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Create More Unique Travel Photos by Adding a Model

Creative travel photography is becoming increasingly difficult as world travelers have easier access than ever to stellar cameras. In fact, travel photography can at times seem uninspiring when you arrive at a tourist spot and see that everyone around you is taking the exact same shots. There are many ways to reframe your perspective to capture unique angles of a tourist attraction, but there is also another way that seems to be overlooked: turn travel photography into a series of creative portrait sessions with a model.

Sedona creative travel photography

You may have noticed a trend among some of your amateur photographer friends who take an object like a Lego figurine toy and place it in a unique location as a way to maintaining some continuity between travel photography images, or tell a visual story. Using a consistent model is actually a great way to exercise creativity and tell a compelling, unique story, with imagery. While it’s definitely easy to use an inanimate object, why not exercise your portrait skills by adding a human model? This was the way of thinking my photo companion and I assumed during a recent long weekend escape to Sedona, Arizona.

Sedona creative travel photography

Before: landscape without a model, or the shot that everyone else was getting.

Famous for its natural red rock formations, Sedona is one of those areas that has already been widely photographed from a landscape perspective. In fact, the hotel we stayed at gifted us with a set of six postcards. Each one is a striking landscape photo of a notable attraction in Sedona taken during the perfect time of day, and from a high altitude, likely from a helicopter or high hiking spot. That immediately began to deter our ambitions for capturing stunning images of Sedona, as I’m not inspired by capturing the same images that others have already taken and widely publicized. Immediately, the idea of placing a unique model in the middle of a popular landscape came to mind as a way of crafting one-of-a-kind images.

Sedona creative travel photography

After: landscape with a model.

Background

Luckily, my travel companion loves having his photo taken and isn’t afraid of drastically altering his appearance for the sake of a photo shoot. As we began mapping our trip around Sedona, he decided that assuming a character identity similar to that of Mad Max would make a perfect visual theme for our travel photo sessions. The result? He went and shaved his full head of hair into a mohawk and donned an outfit of black pants and black leather jacket, which he wore throughout our entire trip to Sedona. A bit out of place for a hot desert? Indeed, and appropriately so, as a mohawk can be seen as an emblem of nonconformity, in our case, against the typical tourist photos everyone around us was taking. We were met with many stares and raised eyebrows throughout the entire trip, but, we walked away with a unique series of images that not only showcase the beauty of Sedona, but also add some intrigue by inserting a seemingly out of the ordinary character into these landscapes.

Sedona creative travel photography

Executing the Photo Shoots

As mentioned earlier, Sedona is very popular among camera-wielding tourists, making it tough to find clearings for taking portraits. The best method we found was setting up the scene as best as we could and waiting for a quick, often one second, gap when people passed by. The gear was simple: a Canon 6D camera, a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, and a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. No external lighting was used, just the sun in all of its glory. As the photographer, it was a fun challenge to figure out the best way to photograph someone with a mohawk. In fact, the only way to capture the full effect of the mohawk is from a profile view, so the real trick was to get creative with the backgrounds, perspectives, and angles to make each portrait unique.

Sedona creative travel photography

This portrait was taken at the Chapel of the Holy Cross, one of the most visited and easily accessible tourist spots in Sedona. While this would be a pretty common shot of the chapel, inserting a model into the scene makes for a more dynamic image. A wide angle shot like the one above sets the scene, whereas the telephoto shot below takes essentially the same pose and turns it into an entirely new image.

Sedona creative travel photography

Another way to add flair to landscape portraits was to use the 70-200 f/2.8 telephoto zoomed in to 200mm

Sedona creative travel photography

Same principle with these images: in the one above, I started off with a wide shot at the vista of the popular Cathedral Rock Trail, and then zoomed way in with a telephoto lens below.

Sedona creative travel photography

Any other creative landscape portrait artists out there? Show off your images and the stories behind them!

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Suzi Pratt

Suzi Pratt is an internationally published Seattle event and food photographer. Her photos appear regularly in Eater and Getty Images. When she's not taking photos, she's making travel photography and camera gear videos for her YouTube channel.