How Do You Choose What To Photograph While Traveling? - Digital Photography School
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How Do You Choose What To Photograph While Traveling?

So far I’ve posted 16 out of 21 subjects I’ll be covering in the Travel Photography Subjects series. It’s about this time that I realize I have a clear cut idea of what I like to shoot while on the road, be it work or holiday, but I’m curious about the rest of you. How do you choose what you wish to photograph while on the road?

Do you look primarily for the same thing over and over? Are there certain subjects, or themes, the pique your interests no matter which country you are visiting? Do you actively seek out subjects of interest? Or are you more of the type to flow with the wind?

My answer to all those questions would be “Yes”. I often look for the same subject matter, as evident by my recent posts on travel subjects. But I love letting the feel of a country or location pull me away from that list. It is by no means exhaustive and as a guide it works well, reminding me of themes I am developing for presentations back home. I find great interest in finding a new pattern repeated in a new location and will often add it to the list. For instance, I decided to start a theme of looking for old milk cans after seeing them in a few far flung places (New South Wales, Australia, Washington state, Oregon). Things like that crop up when you’re least expecting them.

Your turn. What motivates your decisions on what to shoot and what not to shoot while traveling?

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Peter West Carey is a world traveling photographer who now is spending a large amount of time going back through 6 years of travel photo and processing them like he should have to start with. He is also helping others learn about photography with the free series 31+ Days Of Photography Experiments which builds off of the 31+ Days To Better Photography series on his blog.

  • Lois Harr

    Love to travel…… while in Greece I took pictures of cats and used them as subject dividers on my photo story presentation.

    In Wales we were doing genealogy so I took pictures of various stone walls and headstones with unique sayings … also sheep as we walked the various trails.

    Unique doors or windows are also fun for photography as you always wonder what is on the other side.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/roundapple Richard Hannapple

    I shoot everything that catches my eye.( I have plenty of memory cards) I have shot subjects just in passing that turned out to be beautiful. Sometimes A shot that I didn’t think to much about turned out to be the best one of the day.

  • Ray

    For some reason I keep coming across dead animals and birds, squashed,
    decayed, half eaten etc…. So now I can say like the kid in the movie. “I photograph dead things”
    another common theme is animal and bird droppings.!! wonderful patterns etc

  • http://www.bluejackingtools.com James

    I shoot mainly people. Their expressions aer priceless and I’ve come to realise people have only that few looks despite being so different in terms of race or nationality.

  • San

    While traveling I photograph objects unique to the place; to capture the moment in time, its culture and things that give character, and its aura. For example, in Alaska, the melting of the glaciers, wildlife, and the scarcity of the people, but it rich traditions.

Some older comments

  • San

    February 16, 2012 07:38 am

    While traveling I photograph objects unique to the place; to capture the moment in time, its culture and things that give character, and its aura. For example, in Alaska, the melting of the glaciers, wildlife, and the scarcity of the people, but it rich traditions.

  • James

    December 1, 2010 04:51 pm

    I shoot mainly people. Their expressions aer priceless and I've come to realise people have only that few looks despite being so different in terms of race or nationality.

  • Ray

    November 29, 2010 11:54 am

    For some reason I keep coming across dead animals and birds, squashed,
    decayed, half eaten etc.... So now I can say like the kid in the movie. "I photograph dead things"
    another common theme is animal and bird droppings.!! wonderful patterns etc

  • Richard Hannapple

    November 24, 2010 06:50 am

    I shoot everything that catches my eye.( I have plenty of memory cards) I have shot subjects just in passing that turned out to be beautiful. Sometimes A shot that I didn't think to much about turned out to be the best one of the day.

  • Lois Harr

    November 20, 2010 11:47 pm

    Love to travel...... while in Greece I took pictures of cats and used them as subject dividers on my photo story presentation.

    In Wales we were doing genealogy so I took pictures of various stone walls and headstones with unique sayings ... also sheep as we walked the various trails.

    Unique doors or windows are also fun for photography as you always wonder what is on the other side.

  • Ed

    November 20, 2010 09:00 am

    Like most others I enjoy travel photography. I try to get one photo a trip of a unique door handle or knocker. I don't know what I'll do with them but it does open your eyes to things up close.

    http://edszhi.smugmug.com/gallery/13888230_Sci7H#1097168937_FNkU6[img]

  • Jean-Pierre

    November 19, 2010 10:06 pm

    I try not to have pre-conceptions.
    But when I happen to take a good picture of something specific (be it a face, a frame, a lock), it often turns ingto a theme.

