Create a Theme to Step Up Your Travel Photography

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One of the things that always drew me to travel photography is the endless variety. Every place on earth is unique. The people, the landscape, the culture, the wildlife, the architecture. Even with neighboring cities, no two places are the same.

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So, why is it that we tend to photograph them all the same way? When I look back through my archives from all over the world, most of my images have a similar look. If I didn’t remember the location of a photo, I likely couldn’t guess where I took it.

As photographers, we develop our own unique approach to our craft. It’s not a bad thing – it helps to develop our own style. Although, sometimes it’s worth taking a different approach for a specific location or trip. Choosing a travel photography theme for a trip can help focus and guide your photography, as well as give you a unique collection of images.

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Coming Up With Your Photography Theme

I’m not talking about changing your style or learning a whole new genre, necessarily. Just taking some time to think about how you could create a theme for your next photography trip. Here are a few things to consider that could help to give your collection of images a unique photography theme.

Genre

You likely already have an idea of what genre of photography you’ll be using. This will largely come down to what you like to photograph. It will also depend partly on the location you’re going to and the gear you have available.

However, you may be tempted to photograph everything. It’s easy to fall for this temptation, I know. You’re in a new, exciting place and may never go there again. You don’t want to miss a thing. Go crazy, if you must, but try to think of a specific genre that suits the location and spend most of your time on that.

noah create a travel photography theme

You don’t want to pick a genre that won’t give you many options. Trying to photograph the milky way in New York isn’t going to happen. Neither is photographing architecture in Yosemite. Come up with something that will give you a lot of material to work with and that you will actually enjoy.

Travel photography conjures images of epic landscapes or cityscapes. You really are only limited by your imagination. Try making the local people your theme with portraiture. Spend your days practicing street photography if you’re visiting an urban location. Maybe even try your hand at wildlife photography if there’s any around.

Subject

So, you’ve picked a genre. What are you going to point your camera at? It’s time to spend some time thinking about the subject of your theme. Again, it may be an easy decision. What’s unique about the location you’re visiting? What’s it known for?

On my recent road trip up the coast of Queensland, Australia, I followed a coastal theme. If there’s one thing Australia is known for, it’s incredible beaches. It was an obvious choice.

jetty create a travel photography theme

You don’t need to go with the obvious, though. Something less obvious can actually make a more engaging collection of photos. If you’re visiting a big, concrete jungle, you could create a contrasting theme by photographing the flowers you find. Think outside the box and get more out of the location.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with photographing the cliche. There are some incredible collections of photos that follow an obvious subject – lakes of Canada, waterfalls of Iceland, Humans of New York.

Style

The style of your photography is one of the most powerful elements in creating a photography theme. The way you choose to photograph the subject you’ve chosen can vary a lot. You may have already developed your own style. You don’t need to throw that out the window.

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If your photographic style suits the genre and subject that you’ve chosen, feel free to stick with it. You’ve likely worked hard to develop it. You could adapt it for this trip by turning up the volume or trying something slightly different.

If your theme uses long-exposures, you could try creating super-long exposures. If you’re doing astrophotography, maybe give star-trail photography a go. Creating an aerial theme? How about shooting panoramas with your drone?

A big factor in creating a style is focal length. A 50mm lens will create a very different image to a telephoto. As will a wide-angle or fish-eye lens. You might have a dozen lenses to choose from, or you might have one. Either way, try choosing one lens for your theme. You could even take it a step further and stick to just one focal length.

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A photography trip could be a good opportunity to try something new. Have you been wanting to get a drone and have some fun with aerial photography? Maybe it’s an opportunity to try your hand at macro photography? Travel is expensive, so buying new gear for a trip usually isn’t possible. Renting is a great option, as is borrowing gear off other local photographers.

Color

If there’s one thing that can create a consistent theme within a collection of images, it’s color. This can be both in the colors that you capture in-camera and the way you edit them in post-production. A combination of both can really bring a bunch of photos together.

shipwreck create a travel photography theme

It’s not always the case, but you may find there are certain colors that are consistent in the locations you’re photographing. Certain landscapes, for example, will have dominant colors. Green hills, blue water, yellow sand.

There are opportunities to create color themes everywhere, though. You could create a color theme in a city by photographing doors, flowers, dresses, signs, etc, that are all that color.

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When you import your photos to your computer, the options for editing your photos with a color theme are endless. Try playing around with the white balance and saturation sliders. Experiment with HSL and split-toning. Do something different to what you usually do, and when you find something you like, save it as a preset for your theme.

Creating a color theme doesn’t need to include advanced color grading or anything technical. Your theme might just be bright, vivid colors. It could also be the opposite. Maybe a desaturated look, or even go monotone. Black and white photography can create a very strong theme.

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As a colorblind photographer, I’ve avoided advanced color editing in the past and played it safe. Taking risks and learning to create color themes for my travel photography really helped me take my photos from mundane to unique.

Summary

Whether your trip is a family vacation, business travel, or a photography adventure, try thinking about a photography theme. Ask yourself what you could do to come home with a more cohesive collection of images that represent the location well. You might even end up with a few side-by-side on the wall someday.

Do you have any photography theme tips? If so, let us know in the comments below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Rowan Sims is a landscape and travel photographer from New Zealand. He loves to combine his passion for photography and travel while teaching people how to take awesome travel photos. Follow him on Instagram or over on his travel photography blog.

  • graeme stewart

    You went to the Queensland coast and your theme was coastlines? Did I get that right?

    Looks like some were drone shots. Maybe the theme within a theme?

  • Jack Eells

    Rowan, you have given me inspiration in your suggestions! I think most of my travel photos look the same, too – you can’t tell one street, one beach, one forest from another much of the time. We’re leaving for Italy in a week and I’m already planning my theme! Thank you.

  • You’re welcome, Jack. Glad to hear this article was useful to you. I hope you come home with some great images from Italy!

  • Kanwar Plaha

    My theme typically is to shoot panoramas, preferably HDR + Panorama. I do have an ultra-wide lens but I always prefer shooting panorama to capture the expanse of a landscape!

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