First of all, what is travel photography? To me travel photography is a genre in between photo-documentary and landscape photography. On the one hand, it is about documenting the culture and folklore of a specific country, region or people. On the other, it is about photographing breathtaking scenarios – both urban and natural – and buildings. The final outcome of this genre should target the travel industry. Which is saying: hotels, resorts, national parks, etc.
Surely, many of us, interpret this genre in a slightly different way. Travel photography might also be seen as the process of documenting what we see and experience on our trips. In this instance, we might be more interested in building a photo-book or enriching a personal project, rather than selling our photographs to the travel industry directly.
I have never approached this genre with the objective of extracting value from my work by selling my photographs to travel entities. However, I have always photographed with the attitude of a street photographer. Therefore, my main aim has always been to document what was before my lens and compose it in a meaningful way.
I would like to share with you 3 tips that I have learnt on my trips abroad and might come handy the next time you will plan to leave on holidays.
Tip 1: Travel Light
Cortina d’ Ampezzo, 2015
As I mentioned in previous article, remaining in the ‘creative mode’ for a long period of time might be a serious challenge. This can become even harder if you do not feel comfortable with your equipment. Personally, I tend to get bored and tired after a long walk, carrying heavy equipment that I do not use. As a result, I have learnt to carry along what I need only. Most of the times, this implies a single camera setup – one camera and one wide-angle lens – and an extra, longer lens. I also take with me a few filters in order to better manipulate light, especially if I photograph when light is harsher and at sunset. Finally, I always have a few spare batteries and a light tripod on me as well.
Many of you might think that this is a very risky approach, as I am not carrying a second body. I would argue that my body has never given me any cues not to trust it and I feel confident enough that nothing will happen next time either. Surely, there are some exceptions. Indeed, if I were on assignment for a client, I would take an extra body. A faulty camera would mean loss of revenue and especially a reputation damage, which is quite difficult to heal. Similarly, if I were photographing in a very remote location, one spare body would be advisable. As it would be impossible to have my main body repaired or buy a new one from a shop.
Tip 2: Plan in Advance
Travel photography is not that different from travelling in a broader sense. When you plan you holidays, you will buy your transportation tickets, book you accommodation and research the most interesting excursion at the time of your visit. Well, this amount of research should go into photography as well. Firstly, you should research which are the landmarks and touristic attractions of your journey. Even though a photograph in this location might end up being a postcard rather than an original and creative image, if you research well in advance you might identify new angles and perspectives to photograph that spot under a new light. I often research on travel websites on the internet, by looking at local photographers’ portfolios and by searching for a specific location on Instagram.
Secondly, I always research whether folkloristic events or festivals take place while I am on my journey. These occurrences are perfect to blend in with locals and capture the true spirit of their culture. Moreover, these events are quite busy and packed with photographers. Therefore, your presence will go much more unnoticed and the chances of capturing real candids increase substantially.
Finally, by understanding which events to take part in and how to photograph specific locations, you can better plan the gears you will need and the ones you can leave at home. I ensure you that you will end up carrying much less weight and being much more productive and creative.
Tip 3: Be Brave
Being brave is of the most important characteristics to become a successful street photographer to me. Indeed, you will often need to approach people, ask for permission in order to photograph them, ask for directions and advices – yes, locals know much more than you know, so ask!
You fill find several blogs on the internet that tell you that you have to be fearless. I disagree! There is no worse advice than being fearless. Indeed, fear is what helps you realising whether you are in danger or not, whether you are safe talking to that person or not, whether you can access that place at that time and being unharmed. Fear is what keeps you alive and this is scientifically proven. What you have to be is brave. This implies realising what your fears are, while being able to discern the well-grounded ones from the ones that are not. After this instinctive reasoning, you can act accordingly. The main advantage of being brave is that you will always act consciously. You will always be aware of your surroundings, the possible dangers and your personal limits.
Be Brave, do not be fearless
Travel photography has several acceptations. On the one hand, you can photograph to sell your work to any player in the travel industry. On the other, you can photograph for your own pleasure or desire to document the human condition in a specific place of the world.
I gave you three tips to improve your travel photography and produce a more consistent work.
Firstly, you should travel as light as possible. This will make you much more productive and creative, especially after a long walk.
Secondly, you should research extensively what, where and how to photograph during your journey. By planning it in advance you will be much more productive and efficient.
Finally, you should be brave but must not be fearless. Fear makes you safe, while being brave will open up a whole world of new opportunities before your eyes.