The Only Tip You’ll Need for Creating a More Interesting and Well-Rounded Set of Images of Any Destination or Subject

The Only Tip You’ll Need for Creating a More Interesting and Well-Rounded Set of Images of Any Destination or Subject

Work from a shot list.

History - Ramses II Closeup - Abu Simbel, Egypt - Copyright 2010 Ralph Velasco.jpg

As photographers, we tend to have an interest in one or two genres of photography, perhaps for you it’s people, landscapes or food. It’s perfectly fine, and highly recommended, to specialize in a certain area so you get really proficient at that type of imagery.  However, as a travel photographer looking to bring back an overall cultural portrait of a place, one that tells a complete story for the viewers of my work, I have to be a generalist, and that means bringing back solid images of all different types.

Self Portrait - Camel Ride - Near Aswan, Egypt - Copyright 2010 Ralph Velasco.jpg

We’ve all sat through a fellow photographer’s presentation from his or her latest trip to [insert location here], and although the images may have been good, or even fantastic, after the 10th or 12th landscape in a row, enough is enough, right?  The idea is to keep the viewer’s interest by presenting images that show a variety of the distinctive characteristics of a destination, or even a particular subject.

Color - Colorful Dies - Near Aswan, Egypt - Copyright 2010 Ralph Velasco.jpg

In a class I teach called Capturing the Essence of a Place, I discuss the importance of adhering to a fundamental principle of photography, the idea of working from a shot list.  A shot list provides a framework for returning with a well-rounded portfolio of images that conveys the true feeling of what it was like to actually be there, and it’s made up of categories.  I’ve come up with over 50 wide-ranging categories, just some of which include People, Landmarks, Details, Culture & Customs, Establishing Shots, Everyday Life, Fashion & Style, History, Humor, and many more.

Fashion and Style - Lady in Pink - Cairo, Egypt - Copyright 2010 Ralph Velasco.jpg

Because I got tired of carrying around cumbersome pen and paper, and later using my iPhone’s Notes app for creating shot lists while out in the field leading tours or traveling on my own, I decided to create the My Shot Lists for Travel app for iPhone and iPod touch (it works on the iPad, but it’s not currently optimized for that device).  At US 99 cents, it’s a great tool for organizing and tracking a shot list, and it’s customizable for any destination or subject. It also comes complete with sample images and descriptions for each category.

Contrasts - Pyramids, Bus and Van - Giza, Egypt - Copyright 2010 Ralph Velasco.jpg

The user can take advantage of the device’s internal camera capabilities and My Data feature to capture images from within the app.  He or she can add notes to each image, such as the exact location it was shot, best time of day, equipment suggestions, contacts, and more. There’s also a Challenge Me feature that’s activated by shaking the device or tapping the Challenge Me button.  Doing so adds a new category to the top of the current shot list.  The idea is to push the user out of his or her comfort zone and to get them thinking about categories that aren’t on their shot list, as a sort of test or personal assignment to be on the lookout for those types of photo opportunities that day or week.

Everyday Life - Old Man in Doorway in Alexandria, Egypt - Copyright 2010 Ralph Velasco.jpg

As a travel photography instructor, my main goal is to help anyone with a camera to bring back a more varied and interesting set of images from their travels, whether venturing around the world or around the corner.  The idea is to return with a compelling set of images that will then be a solid basis for interesting slideshows, books, albums and websites, however it is that the user is presenting his or her photography.  We’re storytellers, so be sure to portray a complete story of whatever it is that you’re photographing.

Icons - Obelisk and Moon at Karnak - Luxor, Egypt - Copyright 2010 Ralph Velasco.jpg

Now, think outside the camera!

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Ralph Velasco is a travel photography instructor and international guide who has led trips to Morocco, Bhutan, Nepal, Cambodia, Spain, Central Europe, Mexico and Egypt, plus ten fully-licensed People-to-People programs to Cuba. His latest eBook is called Essence of a Place: A Travel Photographer’s Guide to Using a Shot List for Capturing Any Destination. Ralph is the creator of the My Shot Lists for Travel app for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch®.

Some Older Comments

  • Chad Coppedge May 13, 2011 07:43 am

    Spent an hour trying to find "My Shot Lists for Travel" and "Ralph Velasco" at the App Store to no avail. Is your information incorrect?

