What Skills do You Need to be a Travel Photographer?

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What Skills do You Need to be a Travel Photographer?

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Most prospective travel photographers find out very early on in their careers that travel photography is very different to taking photographs when you travel. As a travel photographer, your absolute focus has to be on taking photos, and nothing else comes above that. Tiredness, hunger, boredom, and time with loved ones are sacrificed while you are on the road, so that you can maximize your time, and achieve the best possible photographs.

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Here are some of the skills needed to be a professional travel photographer.

Perfect Planning

The reality is that the majority of the time when you are on the road, you will be pushed for time, and even more so if there are unforeseen circumstances like delays or poor weather. To ensure that you can maximize your time in each location, you have to plan as much as possible for every trip. Start off by creating a detailed shot list, then break down your trip day by day, and even hour by hour. Work out the direction of light at different times of the day, and think about the best time to photograph. If you are photographing somewhere or something that has been photographed a lot, browse through stock image libraries at what already exists, and think how you can make your shot unique. Remember to always have a back-up plan in case you have a poor weather day.

Every little detail that you can pre-plan will enable your time to be used more efficiently while you are away.

Settle in Quickly

As a travel photographer, you have to be able to hit the ground running as soon as you reach your destination, so the ability to settle in quickly to a new place is a must. There’s no time for culture shock or jet lag, even though that is not always easy if you are in a new place, and travelling alone. The only way to combat this is to practice, and the more places that you experience, the greater confidence you will acquire in new environments.

Master of all Trades

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You’ll need to be confident photographing a wide variety of subjects.

Landscapes, cityscapes, portraits, sport, food, close-ups… the list goes on. As a travel photographer, you have to have a basic knowledge of how to photograph everything, and be confident in doing so. That doesn’t mean you have to be an expert (very few photographers are) but you need to have these skills so that you have variety, and capture a set of images that portray a destination at its best.

Quick Reflexes

A travel photographer has to be patient when it’s needed, but you will also need lightning quick reflexes, and you need to know your camera inside out. Sometimes, you only get one chance to capture a fleeting moment that presents itself, so you have to be able to take it. You need a good understanding of the technical elements of photography such as lighting, shutter speed, and depth of field, alongside creative skills such as composition. On top of all of that you will need to put it all together in a split second. The only way to achieve this is to practice, so that it eventually becomes second nature to you.

Strong Visual Analysis

A majority of time, the difference between a good photo and a great photo, is simply the composition. Add a person walking into a scene, and it suddenly comes alive, where before it looked ordinary. You have to be able to look at a scene, critique it in your mind, and ask yourself how you can make it look better. A technique that I like to use is to imagine where that photo might be used. Is it going to be in a double page spread in a magazine? If so, do I place my point of interest on the left or right? Try to get into the habit of making every shot you take your best.

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The first photo has no point of interest and doesn’t engage the viewer. But the cable car suddenly makes the image tell a story and adds a point of interest, and a sense of scale.

Strong Social Skills

Travel photography is about capturing different cultures, and big part of that are the people. You need to be able to move beyond any shyness, and build connections with people quickly, even if you don’t speak their language. It is incredible how receptive and friendly people are when you make the effort to talk to them – especially when they find out you are from a different country.

Be Comfortable in Your Own Company

Unfortunately, travel photography is a lonely and solitary occupation, and the only way to ensure you can maximize your time and creative output, is to travel alone. That’s because your only priority on any trip should be to ensure you are at the right place, at the right time, all the time, to capture the best photo possible. Anything else will compromise your ability to be totally focused on the task at hand.

Be Committed

As a travel photographer, you have to be willing to search for hours for your next photo opportunity, while at the same time, having the patience to wait, once you have found what you’ve been looking for. It’s very rare to turn up to a scene and have everything in place for the perfect photo, so the majority of time you have to be willing to wait. That could be minutes, or hours, and sometimes days, which means having to come back again and again until you capture the perfect photo.

Optimism

Travel-Photography-Skills

First attempt at this view after a five hour hike.

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This was was tough five hour round trip hike that I had to make two days in a row as the first attempt was spoilt by poor weather.

You’ve just spent three hours hiking up a hill and waited for sunset, only to find a thick blanket of white cloud has made the scene completely dull and now you have a three hour hike back down in the dark to look forward to. There’s no doubt that sometimes travel photography can be incredibly frustrating, which in turn can leave you feeling down and disappointed, but unfortunately there is no time to dwell on it. You just have to pick yourself up and go again, even if that means hiking back up the hill for a second time. You need to train yourself to always be optimistic about tomorrow; after all, you never know what photo opportunities will present themselves.

A Love of Travel

It probably goes without saying, that to be a travel photographer you need to love to travel. While most people love going on vacation, not everyone enjoys travelling. There is no time for sunbathing by the pool, or spending an afternoon sitting in a bar. It’s all about experiencing things, and finding those unique moments that capture the story.

Travel photography is a very lonely, tiring and high-pressure profession. But it is also an incredibly exciting, and rewarding branch of photography, which can really make you see and experience a destination more than the average tourist. To succeed you’ll need all the skills above, and more!

What skills do you think you need to be a travel photographer? Share your tips, experiences, ideas and travel iamges below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Kav Dadfar is a professional travel and landscape photographer based in London. He spent his formative years working as an art director in the world of advertising but loved nothing more than photography and travelling. His images are represented by stock agencies such as 4Corners Images, Robert Harding World Imagery, Getty, Axiom Photographic, and Alamy and they have been used by clients such as Condé Nast, National Geographic, Wanderlust travel magazine, American Express and many more. Follow his travels and imagery on Instagram and Facebook.

  • Linh Ngoc

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    Reserve, also known as Phu An Bamboo Village, is the biggest bamboo museum not
    only in Vietnam but also
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  • Wonderful article Kav. I find when traveling with companions they wonder why I need to take the same shot many times. In my mind I’m imagining print vs. digital layouts for a variety of potential outlets. I also kick myself for missing shots later on when I’m writing an article on a destination. As you say, strong visual analysis is key for making your shots count! As a writer, there’s also a balance of living in the moment and taking in the surroundings vs. capturing every shot.

  • Kav Dadfar

    Hi Jessica, absolutely. As a writer your workload is doubled! I’ve had a look at some of your articles and photos. They’re great. Well done. Kav

  • Kav Dadfar

    I travelled around Vietnam a few years ago, but I did go here. I wasn’t aware of it. What an amazing place. Maybe next time… Thanks for sharing. Kav

  • Great article! The reasons I got into photography was to be able to capture better photos on my travels! It’s definitely more challenging but also more rewarding to not only experience a place for the first time and capture it perfectly for your memories.

    Sher
    travel blog: shershegoes.com

  • Jack

    Thanks for the great information 🙂

  • Kav Dadfar

    Thanks Sher. Glad you enjoyed the article.

  • Henry Watts

    Off on a 5 month trip to the UK, India & back to Europe & look forward to rewarding myself with awesome images & memories…Thanks for your tips & ideas..!!!!

  • Kav Dadfar

    No worries. Have a great trip!! Kav

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