures of people. some places / peoples don’t want their pictures taken; shooting friends and family is safer.
  • Find your voice. What’s that? Just shoot what you like/that makes sense to you. That’s your voice.
  • Composition. life isn’t always perfectly composed … Sometimes a poor composition can actually help convey a feeling about a place, or event.

In this example, a single trip to Newfoundland resulted in three different books, with some photographs shared among them. Yet, they are three very different outcomes:

  1. 2019 Newfoundland Travelogue
    This book is a journal of our trip to Newfoundland. It presents a selection of pictures, organized by genre (e.g., landscape), maps describing the route, and narrative summarizing our experience.
  2. Homes & Gardens
    This book is a documentary work that explores changes in Newfoundland culture and economy through the changes in peoples homes and gardens.
  3. Rock, Island
    This book is poetic-documentary work that explores the isolation of and within Newfoundland.

Research sources