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If you’re ever given a travel assignment by a magazine – or hope to get one – you need to learn how to tell the story of a location. Flip through the pages of any of your favorite travel magazines and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. It’s all the elements that come together to show what tourists want to see – the places, people, food and culture of a location.
Sometimes you’ll be given a very narrow assignment to stick within – a local restaurant or district – and other times you have to capture the essence of an entire city in maybe only 4-10 frames. Here are a few tips from a recent stay in Rome on what to look for to get the most story telling power out of your images.
Chances are wherever you might be going has a famous monument/landmark/sight (or a few) that has been photographed left and right, up and down and every sideways angle in between. Keeping it fresh in these types of locations can be very difficult because chances are someone has shot just what you’re thinking before. But do your best to take a different perspective.
In this photo of the Coliseum, instead of running up to the top and taking the big overall photo that virtually every tourist has, I picked out this spot that had many intersecting frames and waited patiently for the right moment. After a few minutes, an opening cleared and then a young couple stopped in just the right spot, map and audio tour guides in hand. It’s a familiar location in a slightly less photographed framing – something new for the editorial’s readers.
People are an important part of any travel story. Whether it’s a smiling waiter, a museum curator, a street performer, other tourists or just a local on the move – people define the culture of an area. Look to find friendly faces if you can. Remember the story you’re helping tell is generally meant to encourage someone to travel and visit an area. Also look for people in specific professions or occupations that typify a location. For instance you’d be amiss to travel to Venice without at least one image of a gondolier. In this photo, this street performer with his accordion may not be smiling but his sheepish expression is oddly fitting and representative of the thousands of others like him you’ll find throughout the city.
A good travel story would be remiss without some deliciously prepared food and the restaurants/people making it. Good travel engages all five senses, and you’d be missing at least one if not two or three of those without food. It can be artfully prepared and styled dishes, a coffee on a checkered placemat or down and dirty local food. Whatever the food is, just make sure it coordinates with the overall feel of the story. You wouldn’t want to be shooting an editorial on a luxurious hotel and then splash in photos from a cart food vendor somewhere else around town.
Make sure while you’re photographing that great meal you just had to get either the people preparing it, the staff serving it or the place it’s coming from. Menus in foreign languages, table tops, chefs, patrons and exteriors all make great subjects. It all depends on what access you have and your interpretation.
Capturing the “feel” of a location is incredibly important in telling a story. It’s the image that helps you discover a part of what life is like in a certain location. It’s what every photo editor is looking for. The great part is, there are an infinite number of ways to capture the feel of a location – it’s up to you as the photographer to find one from your own unique perspective.
After all, that’s what a photo editor is often going to hire you for. It’s not only your technical skills; it’s your vision of a location. Whether you interpret that as a grand vista, a shop front, a specific food, a monument, activity, emotion or combination of a few it needs to capture the spirit of a place. This image in the Piazza Venezia really says Rome to me – a constant intersection and hustle of people, vespas, cars and buses all on the move.
Activities, accommodations and the arts all make great subjects for travel photography. Where you’re going to stay, what you’re going to do and any culturally significant artworks are all things readers want to know and see. Luxurious rooms and hotels show the finer parts of hospitality, while roughing it on horseback through the Outback or diving through reefs in the Caribbean may be activities that interest visitors.
There are a million and one ways to tell the story of a location. Sometimes you’ll be dictated by an editorial what you have to cover and other times you’ll have free range to shoot as you please. Remember though that if you are shooting for assignment or want to some day, to find at least one story to tell and flush it out fully through your images. You’ll come away with a collection of images that really bring you back and others along on your travels.