Travel Photography: Suggestions for Avoiding the Pitfalls and Maximizing Your Adventure

October 29, 2018

   Tip: Contextualize landscapes, e.g., pack a lightweight jacket in a color that can visually compliment a dramatic scene.   Above:     West Iceland landscape. Photo Credit: Brian Rivera Uncapher

Tip: Contextualize landscapes, e.g., pack a lightweight jacket in a color that can visually compliment a dramatic scene. Above: West Iceland landscape. Photo Credit: Brian Rivera Uncapher

Well executed travel photography can definitely be exhilarating, but it is not as leisurely as most people imagine. Here are some suggestions that should help maximize results.

First and foremost is research; do plenty of it beforehand. Trying to find that little known road or hike while already on location will cut into valuable shooting time. Lack of research will also increase the chances of one just driving by a turnoff that could have yielded amazing vistas. 

In depth travel photography research typically is granular. It will cover everything from local customs and events to the angle of the Milky Way rise or the exact time of nautical twilight for a specific day and location. Meticulous planning, however, should never be so rigid as to impede the flexibility required for spur of the moment opportunities so factor in time for these as well. If you have to rest, do so at the middle of the day so you can have plenty of energy for the best light at dawn and dusk, and don’t stop shooting after the sun goes down as some of the best travel photography is after dark.

Thorough planning should also include gear evaluation. Experienced travel photographers carry varied but light loads. It’s not an exaggeration to say that weight needs to be reduced to the very bare minimum to avoid numerous issues on location such as being denied boarding on a small bush plane. It’s not uncommon to hear of travel photographers who have literally cut their tooth brushes in half to lighten their packs. Gear checklists and packing lists are thus indispensable, and small handheld weight scales can come in handy. Additionally, try to include a lightweight jacket in a color that can visually stand out against a dramatic landscape so that anyone can quickly slip it on for an envisioned composition. In the end, good research will maximize your time and yield not only higher quality material but also larger inventory.

Besides thorough research, impactful travel photography needs to capture the spirit of the destination and its people. In order to do this, one must get away from the crowds and permeate into the local culture. Thoughtful image compositions will give viewers an emotional connection to the travel destination from a local perspective as well as the nature and environment that surrounds it. It’s always a good idea, however, to check with locals to make sure you’re not heading somewhere dangerous.

   Tip: Use different angles to strengthen your travel photography.   Above: The Culture of Little Havana. Photo Credit: Brian Rivera Uncapher

Tip: Use different angles to strengthen your travel photography. Above: The Culture of Little Havana. Photo Credit: Brian Rivera Uncapher

Travel photography will also be more impactful in telling a story if accentuates different angles. Lying in the grass and shooting a scene upwards or climbing a tree, cliff, or building to shoot downwards can add meaningful perspectives and scale to your work. Sometimes the only difference between a great shot and an average one is just a few feet. It’s essential to remember, however, that authenticity, not perfection, is what the best travel photography is all about; so play with angles, capture informality, reveal local customs, embrace bad weather, and contextualize landscapes from the everyday perspective of the local community without trying too hard to get that perfect shot which, oftentimes, can lack originality.

   Tip: Different perspectives add interest to your story.   Above: Kayak adventure in the Florida Keys. Photo Credit: Brian Rivera Uncapher

Tip: Different perspectives add interest to your story. Above: Kayak adventure in the Florida Keys. Photo Credit: Brian Rivera Uncapher

In the end, photographically documenting an area's landscape, people, culture, customs, and history is truly a rewarding and mind-expanding experience which in many instances can help bring about positive social change. Implementing these suggestions will hopefully help reduce some of the pitfalls along the way.