  • emily pitts May 10, 2011 09:58 am

    wish you'd share the list as some of us in the world don't have an ipad/smart phone still.

  • Alice May 10, 2011 02:33 am

    Wonderful suggestion! I had never heard of a shot list, but it makes tons of sense! I have often felt regret after a trip when I realized that there was so much more to my trip than what I captured,even though I may have taken hundreds of photos. Also, that may be because I can just never get enough! But, great suggestion. I will be checking out your book as well. Thanks for the tip.

  • MicheleF May 4, 2011 12:20 am

    I've only been a photography enthusiast for about a year, and we're leaving in a few weeks for an Alaskan cruise, so I downloaded this app. It's amazing - thank you.

  • Dude May 2, 2011 10:25 pm

    That first picture is hoooot!

  • Leo April 29, 2011 08:42 am

    it would be great if your site would make each article printable. as it is now, I waste so much paper trying to print your tips. to print out a one or two page article I waste paper printing out the ads and comments of others about the article. can or would you please make some of your tips downloadable pdf files or just put a print option without the ads and comments. I know I can copy & paste but that is such a hassle.

  • Jean April 25, 2011 03:03 am

    A simple rubric, for those of us less well organized travelers, is to take the landscape or panorama shot first, then remember to take the details of the place: e.g. Take the overall plaza shot, then the details: a scrolled latch plate, a kitten on a doorstep, cobblestone patterns, anything that is colorful, etc.

  • Ralph Velasco April 24, 2011 11:38 pm

    Hi there!

    Sorry for the radio silence over the past week or so, but I'm just back from participating in a humanitarian trip to Cuba. Had an outstanding time again and Cuba remains my favorite place to photograph. I took my own advice and used a shot list to be sure I not only got the Icons, Landmarks, People and Landscape shots, but also captured images in the Food, Drink, Colors and Everyday Life categories that abound in such a wonderfully diverse country populated by what quite possibly could be the most friendly people on earth.

    Again, you don't need the My Shot Lists for Travel app to do any of this. Simply use a piece of paper and pen (remember what those are??!) to jot down your list of intended shots before you embark on a trip - or use it in your own backyard. This way you can check off the categories you've successfully made images for and will know which ones you have yet to seek out. You can also use the Notes app on any smart phone or device that has this capability.

    I'm planning to write a series of articles here on DPS that will outline each of the 52 categories I've come up with on my shot list. Each will have a sample image and description, just like in the app, so for those of you who don't have an "iAnything" you can still take advantage of this information and incorporate it into your own shooting routine however you like. For those of you who have purchased the app (thank you, BTW) I'll be adding additional information that I'm sure you can use (and please feel free to add a review to iTunes, I'd really appreciate it).

    Look forward to providing you more valuable information in the near future to help you bring back a more well-rounded cultural portrait of the place or subject you're shooting!


  • Linus April 21, 2011 11:22 pm

    From the recent trip of Keukenhof.

  • George L Smyth April 20, 2011 06:01 am

    This is all well and good, but I don't have an iAnything. I understand that this is basically a list, but it would have been instructive to see an example of such a list so that those of us who cannot afford these devices would at least have an idea as to how to put together a shot list. Sorry, but the only takeaway I got from the article was that I should buy your product.

  • Paul April 20, 2011 01:39 am

    Nice little article, well suited to travel photography. Thanks.

  • Sheryl April 16, 2011 04:36 am

    Getting the App Ralph! What a great idea. And it not only works for travel but because I shoot a lot around Chicago I want to capture the essence of my adopted hometown as well so I am going to use these categories to document my hometown shots and I think it is also a great way to organize all my shots. Looking forward to your next trip to Chicago - hopefully you'll have some classes at Calumet this year.

  • Mario April 16, 2011 12:13 am

    @Ralph---thanks for the inspiration and suggestions. I'm going to create my own shot list in Google tasks for now. When you get the Android version up and running, I'll be one of the first to buy it. (Obviously you've sparked a lot of thought and discussion, and it has been worthwhile.)

    Best wishes.

  • RalphVelasco April 16, 2011 12:01 am

    Thanks everyone for an overwhelming response to the article. I'm glad that you're enjoying it. Those of you have downloaded the app now have a simple but powerful tool for organizing and tracking your photography, but those of you who aren't iPhone or iPod touch users (or don't want to spend the money) can certainly make your own shot lists with pen and paper or by simply using the Notes app that comes with most smart phones, so you don't have to spend 99 cents to benefit from this advice.

