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How to Build a Travel Photography Portfolio

Building a photography portfolio can be a scary proposition, as it forces you to choose images that best represent you as an artist and creator, whilst also demonstrating your technical skill and storytelling ability. Developing a travel photography portfolio is no different.

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However, developing a portfolio is an exercise that has many benefits, both from a personal growth as well as professional perspective.

Unlike many areas of photography, there are some extra considerations for a travel specific portfolio. The main difference with travel photography, as opposed to specializing in weddings, events, or commercial, for example, is that there is a far greater need for you to be flexible in your approach to image making while allowing for the huge variety of subject matter one would normally encounter.

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Start planning your portfolio before you travel

This, of course, comes down to why you want to develop a portfolio of work and who you are aiming to show it to. I have always found this can shift depending on whether I am planning an exhibition, developing a book, building a stock library, showing work to an editor, planning a photography tour and marketing to potential attendees, or simply showing friends and family a new place I have been fortunate enough to visit and photograph. All are valid reasons to develop a travel photography portfolio. If you keep these options in mind before you travel, you are more likely to return with images that can be used across multiple platforms and for different reasons.

The consideration here is you may need to have multiple portfolios depending on to whom and where you are marketing. This is a key factor to consider before traveling as it will shape your approach to image making while on your trip. Having said this, it is also great to stay open to potential opportunities that may present themselves in the future by having covered a subject or place well.

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One of the biggest lessons I have learned is to stay completely open to any possibility. This is especially true when visiting destinations that are expensive or difficult to get to, which ultimately means it may be a while before I return, or perhaps not at all. This means that when you are shooting in this situation, make the absolute most of your time. Be open to possible image usage across multiple platforms and for many reasons. This is best done with thorough research for all possible uses of images from the location you are visiting.

What if you aren’t traveling soon?

So how do you start in building your portfolio if you are not planning to travel? Your local area is an excellent place to create content, and for many reasons, some of which I have listed below:

  • You build your skills working in different and changing lighting conditions.
  • Learn how to deal with bad weather while still coming home with images that describe a place well.
  • You learn how to show a destination through images. The goal being to give people who have not been there an understanding of this destination.
  • You are able to visit during different seasons, times, and weather conditions with ease.
  • Research the most common images available for that area. This is handy if your aim is to build a stock library for editorial or commercial use. Then push yourself to photograph this area in a new creative way.
  • You develop your ability to work with local organizations and businesses to help you get the images you need.
  • Build your understanding of the process of storytelling with your images from a destination.
  • You will further your understanding and knowledge of your camera gear and the photographic process before you are looking at an unrepeatable moment. There is nothing worse than a once in a lifetime image opportunity and not having the confidence or ability to capture it well with a camera.

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Now do the same at a destination

Transferring this process to travel destinations is no different. However, the importance of thorough research before you leave is far more critical as you will not know a travel destination as well as your local area. While it is important to have a plan of attack before you land, remain open to opportunities that may arise during your travels.

It is also important to travel to different destinations that have a variety of cultural backgrounds, landscapes, architectural styles, and ultimately photography opportunities. This will further help diversify your images which can then be presented in your travel photography portfolio.

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Your first trip

Your initial trip can be considered the most important as it will be your first opportunity to build a library of images. I always recommend making your journey as long as possible, across different destinations, to help you get a wide variety of images.

While traveling I look for eight main areas of subject matter:

  1. Landscape
  2. Portrait
  3. Wildlife
  4. Food
  5. Architecture
  6. Culture
  7. Transport
  8. Local events, festivals and activities

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Not every destination will give you the opportunity to photograph all of the above options. However, I have found over the years these will give you the best chance of showing that destination and what it would be like to be there.

If you were to make a list of potential images of your local area or any destination based on the list above, you can easily build a large library that shows it in a comprehensive way. As well, taking into account different demographics of people will further build your portfolio of images to show any destination in a more comprehensive fashion. For example, budget accommodation through to more expensive options.

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Diversity is also of key importance for your work, especially if you are visiting a location that receives a lot of tourist traffic, all with cameras in hand. Here are some key points to consider to build diversity into your work, regardless of where it will end up.

  • Visit during different times of the day than the norm.
  • If the weather goes bad, keep taking photographs.
  • Use a full range of focal lengths for each subject.
  • Try to shoot from an elevated position as well as crouch down low to help give different perspectives.
  • Be completely proficient in all lighting conditions so you are able to deal with them no matter what scenario.
  • Experiment with filming as well as stills. There is a huge demand for footage and video content.
  • Document the process of traveling.
  • Put people into your photographs, whether it be yourself, your friends and family, or people you meet along the way.
  • Be sure to always photograph the less exciting, day to day elements of travel as well. You never know where these could be used in the future.

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Hone your skills

It is important to have developed your ability before you go traveling to not feel a lack of confidence should a fantastic photographic opportunity arise. Practice, practice and more practice is critical for any area of photography. However, the extra cost and competitiveness of the travel photography industry mean you need to be highly proficient before you go traveling in order to make the most of the opportunities that will arise.

Travel is far from cheap and easy. Your time away should best be used creating content. So again, it is important to feel confident in your gear and process before you go to maximize this time away. While there are cheaper destinations to visit, it is still a resource hungry activity. Learning how to shoot efficiently when opportunities arise means you will further add to your diversity of images as well as your versatility and ability for future opportunities.

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Once home, the process of selecting images can begin. Again, look for a variety of images and subject matter that best show your ability, both technical and artistic. Try to avoid images that look similar or show the same subject more than once. Pick only your strongest work and focus your selection based on use. Images for an art instillation are going to be very different to images for stock of local transport or architecture. Having someone review your work with fresh eyes is also an option to consider.

Printing your images, even at smaller sizes can be a great way to finalize a selection of work. It allows you to interact with the images differently as well as being able to view them under different lighting sources to ensure your edits are the best possible. You are able to lay the images out offline to see how well they work as a series or collection, something that is very difficult to do on a computer screen.

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Remember, the more you get outside taking images, the more you can develop an understanding and skill level in working in all weather and lighting situations as well as working with people from different places and cultures. Practice, practice, practice.

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Damian Caniglia
Damian Caniglia

is a full-time photographer and graduate of Griffith University. His work has seen him travel to all 7 continents including both the Antarctic and Arctic. At present he spends 3 months of the year guiding both commercially and photographic based tours internationally, as well as commissioned film and photographic projects both within Australia and overseas. He is a qualified trainer and is committed to helping people understand the process and power of photography.

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