  • byya@Traveller's Anatomy

    November 19, 2010 11:18 am

    Usually I know why I travel to that country, and most of the photos would be of the famous cliche tourist spot. Nevertheless, local foods, people and custom are also always in my list of subject, which undoubtly couldn't be obtain at other part of the world.

  • Evelyn T

    November 19, 2010 10:24 am

    Thanks for all the comments, I will definitely adopt some of the techniques and styles in my next travel.
    Generally, I like to photograph people in their daily business and environment - usually without them knowing that I was taking their photographs (if I can!).

    [eimg url='http://fc02.deviantart.net/fs70/i/2010/275/d/0/sitting_by_the_dock_of_the_bay_by_evelayn-d2zwhdv.png' title='sitting_by_the_dock_of_the_bay_by_evelayn-d2zwhdv.png']

  • Doris

    November 19, 2010 09:36 am

    I am a travel photographer. I take photo of landscape, people, buildings, wildlife, signs, flowers, etc. Anything that will help me remember the trip. However, I do notice I have a tendency to document different types of flowers that I see in each country. I also like to photograph people as theyare the heart and soul of the place.

  • Lawrie Pople

    November 19, 2010 06:16 am

    I usually go at it with an open mind. If the subject is interesting, unusual, colourful, iconic, with strong mood or even stark and ordinary etc I will photograph it .. i.e., actions, places, events, people, animals, things. When travelling I try to capture the moment no matter what.

    As a consequence a lot more photos are taken than I probably need but when home they make a fantastic travelogue diary on my screensaver programme. The holiday lives on as it unfurled. There in action for months and even years after.

    One rule I do follow however is that each photo must strongly reflect the town, area, city, or country I am in. I look at each after taking and if I think that it could be a scene as much in one place as another without any particular distinguishing features .. I will delete it unless it fits importantly into the visual continuity of the flow.

    I remember one photo I took in the Andalusian town of Arcos de la Frontera. The subject was particularly beautiful but viewed as taken it could have been in my street in suburban Sydney. Despatched to the 'Trash' can. One exception to this rule however are sunsets combined with dramatic cloud formations.

  • Caltek

    November 19, 2010 05:36 am

    Heck this day and age with card capacities, etc you can never take too many photos....always delete it later when it doesn't turn out the way you thought it would. I snap photos of anything and everything.

  • LDJ

    November 19, 2010 05:12 am

    I usually don't have a set plan when on vacation (my life is structured enough with the 9-5). I just take my camera along and look for things that are of interest to me. I've gotten some of the neatest shots this way.

  • CaliRoadtripper

    November 19, 2010 05:09 am

    I blog about my travels, so I tend to look for images that will show the feel of a place. It's also more fun for me to take photos of the tacky hot dog stand on the boardwalk than the gorgeous sunset that everyone else is shooting. Beautiful sunsets are everywhere, but that hot dog stand is truly unique to the place.

  • Lloyd Smith

    November 19, 2010 04:31 am

    Since December I have been in almost 10 countries. I choose what I see at the time and do not go after themes. Take a look at my Website: http://picasaweb.google.com/lsmithtwin
    Or take a look at: http://picasaweb.google.com/Lsmithtwin/JessicaJacksonInCabo2010# of my granddaughter in Mexico. Or http://picasaweb.google.com/Lsmithtwin/JulieZietlowInTheSurfSeaOfCortez#
    Or:http://picasaweb.google.com/Lsmithtwin/CameraClubEIDCompetition200910#
    or in China: http://picasaweb.google.com/Lsmithtwin/ChinaSomeOfLloydSFavorites9172010#

  • Kirvi_Inci

    November 19, 2010 04:13 am

    Serendipity is a photographers best friend!

    One of my best and favorite photos happens to be that of a burning truck that i happened to stumble upon while driving down the road on a small day trip.

  • Janine S.

    November 19, 2010 04:12 am

    When we travel around the US, I always photograph post offices. My brother-in-law is a postman in Florida and it started as a joke when we were in Alaska in 2005. Now, whereever we I go I will detour tot he local post office.

  • Kirvi_Inci

    November 19, 2010 04:11 am

    Beautiful pictures! I have a strange love of old rustic things such as the above mentioned milk jugs.

