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7 Reasons Why You Should Art Direct Your Travel Photography

Purists will say that it’s cheating. While the ideal scenario is always for everything in your composition to be natural, sometimes it just doesn’t happen. It may be that you are in a far off place that not many people will visit, or it could be that you require a very specific type of photo to illustrate a story. Whatever the reason, sometimes it pays to think about what you are trying to communicate and then set the scene up to bring your vision to life. Here are seven reasons why you should art direct your travel photography.

art direct your travel photos

#1 – Add a narrative to a scene

One of the main benefits of photography is that you can illustrate an entire story in just a few photos. That is why advertising agencies spend so much time perfecting the visuals (I know from personal experience). A well composed and thought out photo can go beyond being just a nice image. It can have a narrative that will not only tell a story but also help make that photo more attractive to prospective buyers.

But of course, the challenge of a well art directed photo is that it still looks natural but is also a clear narrative. Imagine a country road with nothing on it. While this might be a nice photo, it doesn’t really have a clear target market. Now imagine the exact same country road but with a cyclist, hiker, or even a car. Each of those tells a different story and suddenly you have an image that has a clear message and a market for sales.

art direction your travel photography

#2 – Position perfectly for print

One of the first lessons that any professional photographer learns very quickly is that photographing anything for clients or even stock sales requires more than just a great photo. It doesn’t matter if you have the most picturesque photo of the Eiffel Tower – if it sits in the middle of a page it is unlikely to be used for a double page spread because the key element of the photos sits in the gutter (centre of the magazine). If you positioned the Eiffel Tower on the left or right hand side of the page this allows the designer to insert copy and means the landmark will still be fully visible.

Do also ensure that vertical images have enough room at the top for inserting headlines or mastheads for potential covers. One of the main benefits of art directing your travel photos is that you have more control over how it would work as the final output for print.

art direct your travel photography

#3 – Get a model release

Simply put, photos with model releases are more profitable than ones without, but getting a release isn’t always easy. It can be a challenge explaining to someone who doesn’t speak your language the purpose of what you are trying to get them to sign. Add to that some people will automatically demand payment or even have second thoughts and you’ll understand why travel photographers often don’t get model releases. The reality is that a model released photo can be used in advertising and thus demand a much higher fee than traditional editorial sales.

A key benefit of art directing a travel photo is that often you are working with someone you know so can arrange a model or even a property release easily. Just make sure that you agree to any compensation beforehand and that it is specified on the release form.

art direct your travel photography

#4 – Capture unique photos

In this world of digital photography, it is becoming more and more difficult to capture unique photographs. Most places have been photographed thousands of times. Unless you are incredibly creative, get very lucky with the conditions, or something happens in front of you, it can be a challenge capturing unique photos.

Art directing your travel photography gives you the opportunity to go beyond what is available to you and capture something unique with just your imagination (and possibly the law) being the limit. It’s always a good idea to sketch out a few scenarios or make notes when researching a destination for potentially unique shots.

art direct your travel photography

#5 – Maximize a location

Any photographer while traveling will tell you that time is usually the biggest hindrance. Once you have arrived at a location often it isn’t easy or feasible to then attempt to get somewhere else before the end of the day. So you need to think of ways you can maximize your location and capture as many different photos as possible. Your first few will likely be what is in front of you but then it’s a good idea to think about what else you can capture by art directing the photos.

If you have a companion with you, this is where they can be useful. But even if you are alone you can still art direct the photo by putting yourself in it. You suddenly go from two or three photos from that location to six or seven photos with the added benefit of a narrative as well.

art direct your travel photography

art direct your travel photography

art direct your travel photography

Three photos all taken from one spot. I actually ended up with seven different shots from this location.

#6 – Capture your vision

There are times when you get to a location (or have seen the location while researching) and you immediately have a vision of what it should look like in your mind. Sometimes this involves the natural elements which you can’t control, but at other times it is something that you can influence.

Needless to say, how good the photo is will come down to your vision of the scene and your technical ability to execute the shot. But if you have a vision of something in your mind, often the only way to make it happen is by art directing the photography yourself.

art direct your travel photography

#7 – Involve others

Most newbie travel photographers often travel with companions. Almost all would agree that it is incredibly difficult traveling with someone who isn’t a photographer. Those companions don’t particularly want to have to hang around waiting for you to capture photos.

One way to stop them from feeling bored is to actually involve them and get them to model for you. While this probably doesn’t mean they will be too happy to do this for hours, you may find that they are a bit more patient and give you a few more minutes, not to mention a few different photos.

art direct your travel photography new zealand


There are many ways to capture great travel photos. But to really make a career and living in this branch of photography you need to have a lot of strings in your bow. Art directing some of your photos gives you the opportunity to capture unique photos that often stand out from the crowd. So next time you are traveling think about how you can art direct your photos to maximize the potential of a location.

Now it’s your turn. Share your photos and stories below.

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Kav Dadfar
Kav Dadfar

is a professional travel photographer, writer and photo tour leader based in the UK. His images are represented by stock agencies such as 4Corners Images and Robert Harding World Imagery and they have been used by clients such as Condé Nast, National Geographic, Lonely Planet, and many others. Kav is also the co-founder of That Wild Idea, a company specializing in photography workshops and tours both in the UK and around the world. Find out more at That Wild Idea.

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