Specialty: Travel Photography

Aug 21, 2017

Exploring Amsterdam, you see a young couple sitting alongside the canal, feet dangling over the water as they drink coffee from Café Palace. Bikes zoom by just as a small boat moves within the frame. Row-homes set the perfect backdrop as you take your shot. This is travel photography, defined by Wonderful Machine's Specialty Guidelines as follows:

Pictures that offer a favorable depiction of a locale from a traveler’s point of view — emphasizing food, culture, history, scenery, and accommodations in an upbeat way. ​​​

Myles McGuinness for Tahiti Tourism.

If we think about the history of travel photography, there have been many evolutions. From the first travel photographers, Maxime Du Camp and Francis Bedford who set out to explore the vastness of the world, to the first printing of National Geographic in 1888, which served as an educational resource on a mass printing scale, then onto the first commercial driven publications with Travel + Leisure in 1937 and Condé Nast Traveler in 1987.  

Left: First National Geographic Magazine Cover, 1888. // Right: Early “travel” photograph by Maxime Du Camp, 1849, Calotype Print. 

Left: First Condé Nast’s Traveler Magazine cover, 1987. Middle: Early edition of Travel + Leisure under its original name of U.S. Camera in 1938. Right: An early edition (1971) of Travel + Leisure once it officially switched names and branding.

After print publications, we've got print ads to digital, all the way up to the myriad of professional and personal travel photographs on Instagram and other social media outlets. This span shows us a drastic shift together with multiple definitions of what travel photography encompasses. Although so much has changed and continues to evolve, we've found that commercially oriented travel pictures still have the same goal — to show people what other locations look like and to inspire people to travel.

It’s easy to see our other specialties like food & drink, portraiture, reportage, landscape, and hospitality mesh into our definition of Travel. However, what sets our Travel specialty apart from these sub-genres is the photograph’s ability to blend a combination of these subcategories into an overall depiction of a particular place from a traveler’s perspective.

Ben Pipe captures, with a degree of authenticity, the exchange of corn from a local/traveler's perspective. 

The "traveler’s perspective" is where we’ve seen the most flexibility in the definition. For instance, there’s National Geographic Traveler’s point of view, which is to educate and depict our world from an academic lens, a lens that is very different from the high-end shopping, food, art and resort traveler's point of view found in Travel + Leisure. Similarly, some agencies work for brands like the Travel Bureau of Aruba, which aims to show the bright, fun, resort elements of travel, and then there's Airbnb that shows the natural home away from home lifestyle in their photographs.

We have also found it necessary to emphasize the fact that accommodations and culture are depicted in an upbeat way since we’ve seen this trend predominantly across the major travel magazines, advertisements, and travel bureaus. When it comes down to it, most of these publications, brands, and agencies are giving their audience ideas on trips, and who doesn’t want to go to an upbeat looking destination?

We constantly keep our eyes on the most notable travel magazines, agencies, and brands to help market and connect our photographers with the corresponding art directors, buyers, and photo editors. From our constant research, I've gone ahead and pulled a few examples of our favorite trends and stylistic differences we've seen below:


AFAR authentically blends travel tips for those interested in connecting deeply with communities to create rich cultural and personal experiences. This type of traveler is interested to see how other cultures throughout the world live. They’re curious to connect with locals and immerse themselves in new lifestyles. Director of Photography Tara Guertin selects photographers who embody this off-the-beaten-path perspective. Often she finds photographers to hire on Instagram. She hired Thomas Prior after finding him on Instagram because “he takes very simple images and comes at them from a very different viewpoint.” Guertin hired Brian Finke to photograph mezcal because of his ability to capture “humor in his work, though he’s often covering a serious subject.” Using his strong documentary approach, Finke shows the entire process of harvesting and processing to people consuming mezcal.

Brian Finke's photographs of mezcal for AFAR.

To contrast the cultural perspective of AFAR, we also have the sophisticated viewpoint of Travel + Leisure. This magazine is aimed at inspiring the traveler who wants to discover all the pleasure of the world – from art and design to style, shopping, food, and wine. Photo Editors Scott Hall and David Alexander Arnold note that they not only look at magazines but also are going to shows in Chelsea to find photographers to keep in mind for shoots. Hall found fine-art photographer Katherine Wolkoff and was drawn to the beauty in her work. When hiring photographers, Hall takes into consideration if he would want to frame the photographer's work and put it on his wall: “Katherine is the kind of photographer whose photos you want to live with.”

Left: February 2017 Travel + Leisure cover // Right: Photo by Katherine Wolkoff for Travel + Leisure


In addition to national travel magazines, there are regional magazines like Sunset, which focuses on the American Western lifestyle. Concentrating on 15 Western states in the USA, Sunset showcases travel destinations, home & gardens, and recipes that embody the dream of living in the West – where the sunset moments are flawless. The travel portion of Sunset focuses on a few sub-genres including camping, culinary travel, destination guides, outdoor adventures, and the Sunset Travel Awards. Photographs in the magazine tend to cover these sub-genres with saturated colors and dynamic light, and their portraits emit warm glowing personalities, just like a beautiful sunset.

Photographic spread in Sunset Magazine by Erin Kunkel


In addition to publications, we’ve got our eye on brands and agencies specializing in travel photography as well. Stylistically and conceptually these ads vary significantly. However, we’ve noticed, as in our definition, that these brands and agencies repeatedly depict these accommodations in an upbeat way.

Airbnb takes a natural, lifestyle approach to their most recent campaign photographed by one of our members, Alicia Vera. They primarily highlight the lifestyle of the people on vacation and what they are doing in their rented home. This visual branding fits beautifully with their slogan “to live in a world where one day you can feel like you’re home anywhere and not in a home, but truly home, where you belong.” By focusing on people’s emotions and lifestyle with the secondary emphasis of the space, these ads highlight the ease and comfort of finding a home anywhere in the world.

Above: Three different ads Alicia Vera photographed for Airbnb.

To contrast Airbnb’s natural color palette and authentic lifestyle photographs, some travel ads lean towards more boldly saturated photographs focusing on the landscape, like in member photographer Gerard Yunker's campaign for Travel Alberta.

To show the variety of travel opportunities in Alberta, Canada, Gerard captures the act of canoeing on the idyllic waterside in addition to a cozy, serene evening in a snow tucked cabin.

From these different examples, it’s evident that there are many different approaches to photographing a travel destination to appeal to different people and many meanings. As for our reasons to travel, technical advances and advertising methods all continue to change, as will our ideas regarding travel photography. In the meantime, take a look at our wonderful photographers who specialize in travel photography and reach out to me if you have any additional questions!

Tags: alicia vera ben pipe brian finke erin kunkel liz calvi myles mcguinness travel photography