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How to Tell Better Visual Stories with Travel Photography

Take a look at your favorite travel magazine, and you will notice a pattern in the images.

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Understanding how to turn a bunch of images into a story – creating series is crucial to any travel photographer.
In this article, we will get familiar with two kinds of very important visual concepts in the travel photography world: the establishing shot (above) and the detail shot (below).

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It doesn’t matter if you wish to do travel photography professionally, or if you just want to come back home with better pictures from your next trip. Understanding these visual concepts will help you.

Establishing shot

The establishing shot is arguably the most important shot in a travel photography series. In a print magazine, this image will usually cover the two first pages of the article (the spread). In a digital-based platform (your website or Facebook page), this will be the album’s opening image. However, you can find the establishing shot later in the series.

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The establishing shot’s purposes are to:

  • Give a general idea about the story and the “what” and “where” of this series.
  • Be visually interesting enough so that the viewer wants to read the article or go through the digital album.

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From the technical point of view:

There are no clear rules. But in most cases, the image is a horizontal one (sometimes you will see two vertical images side by side).

Most important:

This image is the grand entrance to your story. Make it impressive and epic. It is usually recommended to leave room for text on this image. So take it into account when you create your composition.

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The detail shot

While the establishing shot is all about being big and epic, the detail shot is about putting a spotlight on something small and making it the image’s hero.

The detail shot’s purposes are to:

  • Give attention to different aspects in your story that might get lost in the bigger picture.
  • The detail shot is like sorbet ice cream in a gourmet dinner — it gives balance to the other, bigger images.

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From the technical point of view:

It is all about making small things bigger, so a macro lens is useful (but not obligatory) here.

Most important:

While in the field, be on the lookout for interesting details of things that relate to your story. If you are doing a series on a city a funny street sign, graffiti, or food in a local market can be your detail shot. If you are doing a story about a specific person, his hands or his work tools can be the hero of the shot.

Detail 3

Putting it all together

Of course, I’m not saying that there are certain rules that you must apply in order to create a well-built travel photography series. But by thinking in terms of visual concepts, such as the establishing and detail shots, it will help you be more focused in the field.

Examples include taking the extra effort to reach a high vantage point, or getting an “off limits to the general public” pass to an interesting location in order to get that jaw-dropping establishing shot. Or, taking an hour just to “hunt” for interesting subjects to snag the detail shot. From my experience, having a framework to work within allows you to know what you are looking for, and increases the chances you will find it!

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Want to get more tips and hints about travel photography in a snap? Check out Oded’s ebook, about travel photography, by dPS and our sister brand – Snapn Guides.

Note: the author would like to thank Nicholas Orloff for his help in writing this article.

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Oded Wagenstein
Oded Wagenstein

is a cultures photojournalist and author. His work has been published in numerous international publications, such as the National Geographic.com, BBC.com, and Time Out. He is the author of three photography books. Visit his Facebook page and continue to discuss travel and people photography and get more fantastic tips!

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