The sun is starting to set on a beautiful azulejos tiled wall in Lisbon, Portugal. A couple strolls by, enjoying magic hour as an elderly woman sticks her head out a wood framed window and greets the passersby “aproveite sua noite.” Picture this moment, a travel snapshot of the history and craftsmen work in Portugal that a photographer might be lucky enough to document.
Travel photography, as Wonderful Machine defines it, “shows, in an upbeat mood, a destination, emphasizing scenery, culture, attractions, activities, accommodations, and often food.” This photographic genre is often completed from the tourist’s point of view; it involves storytelling and focuses on capturing special moments and atmospheres, staged or otherwise.
This specialty differs from Social Documentary photography since it paints a picture of luxury and hospitality as opposed to candid, unfiltered reality. It also differs from Humanitarian photography, which raises awareness of — and in turn provides relief from — human suffering.
Though not as “hard-hitting” as related specialties, travel photography requires a vast array of knowledge. A travel photographer has to understand landscape, architecture, street, and environmental photography. Aside from substantive technical experience, someone in this role needs to be a cultured people person. After all, there’s a lot of mingling with locals involved in this line of work, no matter where you happen to shoot.
There are many different approaches to travel photography. You can focus on people, emphasize landscapes, or dive into aerial photography. And even though travel photography has evolved enormously, from the heavy equipment that involved lengthy exposure times to the instantaneous qualities of digital technology today, the goal to educate or inspire others to travel still remains the same.
Anthony Lanneretonne is a France-based photographer who has shot all over Europe. His take on the profession is similar to those of his colleagues: preparation can define your trip.
I think to be a good travel photographer, it depends on your purpose. But, generally speaking, I think you need to plan your trip quite well, see what others already did to avoid some “clichés,” and subsequently take different shots.
I really enjoy documenting cafes and restaurant life, food markets, or craftsmen. To give some life to my photographs, I also pay specific attention to street scenes and architecture of the city I visit.
More than most other photographic disciplines, travel photography requires the creative to be good with natural light. They’re often asked to shoot gorgeous buildings, cityscapes, and outdoor scenes, so knowing how (and when) to manipulate that light is imperative to success.
Most of the time, especially for landscapes, try to shoot with the best light possible (sunrise and sunset) and avoid noon even if it’s your favorite light. You can also play with the strong shadows in a sunny city. One of the most important tips is to be patient, especially if you need a specific picture; at the same time, don’t be a hunter — be a wanderer.
Or an adventurer, as Michael Overbeck sees it. The Canadian first became interested in travel photography because of his love for the great outdoors. Though his portfolio differs from Anthony’s, the two are both keenly aware of the importance of mastering not only the natural light in an area, but your equipment as well.
The core of what I try to achieve with my travel photography is documenting adventure, primarily in remote mountainous regions. What first attracted me to photographing these trips was my passion for adventure. In a way, the camera was just a tool for me, similar to that of a bike or skis. Whether the camera or the passion for adventure came first is a hard question to answer but I like to think they both grew because of one another.
Skills I would say every aspiring travel photographer need are the ability to both be organized and diligent with planning, as well as the ability to roll with what gets thrown your way. Another skill is to have a solid understanding of your camera and the gear you’re working with – keep things simple and be able to adapt to ever-changing lighting and compositions (even if that means shooting on auto).
On the flip side of things is what a photo editor looks for in a travel photographer’s work. That, of course, depends on the publication’s brand, as Pallavi Kumar, a visuals editor at Condé Nast Traveler, explains.
I primarily look for photographers who fit the aesthetic of the brand, which is sophisticated, beautiful travel photography. I look at portfolios that clearly show the locations the photographer has shot in, their clients, and a consistent style throughout.
One of the beautiful things about travel photography is that it’s an inherently global field. That means photo editors can hire accomplished creatives from around the world, and can get compelling, authentic imagery if they know whom to tap for cultural exposés.
I seek out diverse new talent as much as possible and I also look for photographers who can show the beautiful sides of different countries and cultures.
While Pallavi is looking for “beautiful” and “sophisticated” imagery, those aren’t the only kinds of photographs that play in travel photography. In fact, one major tip from photo editors is to take candid photos, the realism from which can stay with a reader more than a polished, somewhat sterile still image. As Devin Traineau from Departures Magazine explains, “we are not looking for picture perfect looking photos.”
Even as 2021 is in full spring swing, our notions of travel in the last year have changed significantly, giving us all the more reason to embrace the images we see in travel photography. Remember: “travel not to escape life, but so life doesn’t escape you.” – Anonymous
The Departures team is extremely sad to learn of the untimely death of Richard David Story. Richard was Departures’ editor-in-chief from 2000-2017 and left an indelible mark on the brand, keeping his audience informed, enlightened, and entertained for 17 years with one brilliant issue after another.
Want to get in touch with one of our great travel photographers? Check out our extensive roster here.