    Remember, the idea of having a shot list is to keep you focused not only on the obvious categories that you like to shoot and are good at (perhaps it's People or Landscapes), but also the more obscure categories that will truly define the destination or subject you're capturing with your photography. Although I can't list them all here (there are 50+), some of the major categories that you should be on the lookout for when you're out shooting are: Architecture, Fashion & Style, Gastronomy (the food), Interiors, Night Scenes, Agriculture, Details, Storytelling Shots, Establishing Shots, Culture & Customs, Color, Music, Seasons, the Underbelly (just about every place has one), and one that we as photographers often forget, Self-Portraits. Keep an eye out for whatever it is that is distinctive to the place.

    Hope this helps, and please continue to comment and spread the word via Facebook and Twitter. If you like, you can also subscribe to my blog at I look forward to providing solid information you can use. Visit the site to get a feel for what I'll be blogging about, but keep in mind that the blog is new, and continues to be a work in progress.

    Cheers, RV

  • Kathryn April 15, 2011 11:27 pm

    Is there a possibility of sharing certain items on your list for those of us with "dumb" phones? An example of a travel shot list would be awesome. Some variations would be even better.

    Thanks for listening.

  • Kenneth Hyam April 15, 2011 07:28 pm

    Absolutely spot on!
    All two often we create limiting tramlines for ourselves. The beauty of this article is that it shows you can have a set of things you areon the lookout for, thereby proving that variety is the spice of life.

  • chito malabanan April 15, 2011 04:08 pm

    very informative and interesting..thank you very much for the inputs,,,

  • Lawrie April 15, 2011 08:53 am

    That's the tip,

    "BUY MY APP"

    come on people

  • Andre Favron April 15, 2011 07:50 am

    I have just purchased the app from the iStore and I am VERY impressed so far. For all those of you that are wondering what it includes... the answer is "everything you would include if you had been using, and 'adding' things to a list - for decades!" He lists over 50 categories, each of which has some pointers and an accompanying photo (as an example). Then the app gives you options to create your own lists. A very well invested $1.00 that I can see myself using frequently.
    For those who make the charge that this is simply some shameless self-promotion to purchase an app, I would agree if the content wasn't valid. But since it is, then this is no less worthy of exposing to a target audience as any other product or service that can help someone improve their lives. Besides, even if you do not purchase the app, the information in the article is still a great launching pad for anyone who catches the concept that he espouses. Thank you Ralph Valesco for helping me improve my photography!

  • naz April 15, 2011 06:37 am

    stunning shots- nice advice-

  • Randall Paetzold April 15, 2011 04:59 am

    What an Amazing Trip!
    The photos tell such a story!
    The MAN IN THE DOORWAY is my #1 pick.
    Strong lines. The texture. and that belly! Fantastic image!

    Comment: on the CAMEL SHADOW shot - again, just an idea - lower your arm when shooting shadows. The camera will not show up in the shadow. Also looking forward to give more definition to the shooters nose and forehead.

    The angle on the TOWER MOON shot is very powerful. Outstanding color!

    Best - R!

  • Cassi April 15, 2011 03:39 am

    I'd never consider trying to use a shot list, but I can really see the benefit - and I also expect to enjoy the challenge. Great idea on creating the iPhone app - I just bought it and look forward to trying it out. Thank you!

  • Kim Klassen April 15, 2011 12:20 am

    these images are truly fantastic!! breath taking.......

  • Mario April 13, 2011 10:34 pm

    @Ralph--thanks for the helpful reply! I'll keep my eyes peeled for the Android app. I may buy an iPad someday, but for now I'm sticking with the Android platform. Best wishes with the project---it's creative and will support creativity.

  • Glenn April 13, 2011 10:08 pm

    @Ralph V, Thanks for answering the ipod question. I will give it a shot.

  • Heather April 13, 2011 06:56 pm

    What a great app it is. Thanks for the tip. I did not know that it existed before I read your article. I definitely missed something like this on my travels.

  • Steve April 13, 2011 02:14 pm

    Sorry, but I'm with Mario on this "article" - without an example it is an advert for an iPhone app. No good for my Android phone that I'm reading & posting from. The idea does sound like it may be of great use for documenting holidays & short trips for us amateurs.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck April 13, 2011 03:47 am


    I love your article! I also try to incorprate your ideas to my my own. Here are some form Rome that complement your Vision!