    When I am traveling, I tend to look for both things that are popular with tourists and things that are out of the way and not as popular but still impressive. I try to take photos of things that I find beautiful in such a way as to show the viewer what it is that is beautiful about it. I look for simple things and try to find the beauty in them.

  • ratkellar

    November 19, 2010 04:06 am

    There are always destinations in travel – nature or mountains or ocean or pyramids or museums. Some subjects are pre-determined.
    That understood, I am an American that likes to shoot exotic things, cultural things, atmospheric things (local supermarkets, street signs, or gas stations can be very interesting, even if not beautiful), contrasts (TV antennas on 800-year old buildings!) and memories of the travelers. For amateurs, I think it is the recording of the view and the memory that is most important.

  • Sage

    November 19, 2010 03:52 am

    I try to photograph things that capture the feeling of the place I'm in. I just got back from Italy this past weekend. In addition to shooting the major landmarks (Colosseum, Palazzo Navona, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, etc.) I found myself shooting a lot of windows, doors, cafes, shop windows, bikes, and Vespas. I like to focus on the details.

  • Ray

    November 19, 2010 03:38 am

    I plan in advance to capture the iconic images, but once I'm there I will fill in the gaps with anything and everything that strikes me as an interesting subject.

  • David from Quillcards

    November 18, 2010 03:57 am

    Another thing I try to do (don't always remember to do it though) is to look in the shops selling postcards and see what views are photogenic - then try to do something the same but different.

  • Rae Merrill

    November 18, 2010 03:53 am

    I read up on travel guides before I go and take a pocket guide with me. Once you're there visit the main attractions then go off the beaten track and find out what else is there.

  • ovidiu

    November 18, 2010 03:36 am

    I usually try to photograph daily life as I usually travel to locations where none of my friends would go to... so I am always trying to bring those places closer to my friends. I have to admit I don't always succeed. Often when studying my pictures after the travel I find them too mundane but my friends like them. it seems I manage to give them a good impression of where I have been...

  • Bruce Blasko

    November 16, 2010 06:19 pm

    Old buildings and colourful shop fronts, random pots - colour!

  • St Louis Wedding Photographer

    November 16, 2010 12:54 pm

    We always photograph ourselves when we're traveling. I guess that makes us really touristy.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck

    November 16, 2010 01:26 am

    Hi

    Great topic. I travel quikte frequently both domestically and inetrnationally. Aside from ordinary snap shots to capture the region or atmosphere, I always look to the unusual and quirky. I love my 10-20mm zoom to catch inetresting perspectives that tell a unique story. I like architecture and structures and if I can get some water mixed in - Bonus! Like this one of a lone Tall Ship in SF, that appeared out of nowhere.

    http://t.co/TmJB9Ej

    Erik

  • Mei Teng

    November 16, 2010 12:33 am

    I try to keep my options open when doing travel photography. You never know what you might come across. Sometimes, the most amazing opportunities present itself in the most unexpected ways.

  • Lucas Zallio

    November 16, 2010 12:17 am

    I think everything depends on the time you'll be there for shooting. It's not the same when you go with a tied schedule than when you stay a while to absorb the entire place.

    Personally, love doing thematic photography, it let me to focus on the theme and get original shots from a place. However this methodology requires you to stay longer in one place but results use to be great.

    Focusing on themes makes you to look for the mood, the personality and the communication of a place, city or a culture. I use to have a list of common themes and then, if possible, I improvise new themes in order to make the scope wider. Nevertheless I let me to break the "theming" in order to get some shots I consider "worthable".

    Nice topic.

    ------------------------------------------
    Lucas Zallio

    Photoblog
    Flickr

  • David from Quillcards

    November 16, 2010 12:16 am

    I am reading some of these replies and thinking that choosing a theme or certain kinds of subjects and concentrating on those has been dangerous for me in the past.

    For example, when I have had 'images that will make good posters' in mind, I have missed all the images that I should have taken for the article that we will write about the place.

    Some subjects don't make good subject for a big splash but they can be great for giving a flavour of a place in a blog.

  • Eric

    November 16, 2010 12:11 am

    On a trip to Ireland I had to pick a theme. If I didnt I would have just been standing there like a deer in the headlights. I chose the representation of religion amongst landscape. It was then like a treasure hunt looking for the best angles and light... and makes for a very cohesive album once you are home!

