Editorial Travel Photography – Telling the Story of a Location

Editorial Travel Photography – Telling the Story of a Location

If you’re ever given a travel assignment by a magazine – or hope to get one – you need to learn how to tell the story of a location. Flip through the pages of any of your favorite travel magazines and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. It’s all the elements that come together to show what tourists want to see – the places, people, food and culture of a location.

Sometimes you’ll be given a very narrow assignment to stick within – a local restaurant or district – and other times you have to capture the essence of an entire city in maybe only 4-10 frames. Here are a few tips from a recent stay in Rome on what to look for to get the most story telling power out of your images.


Chances are wherever you might be going has a famous monument/landmark/sight (or a few) that has been photographed left and right, up and down and every sideways angle in between. Keeping it fresh in these types of locations can be very difficult because chances are someone has shot just what you’re thinking before. But do your best to take a different perspective.

In this photo of the Coliseum, instead of running up to the top and taking the big overall photo that virtually every tourist has, I picked out this spot that had many intersecting frames and waited patiently for the right moment. After a few minutes, an opening cleared and then a young couple stopped in just the right spot, map and audio tour guides in hand. It’s a familiar location in a slightly less photographed framing – something new for the editorial’s readers.


People are an important part of any travel story. Whether it’s a smiling waiter, a museum curator, a street performer, other tourists or just a local on the move – people define the culture of an area. Look to find friendly faces if you can. Remember the story you’re helping tell is generally meant to encourage someone to travel and visit an area. Also look for people in specific professions or occupations that typify a location. For instance you’d be amiss to travel to Venice without at least one image of a gondolier. In this photo, this street performer with his accordion may not be smiling but his sheepish expression is oddly fitting and representative of the thousands of others like him you’ll find throughout the city.

Restaurants and Food

A good travel story would be remiss without some deliciously prepared food and the restaurants/people making it. Good travel engages all five senses, and you’d be missing at least one if not two or three of those without food. It can be artfully prepared and styled dishes, a coffee on a checkered placemat or down and dirty local food. Whatever the food is, just make sure it coordinates with the overall feel of the story. You wouldn’t want to be shooting an editorial on a luxurious hotel and then splash in photos from a cart food vendor somewhere else around town.

Make sure while you’re photographing that great meal you just had to get either the people preparing it, the staff serving it or the place it’s coming from. Menus in foreign languages, table tops, chefs, patrons and exteriors all make great subjects. It all depends on what access you have and your interpretation.

The Feel

Capturing the “feel” of a location is incredibly important in telling a story. It’s the image that helps you discover a part of what life is like in a certain location. It’s what every photo editor is looking for. The great part is, there are an infinite number of ways to capture the feel of a location – it’s up to you as the photographer to find one from your own unique perspective.

After all, that’s what a photo editor is often going to hire you for. It’s not only your technical skills; it’s your vision of a location. Whether you interpret that as a grand vista, a shop front, a specific food, a monument, activity, emotion or combination of a few it needs to capture the spirit of a place. This image in the Piazza Venezia really says Rome to me – a constant intersection and hustle of people, vespas, cars and buses all on the move.

Activities, Accommodations, Arts and More

Activities, accommodations and the arts all make great subjects for travel photography. Where you’re going to stay, what you’re going to do and any culturally significant artworks are all things readers want to know and see. Luxurious rooms and hotels show the finer parts of hospitality, while roughing it on horseback through the Outback or diving through reefs in the Caribbean may be activities that interest visitors.

There are a million and one ways to tell the story of a location. Sometimes you’ll be dictated by an editorial what you have to cover and other times you’ll have free range to shoot as you please. Remember though that if you are shooting for assignment or want to some day, to find at least one story to tell and flush it out fully through your images. You’ll come away with a collection of images that really bring you back and others along on your travels.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Matt Dutile is a New York City based travel and lifestyle photographer. He recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to produce a book on Mongolian nomads. Check the page out to learn more. You can view his website or join in on his Facebook page as well.

Some Older Comments

  • Kunal Bhatia June 12, 2011 10:17 pm

    All valid points. Add to that - "Go where the locals go, and do what the locals do" That would give a a lot of unique photos.
    Travel Photos from Himachal Pradesh, India

  • Kunal Bhatia June 12, 2011 10:16 pm

    All valid points. Add to that - "Go where the locals go, and do what the locals do" That would give a a lot of unique photos.