    Basilica of St. John Lateran, Rome:

    Stop and Go, Rome:

    Honey…Build Me a Temple, Rome:

    Best Regards, Erik
    Kerstenbeck Photographic Art

    Read more:

  • RalphVelasco April 13, 2011 03:43 am

    Mario, thanks for you comment. Regarding releasing the app on the Droid and other devices, we had to start someplace, and as iPhone/Mac users ourselves (me and my developer), it made sense to start with iOS devices first. Next logical step would be the iPad 2, then Droid, but no time line on those as of yet.

  • RalphVelasco April 13, 2011 03:40 am

    Glenn, the app does work on your device, however, you of course won't be able to use the camera functionality that the iPhone has. Hope that helps. Let us know what you think by putting in a review in iTunes, thanks!

  • Matthew Woodget April 13, 2011 03:04 am

    Selecting photos to showcase can be hard, speaking of which – I need your help can you vote on your favorite three photos here:

    Being the artist I'm struggling to select just three to submit to a charity photo book project. This is year three of the project and we've raised ~$50K+ a year for United Way of King County.

    Thanks for your help!

  • Mario April 13, 2011 03:04 am

    Let me clarify my previous comment---I love the idea of the app and I'm an unapologetic listmaker myself, from shotlists to equipment lists and everything in between. I use Note Everything Pro and Google Task Organizer on my Droid to much the same thing prior to shoots. However, I would have gotten more from the article if the actual list of categories was presented for everyone to use, whether with the app or on our own apps. (Or, dare I say it, pen and pencil.)

  • Mario April 12, 2011 11:21 pm

    Nice idea, but not everyone has an iPhone/iPod, so until there's a Android app (or the author simply provides his standard shot list) this is really more an advertisement for an app.

  • Joan Nova April 12, 2011 10:58 pm

    Stunningly beautiful work.

  • Sue in Canada April 12, 2011 04:46 pm

    I just downloaded the App and I think I am going to love it. I was also pleased when I checked all the items on the list and I think I got every one of them on my three week trip to Turkey last fall. Now I have to scrapbook the trip and this list will be a great help on the album layout!

  • Norfolk Photography April 12, 2011 04:39 pm

    Hello Ralph,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think travel photographers not only bring photographs to the world but also share different cultures with different people. I really like your photographs, specially last one. Keep sharing great photographs.

  • RalphVelasco April 12, 2011 04:29 pm

    Hi everyone!

    Thanks for the really great comments, I'm glad you enjoyed the article. If you haven't already, I'd appreciate it if you'd Like it and spread the word about it via the social media icons at the top.

    So, to answer the question about what exactly a shot list is, simply put, it's just that, a list of shots you should be on the look out for while shooting in any destination or focusing on a particular subject (perhaps it's a church, or a tourist attraction). A shot list forces you to think of the other parts that make up the whole, those parts that are distinctive to that place. For instance in the Transportation category it might be gondolas in Venice or feluccas in Egypt.

    The idea is to bring back a set of images that gives the viewers of your work an overall sense of the place that you photographed. We're storytellers, and who likes to be left hanging by an incomplete story?

    If you'd like to take a look at the My Shot Lists for Travel app, please visit And have a look at my new blog, and subscribe to it, if you like. I think you'll enjoy the content I'll be providing over time. Finally, please consider joining my mailing list for updates on future classes, tours and other events and updates.

    Cheers, and let me know if there are other questions, I appreciate your interest.


  • viviantn April 12, 2011 12:39 pm

    I'd also love to see your shot list for travel photos. If you make your shot list app for Droid, I'll buy it!

  • ScottC April 12, 2011 12:24 pm

    and again in Dublin, perhaps a better job this time:

  • ScottC April 12, 2011 12:16 pm

    Great tip, and the accompanying photos really drive the point home. I sure would like to see the entire list of categories!

    Sort of tried this on a recent trip to Prague, I think I still missed many of the possibilities though:

  • Robert April 12, 2011 11:57 am

    An excellent reminder to shoot for (pardon the pun) excellence even in your travel photographs.

  • chew April 12, 2011 11:10 am

    Great article! And really good shots. Thanks.