  • Killian

    November 16, 2010 12:11 am

    As an AD/HD child, I tend to get pulled by random stuff at weird times. I can plan to take pics of something, and be headed for that destination, but something will catch my eye and I'll have to stop. =)

    I do, however, have a love for native flora, interesting architecture, and fascinating faces.

  • jessp

    November 15, 2010 10:29 pm

    I found myself gravitating towards bicycles and graffiti when I was travelling throughout the Middle East and Europe. I can't even explain it. It seems to give me more of a sense of the place by capturing what they scrawl on their walls.

  • Martin

    November 15, 2010 10:13 pm

    In Australia and then in New Zealand I wanted to shoot road signs - as many different as possible. In Peru this year I lost this interest (haven't seen any interesting).

    http://picasaweb.google.com/martin.humpolec/Signs#

  • Stila

    November 15, 2010 08:19 pm

    The personality of a place is determined by the people that live there. I love looking at people more than anything else, so there's a lot of street photography in my travel shots. Also things like graffiti, street artists and the like. I don't like tourist places too much, but I always have fun trying to shoot popular spots in an original way, making it a challenge. Anyway, what I end up doing most of the time is capturing moments, actions, looks or situations that are only there in the minute I'm watching them. I also love looking for contrasts, weird stuff, color matches...
    I don't really plan my shots, but usually before a journey I look for pics of the place on the internet to avoid taking the same ones, and surf the web for unusual/unknown/abandoned spots.
    Pics like these one usually make my day:

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/stila_rebel/5135813617/' title='Holding hands in public is ?? in Japan' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4035/5135813617_8eee34ac90.jpg']

  • Craig

    November 15, 2010 06:50 pm

    I have two approaches. The first is to shoot unusual things in usual places (eg the door everybody walks past), and the other is to try to get an interesting persective of something that is often shot.

    One of my personal challenges when shooting in a crowsed tourist location is to get shots that make the places look empty. A few of my attempts are here.

  • Katja Nina

    November 15, 2010 06:37 pm

    I just shoot everything I see and decide later whether to keep or not. But then again I travel with laptop so I can empty my memory card daily. I do lot of abstract work from my photos and photo that didnt quite work as photo might work great as digital abstract.

  • Amir Goichman

    November 15, 2010 02:53 pm

    I never plan what I'll photograph. I have a master strategy when going to a new place, but never a solid, pin point plan. As i'm a fashion and glamour enthusiastic I most of the time look to shoot beautiful people.

  • Gilbertox

    November 15, 2010 01:58 pm

    I always look for subjecs representative from the place, and also know people who go travel and just shoot doors.

  • bunsongpayat

    November 15, 2010 12:35 pm

    I mostly shoot things that my country doesn't have like exotic street foods and architectures. I'd like to take also local people but Im always hesitant to do so because I'm so shy to ask them or feel guilty to take them as stolen. But I still able to take some. =D

  • RJMang

    November 15, 2010 11:59 am

    People. People doing what they do day-to-day in environments that are different from mine. Shooting local icons certainly get's it's fair share of space on the memory card; but images of people, for me, end up providing the most memorable photos.

  • Dat's Photography

    November 15, 2010 11:49 am

    When I get to go on a vacation.I like to shoot Photos of things that will help give a feeling for the places I have gone. Like people and the way they live dress. landscapes to give you an impression of what the country or place looks like and other shots that strike me as interesting at the time. I have just purchased a GPS unit for my Nikon D300 to help my out when I get back.
    Link to Vacation in Ixtapa Mexico 2009 : http://datsphotography.smugmug.com/Vacation/Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo-2009/Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo-2009/7342938_f2VC9
    Link to Vacation in Ixtapa Mexico 2008: http://datsphotography.smugmug.com/Vacation/ixtapa-2008/10861195_u8Cvj
    Thanks for viewing my photos and please Stop by and sign my book and let me know that you were here.

  • Tony Martin

    November 15, 2010 11:30 am

    I've been to 170 countries in the last 10 months and what I look for most of all is old things. I love to photograph decay or things that are simply aged. I love to capture run down places and items.

    I'm still trying to find my style and generally I just take it as it comes but when I see something old, I pull out my camera. I also enjoy doors and windows as I see so many different styles throughout the countries, most of them being aged which goes along with my previous answer.

  • Jonathon Jenkins

    November 15, 2010 09:32 am

    I'm currently traveling and shooting right now in Japan. I started out with a rough plan of what I wanted to shoot and then look for additional opportunities along the way. I've primarily been enjoying street scenes as well as locations like the Fish Market and Roppongi Hills.

  • sumit

    November 15, 2010 08:31 am

    I tend to go for shots which would be unique to that city but deviating away from the regular shots that one might see. or perhaps a different perspective on a well known landmark.

  • proNikon

    November 15, 2010 08:00 am

    As a landscape, portrait, wildlife and travel photographer, I dont really plan anything or search for anything. I just go with the flow. If anything, there is little planning. You know it when you see a good landscape, portrait or any good travel scene. After experience, things just flow and small things like planning of composition and lighting setting just become second nature. I dont really plan anything or have anything specific that I look out for. Most of the time, there is no repetition or theme. Every shot is unique. Sometimes, you may get a shot that is pretty awesome but it comes out of the blue. An example is when I was travelling in Perth. There was this man on the street that suddenly appeared out of a shop and started playing a violin. Usually, you see people playing guitars on the streets. Rarely do you come across a violin player walking out of a shop and start playing in the middle of the city. Or at least, I haven't seen a violin player in the middle of the city except in movies. Just small spontaneous scenes like that. No planning goes there except being able to be quick and clear in your shots. That is why you never have your camera in the bag while travelling. The good scene may disappear if you fiddle with your bag for long.

  • Damian

    November 15, 2010 07:34 am

    After doing my research about the location I'm going to I search sites like Flickr to get a photographers point of view on the place. I don't try to copy others work, but get inspiration from them, seems to work well for me and you just don't get those kind of shots in travel books.

  • David

    November 15, 2010 07:28 am

    I come alive when I see beautiful and exotic things. So my starting point is to try to go to such places.

    That said, I look for graphic and colorful images.

    I have gotten out of the habit of thinking in black and white. Sometimes I see an image after the event that will wok in black and white, but I find myself looking for graphic lines and color.

    One thing I try to look for and which I have most trouble with, is seeing the three-dimensional depth of images that will translate well into the flat image.

    Here are some photos from India.

  • JesseAdams

    November 15, 2010 07:20 am

    The only thing I usually plan to photograph are the famous sites, but then I end up photographing EVERYTHING that catches my eye! With digital storage it is easy to take many photos and choose your favourites later. Here are some of my photos from Paris and Santorini.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/26431673@N04/3747026303/in/set-72157621631439963/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/26431673@N04/3736727459/in/set-72157621631439963/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/26431673@N04/3898789698/in/set-72157622278388388/

  • lepis

    November 15, 2010 07:19 am

    Heh! I have loads of pictures of wheelbarrows from all over the country and aboard. Good fun!

  • toomanytribbles

    November 15, 2010 07:12 am

    i like to get unusual takes on oft-shot architecture, but also details, especially my favorite narrow dof shots. i shy away from people -- that's something i need to work on.

    i'm presently working through and uploading a flickr set for paris (more shots displayed only in the comments of some pictures).

  • James Fowler

    November 15, 2010 06:44 am

    I plan to shoot certain areas when I travel, but always on the lookout for something a little different. Lately I if I spot an old building that may not be standing much longer, I will go back. Same thing goes for murals. Overall, it it catches my eye and shoot it.

  • Matthew

    November 15, 2010 06:38 am

    When I am heading to an area I do research online for a few basic things about an area. Being a railfan I look for train watching spots. Then I look for wildlife refuges and national parks and other local parks. Then I see if there's any "local flavor" things I can photograph. I do tend to look for a few of the basic same things, but I also see if I can find something new to look at. Oh, I also try to find boat tours whenever possible. I have had great luck getting shots from boats.

  • Maarten Smit

    November 15, 2010 06:23 am

    I love the beauty of ugly no matter how beautifull the place I am visiting and I am really enjoying it but I always see this kind of pictures
    http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4144/5172307703_19376081b7_m.jpg

  • Scott

    November 15, 2010 06:09 am

    We always plan to see certain things, and we usually go to some of the more out of the way places as well, and we photograph "What's there". We go out of our way for Hard Rock Cafes, and always take a photo of any McDonalds we run into (amazing how many out there). But, what we're really looking to photograph when we travel is something like this:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5174151519/

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