Words and images by Robin Whalley
Shooting great travel images isn’t just about taking nice pictures overseas; it’s about creating images that convey a sense of place and culture. Here are a few pointers I have used to improve my work.
Before heading off to a new destination do your homework. Think about what it is that people associate with the location you are visiting and jot down as many ideas as you can. Investigate your location via the internet to see what images other photographers have produced. Review the travel guides and think about the types of images you want to capture and take home. Above all have a game plan for your trip, preferably jotted down in a small notebook you take with you. You can then add to this as new ideas come to you on your trip as they inevitably will.
A Word On Equipment
Travelling light is pretty much essential for overseas travel work for a number of reasons:
You are often limited by the carry-on luggage allowance unless you want to risk your camera in the baggage hold (I wouldn’t recommend this). Some of the new mirrorless cameras, such as the Pentax Q10
, should prove ideal travel cameras as well as being good on the streets.
Carry a large DSLR around and you will become a target for criminals in many countries and locations. Taking an old film camera can help you avoid the gaze of thieves yet you can still good images. I have some very distinctive images that I took in Paris using a Holga and some old negative colour film. It gives them a very retro feel and I can make huge prints. With less obvious equipment people are often happier for you to take photographs.
For many travel destinations there are some famous landmarks that just scream out the location. For London it might be Big Ben or the London Eye, for Paris the Arc de Triomphe or Eiffel Tower. It’s a good idea to get good shots of these in the bag early on but you should always be looking for a new perspective or approach.
Rather than trying to show the entire facia of Notre Dame (which most people do) I decided to shoot a panoramic to give the image perspective (shown above). I also wanted to show the crowds of visitors but keep them very low in the frame, just showing their heads to emphasise the feeling of a crowded space.
There are also what I would term secondary landmarks. These are an important part of the location and probably local landmarks, but they are not necessarily what people would recognise unless they have visited the location. A great place to hunt these out is the tourist information office when you get to your destination but also try the local gift shops. Many post cards will feature images of key buildings, landmarks, views and are a great source of ideas to add to your notebook.
For some locations there are icons that will immediately make you think of that country. Holland has Tulip fields, Venice has masks and gondoliers, and China has the Terracotta Warriors. Get the idea?
But you don’t always need the real thing to get a good shot. What you might not realise from this shot of the Terracotta Warriors is that they are actually little more than 6 inches high and found in a gift shop.
Images That Tell A Story Or Make A Statement
Images that can tell a story or make a statement of a destination can be hugely powerful. You don’t always need this to be a positive statement either, it can sometimes be useful to capture the side of a location that people would rather you didn’t.
This probably isn’t an image of Blackpool the local tourist office would like to use but it does convey a strong (but not entirely honest) message.
Culture On The Street
Many locations have a distinct culture and that culture is usually most evident on its streets. If you get away from the main shopping areas you can often find the culture becomes prominent. Get off the beaten track and away from the tourist locations and you will start to see the real travel images. Take care though as you will certainly stand out as a tourist and unfortunately tourists are targets to some people.
Look For Colour
Overseas locations often have colours and combinations that we just aren’t familiar with and as a result they tend to stand out to us. These can often make great subject matter as well as grabbing your attention. Keep an eye open also for small details such as spices on a market stall or strings of chillies drying in the sun. These are often very colourful and make great subjects.
These brightly painted houses from the La Boca area of Buenos Aires are distinctive and unusual. They also make a great tourist attraction that cries out to be captured.
You Don’t Have To Travel Miles
We often think of travel as being exotic overseas locations but this isn’t necessarily the case. What we may see as relatively ordinary, overseas visitors may love as typically British. Simple images such as this shot of the sea front at Tobermory on Mull are distinctive and recognisable.
Take care, plan well and get creative with your next holiday.
Words and images by Robin Whalley