  • Teresa April 12, 2011 10:13 am

    I love these ideas. I especially love the idea of the shot list app. I wanted to ask you to also make your app available for the android market too. I would but it if I could.

  • Lorenzo Reffo April 12, 2011 09:24 am

    I really love this article, very helpful for who travel - also for the ones who don't!

    I guess the most important thing is stop taking photos as you're able to and try going one step forward. Change your point of you. Take portraits if you're a landscape photographer. Focus on details. Change your point of you as I did in this shot:

  • Paul April 12, 2011 08:58 am

    Got a small request, will this come available for Android, because i would love get such kind of app.
    And nice article, thans for the tips

  • Mike T April 12, 2011 08:16 am

    @Sara, Thank you!

  • Wayfaring Wanderer April 12, 2011 06:35 am

    A shot list is something I use for photosessions, although I've never actually considered using one for my travel photography. Great idea!

    It makes total sense, especially since I like to spend time looking at photographic inspiration before I go somewhere. Next time, I'll keep making a shot list in mind, so that I don't forget any opportunities when I'm on a trip!


  • Erik Kerstenbeck April 12, 2011 05:47 am


    OK...some close up shots!

    One of God's Creatures, Rome:

    Get Off My Head, Rome:

    Eternal Flame, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Rome:

    PS Shoot every day!

    Cheers, Erik

  • Sara April 12, 2011 05:42 am

    @Mike T - A shot list is basically a list of the shots that you want to take. If you are a wedding photographer it would be a list like 1. Bride with Mom 2. Bride with Dad 3. Bride with both Mom and Dad. In this case he has a shot list done in categories.

    “I’ve come up with over 50 wide-ranging categories, just some of which include People, Landmarks, Details, Culture & Customs, Establishing Shots, Everyday Life, Fashion & Style, History, Humor, and many more."

    That way when you are off in some beautiful location taking tons of pictures of landscapes you can look at your shot list and remember to take some pictures of the people.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck April 12, 2011 05:41 am


    I love your article! I also try to incorprate your ideas to my my own. Here are some form Rome that complement your Vision!

    Basilica of St. John Lateran, Rome:

    Stop and Go, Rome:

    Honey...Build Me a Temple, Rome:

    Best Regards, Erik
    Kerstenbeck Photographic Art

  • Glenn April 12, 2011 05:24 am

    The ap looks cool and has great reviews. I see the system requirements but am wondering if it will work with 2nd gen iPod touch 4.2.1 software

  • Becky S. April 12, 2011 04:31 am

    Great article! I would use a tool like that like there was no tomorrow! I am currently making my own shot lists in adobe acrobat but this sounds much easier (plus the added benefit of things I would never have thought of)! Is this app only available for iphone, ipad, & iphone? I use a macbook pro and would love to be able to put this on my computer since I don't use any of the above...

  • photo_la April 12, 2011 03:12 am

    A shot list could be anything from the vague (rough destinations) to specific (researching the local people and cultures and going deeper). Flickr is an excellent tool to use. Just search on an area in a city, like the Muslim quarter in Xi'an and see what the most interesting photos that were taken in the area. For example, a hanging skinned goat could be an item on the list. So you hunt for those things, and in return get surprised at finding compositions you hadn't planned on.

  • photo_la April 12, 2011 03:09 am

    Having a shot list is probably the best advice you can ever take. Although I still love a small pad and a pen over any app. Make a thorough list and the day turns into a hunt rather than a hike. If you still find yourself having trouble concentrating try using film for a day, switch things up.

  • Mike T April 12, 2011 02:22 am

    Thanks for the article, however I am a bit confused - and I might have missed it in the article. But what exactly is a "shot list"? I have never heard of such a thing.

    Maybe my A.D.D. is just kicking in, but I guess I need an example of a shot list.

  • Bogdan April 12, 2011 02:05 am

    Good point here: landscape, landscape, landscape just ain't gonna cut it!

  • Julie H. Ferguson April 12, 2011 01:51 am

    I would love that app. But I need it for my Android phone.
    Is it available for Android devices?

  • scott April 12, 2011 12:43 am

    Great advice, and the accompanying photos drive the point home. I'll have to try the app once it's optimized for ipad.

    I'd really like to see your complete list of categories!

    I tried to do something similar for recent trips to Prague and Dublin, but I think still relied too much on subjects I like to shoot: