Travel photography is an amazing opportunity to capture the beauty and uniqueness of different places, cultures, and people. It’s also an incredibly satisfying way to flex your photography and creativity skills while exploring a new country or area.
In order to make your travel photography stand out, you need to have an eye for capturing unique and creative shots, as well as an understanding of the technical aspects of using a camera and lighting.
In the article, I will talk through the thought processes and planning aspects that I use to ensure my travel photography is striking and individual. As a professional photographer, I use travel photography projects to develop my creativity, my technical skills, and to showcase my own personal style within my portfolio.
#1 – Find your own style
The first and most important step in creating distinctive travel photography is to grow your own unique style. However, this can be easier said than done!
To find your style, you must commit to time spent experimenting with different techniques and generally working out what you like and also just as importantly, what you don’t like.
A distinctive style is the glue that binds a portfolio together. The subject matter may be varied, and in the case of travel photography might literally jump all over the world, but the style will gel it together.
As you explore, you’ll find what works best for you and what sets your work apart. Remember that your style should reflect your own personality and the way you see the world.
Let your own personal style develop naturally and organically over time.
#2 – Make a human connection
I specialize in portrait photography, so for me, finding that human connection with the subject is vital. That doesn’t mean I need to talk to them for hours. It means making a quick instant connection as humans, and then conveying that within the photograph.
I try to capture people in natural, authentic moments, rather than posing them or moving them to another area. I suggest that you give directions on where you want them to look or how to stand, for example, but very often I’m shooting in the in-between moments when they don’t think they’re posing for the camera.
If you’re new to travel photography, instead of trying to capture people unawares, try going over to chat with them first, and ask if they mind whether you take some photographs. If they’re happy to do so, you have the chance to create some far more intimate photographs, having made that human connection.
If you don’t ask, you don’t get – what’s the worst that can happen? They can always just say no.
#3 – Plan your ideas ahead of time
Planning is key to creating stunning travel projects. Before you head out on your trip, do some research to find the best locations and angles for capturing the beauty of your destination.
Consider the time of day, lighting conditions, and climate to determine the best time and place to capture the right image.
When I work in a busy city such as Mumbai or Hanoi, I like working at nighttime, for numerous reasons. To avoid the daytime heat and avoid crowds for starters.
I will usually have my themes, concepts, and locations all fully planned out before I go. But that doesn’t mean I’m not always looking out for new possibilities or other interesting things I hadn’t considered before I arrived.
#4 – Seek out the unseen
Make sure you do something that other people haven’t done, and that you’ve not seen on Instagram hundreds of times before. It’s really important just to do a little digging and do things differently. Get around to the back of that marketplace, or arrive at 4 am when the deliveries come in.
Push yourself to find some shots of scenes that are more authentic and real than your classic tourist shots.
When I was in California, I had jetlag so I got up and took my camera down to the beach at 5 am and got some great portraits that would have looked completely different if I’d taken them at midday. The early morning gave me new light to play with as well as the peace and tranquillity that comes from being one of only a handful of people out and about.
#5 – Play with light and shadows
I always enjoy experimenting with photographing in different lighting conditions, such as early morning light, late afternoon light, dusk, and nighttime.
I particularly like to explore the use of light just after the sun has gone down. With some of my personal travel photography projects, I’ve opted to shoot at night, with a very specific lighting setup. This gave my set of photos a really unique look as we’re so used to seeing busy city daytime shots. So when you’re presented with a set of portraits set at night with no one else around, it creates a very different vibe for the photo series.
In terms of the technical process, using my own off-camera lighting setup gives me exact control over the look of the images, rather than using natural light which can be changeable and unpredictable. That said, you can’t light a church or a mountain range so develop an understanding of how light works, how it changes, and how best to find some good light.
#6 – The editing process
I would recommend going light on the editing to keep your images raw and authentic. Over-editing your images can make them look unnatural, and also quite unpleasing at times.
Keep your edits subtle and use them just for gentle tweaks. Go for authenticity.
It takes time to create a really unique travel photography portfolio. Try applying the different approaches from my tips above should give you a really good chance of creating something different.
Just remember developing your photography and creative skills is an ongoing learning process. Ultimately travel photography should really be about enjoyment and capturing some special moments from a trip.
I hope you enjoyed this article providing tips on how to create distinctive and creative travel photography.
To make your travel photography stand out, you need to have your own unique style, make human connections with your subjects, plan your shots ahead of time, seek out the unseen, play with light and shadows, and keep your edits subtle.
Developing your photography and creative skills is an ongoing learning process, and it is essential to enjoy the process. By using the tips provided, you can create something different and unique.