  • Paul June 3, 2011 09:56 pm

    Nice little article, combine this with use of negative space for added impact? Thanks.

  • Singapore Wedding Photography June 3, 2011 07:31 pm

    food has always been an issue for me. I cant' seem to give it some life.

  • Mihai June 3, 2011 07:32 am

    My vision of Rome: http://saccadics.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/roma-caput-mundi/

  • Margaret June 3, 2011 06:07 am

    @mark-what a great idea to use your own food shots as inspiration/decoration in the kitchen!

  • Mark Mowery June 3, 2011 03:38 am

    My wife and I have gotten into the habit of taking photos of especially well presented entrees at restaurants we eat in while traveling. At first it was a little intimidating, but now we hardly think anything of it. We've used some of the photos to decorate the "header" above the kitchen cabinets. Looks great and has a story we can tell visitors.

  • JesseAdams June 3, 2011 03:36 am

    Sights: http://www.flickr.com/photos/26431673@N04/3747287339/in/photostream/

    People: http://www.flickr.com/photos/26431673@N04/3718605744/in/set-72157621570759009

    Food: http://www.flickr.com/photos/26431673@N04/5164908156/in/set-72157621695295544

  • Margaret June 3, 2011 03:30 am

    Nice reminder to get beyond the classic monument shots that everyone else brings home and look for a different angle. It's a real balancing act to offer certain classic, recognizable elements but with something new or different. This was my take on "Rome by the Book," shot in February: http://cachandochile.wordpress.com/2011/03/05/cachando-chile-does-italy-rome-by-the-book/

  • Len Moser June 2, 2011 11:25 pm

    I think people pictures are the most interesting part of travel photography. When I traveled across Africa, I took pictures of everything I experienced, but the people pictures ended up being the most interesting. Do you have to get a model release when you publish pictures like the man playing the accordion?

  • Erik Kerstenbeck June 2, 2011 04:21 pm


    Its all about connecting the image to the viewer! A story can turn a no so great image into one that the viewer can truly appreciate! I always include a story...


    This was shot as the sun was setting on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. We spent the evening at a charming cottage specifically designed with windows to welcome the sunrise and to enjoy the sunset by the brilliant owner. There was a pond where a replica of a Maori war canoe was docked.

  • Mei Teng June 2, 2011 10:39 am

    I always make it a point to photograph people, food, local crafts when I travel to different parts of the world. Tip #1 on monuments/sights is a good one.

  • Chio June 2, 2011 05:03 am

    I tend to focus more on the lifestyle, people, atmosphere, than the monuments that anyone can take a picture of. Great tips though, food is definitely something I rarely focus on while doing this kind of photography.

  • Wayfaring Wanderer June 2, 2011 02:59 am

    That is most definitely how I approach locations that I plan to shoot. It's all about the story I want to tell with photographs.

    One of my weak points that I've tried to work on is taking more images of people. I'm not typically a shy person, but I have trouble asking people to take their pictures at times. I'm getting better with that, though.

    My recent excursion to the Appalachian Trail Days event was one where I made sure that I took some pictures of people along with everything else.

    Here's a link: http://www.wayfaringwanderer.com/2011/05/trail-days-2011-damascus-va.html

  • Ed O'Keeffe June 2, 2011 01:33 am

    I am enjoying the Rome / Italy themed example images in this post. When I was in Rome back in January I found it particularly difficult to capture the food. It looked good and tasted amazing but through my camera, and with the bad lighting conditions of many of the resturants and bars I found it almost impossible.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck June 2, 2011 12:57 am

    I am not a paid Travel Phtotographer, perhaps one day. Telling a story about a location is almost as important as the image itself. One client told me that, yes, they loved the images but had not emotional connection to them. By telling a story around the shot, it helps people understand where it was, any peculiarities and the words connect them to the image!

    For example, this shot of New Zealand's Artist's Pallette has a brief intro and story about the region - makes you want to go there!


  • scott June 2, 2011 12:24 am

    Some great advice here, and all points I've been trying to improve on from a travel photography stand point.

    A small set from Luxembourg, a place I found difficult to photograph: