It’s a real challenge to portray the true essence of a destination and to show it to the world the way you see it. This genre, travel photography, calls for immense creativity, technical expertise, and unflinching dedication to the art. Every little detail that can weigh off your shoulders count.
I have been traveling across the most remote corners of the country and beyond for years now, and the best results are a boon of some of the non-photography decisions I’ve made. When you are on the road for long, you realize the real beauty of a travel shot goes deeper than its aesthetic value. All the technical training in the world, the best gear money can buy, and time-tested templates of composition can only take you so far. But then comes the real work. The stuff that makes a photograph, speak.
Here are six non-photography tips that will help you improve and super-charge your travel photography.
#1 – Go solo
This insanely frightening, uncomfortable, non-economic travel decision is also the most rewarding of all. This might mean, you will have to make all the plans, work out all the logistics, and deal with any issues by yourself. But, in a very unexpected way, this is what you need.
Travel photography does not allow for the luxury of blending and adjusting to plans of your co-travelers. The darkest hours, the first light of the sun, the busiest markets – what catches the artist’s eyes are endless. To be at the right time and the right place, you will need the freedom you only get when you have no strings attached.
You must be ready to ditch your plans and make new ones at a snap, and be prepared for longer stays to get that one single extraordinary shot. Besides, you can always find backpacker hostels, local transport, and the denizen cuisine to fit into the budget; even without a companion to share the charges.
#2 – Learn the tongue
This tip is not just for the special ones with an eidetic memory though. Practically, all you need are a few dozen commonly used phrases and words to get the ball rolling. You will be amazed at how useful a little conversation with the locals can turn out to be, albeit with broken wording and all.
Learning the tongue goes beyond speaking a few words. It’s also about how you approach the culture and the people within. You have to understand them, think like them and start feeling their home like they do. That doesn’t just open up new doors and undiscovered locations but puts truth in the photographs.
The more you blend in with their culture, the more un-alienated the subject can be perceived.
#3 – Take the local choice
The tourist trails are often unrevealing and pompous. The rustic secrets, the basic ingredients to amazing travel photographs need to be chased by getting off track. This might mean, taking the bumpy bus rides, eating spicy street food, cramped roadside shows, and everything over and under.
It adds an amazing perspective, nothing else can provide. Look for couch surfing and home-stays. Try the local cuisine and home-made meals. Take the local roads and transport, and even take part in the native leisure and social events. All of these things will add rocket fuel to your images.
#4 – Volunteer
Taking time off from your camera sounds crazy, right? Being a part of the local’s life, besides gives an understanding of the destination, can be translated into unique perspectives, flavors, and themes in your work. The financial freedom, longer stays and new acquaintances are also invaluable.
This can be extended to work exchanges, internships, or any other short-term work you can find. Sites like Workaway, Volunteerhq, Helpx offer tons of opportunities all over the world. Deviating a little, one can consider online work, that can enable extended stays in a single place.
The goal is to try and get an inclusive feeling into the community and culture, standing in their shoes before photographing their homes. More in-depth info on volunteering here.
#5 – Stay fit. Stay resistant.
Being picky when traveling is the one biggest art killers. Compatibility of body and mind in extreme of conditions is the greatest tool you can ever have. A travel photographer needs to endure heat, rain, snow, and hail alike and still be ready to go.
Training so you are able to walk for miles or travel for hours is worth the effort exponentially. Being able to sleep wherever, eat whatever, and tune your body to be able to function in diverse habitats, let’s you break the physical barriers needed to visit THE photo spot. A tired body can no longer push itself for perfection.
#6 – Be ready to take the leap
Adventure and nature photography are close cousins of the travel genre, and mastering them too makes you a Jedi. Most of your favorite shots are from off-beat places only the deadliest daredevils venture out. Economic travel facilities and easy gear have saturated the internet with spectacular shots.
To make the difference, you have to see like no one has ever seen and go where no one has ever been. This might mean kayaking down the stream, cycling up a valley, hiking up a hill, or flying on a glider. Sometimes this might even mean, getting your own ride, staying in tents, and living off candy bars.
And more essentially, have a heart filled with enthusiasm and craving for adventure. Every step forward past other photographers is a step forward to more unique travel shots.
None of these skills require special training or innate power to accomplish. All of them can and will be acquired over time. But to be ready with these in mind, you can get one step ahead of every other photographer in town.
More than anything, a good travel photograph tells a good story and has a strong spirit to it. The best camera is what you have with you, or so they say. So, it’s time to hack into how you are going to make the best of it!