Travel Photography Subjects: History

Travel Photography Subjects: History

This may not seem much of a news flash, but every place you ever visit has a history before you got there. While not a news flash, it’s often easy to forget this concept when traveling. If traveling to a place for the first time, everything is new, even the old stuff.

Most cities are born again and again. Entire countries as well. Complacency leads us to believe there have always been 195 countries on this planet. Yet, only 50 years ago 17 countries claimed independence in Africa alone. Before then, those colonies and protectorates were ruled by various European countries. And before Europeans took over, various forms of rule and daily life existed. Life on this planet is ever changing and its history is being built every day.

When they travel, some people enjoy looking as far into an area’s past as possible. The pyramids of Egypt are a prime example. Thousands of years old, they speak of the longevity of organized society on this planet. Even more recent history is also visible across this area as the Greeks then Romans then others marched through and left a small mark here and there. Some areas are rich in history, some need a harder scratch of the surface to find.

If you are of the curious nature, do just a bit of research before heading out on your next trip. Most guide books will deliver a morsel of history and that may lead to further investigation. Do a bit of research and see if there is a historical society in the location(s) you wish to visit. Making contacts with those deeply interested in history is a great way to get a ‘new’ perspective during your travels.

Photographically speaking, shooting history takes on many forms. It may be as simple as photographing statues representing rules, thought leaders or important people of the past. It may be buildings that have stood the test of time, weather and war. A museum is an easy way to get a quick glimpse into history, both near and far.

Shooting history is slightly different than the previous topic of Modern Vs. Traditional in that history can stand by itself. Also, historical item or locations need not be considered traditional. The Roman ruins of Volubilis in Morocco (Pictured above) have little impact on the traditional way of life in that area of Africa. Yet, those ruins are a clear part of the country’s history, long before it was even a country.

Where have you found history in your travels and captured a particularly pleasing photo? Share it in the comments section below!


Previous articles in the Travel Photography Subjects series include Water, Old People, Young People, Religion, Sports, Socializing, Icons, Rich, Poor, Transportation, Economy, Food, Food Preparation, Weather, Art, Modern Vs. Traditional, Downtown and Views.  These posts are not intent on telling you everything you need to do, step by step, to capture perfect, cookie-cutter pictures while traveling.  Instead, they are intent on pointing out some vital elements to capture when on the road and highlight thought provoking questions you may want to ask yourself.  My hope is they help guide you to find your own means to better expressing what your travels have meant to you and present that in the best light possible.  Be sure to subscribe to this site to receive the last two subjects as they are posted!

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Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

Some Older Comments

  • ratkellar December 18, 2010 04:08 am

    Already mentioned, but it is difficult to take a bad picture at Macchu Picchu -- the structures with the ANdes as backdrip are almost always magnificent and there are great framing oppotunities and angled shots from above, below, and across. Hard to avoid tourists, so stay at the Hotel if possible.
    The Parthenon is great for macro and micro views. One of my favorite shots is of just a corner with the worn texture of the rocks being prominent. Go early in the morning to the Acropolis -- most tourists are sleeping off last nights booze, I think, even in August. The art, the architecture, the history is just sublime for a Western European. Shooting vases is difficult, however.

  • Daniel Fay December 18, 2010 03:15 am

    The Great Mosque of Cordoba in Spain - La Mezquita. An amazing history of mixed cultures and beautiful architecture.

  • Ron Unna December 17, 2010 04:06 pm

    Historical sites are without question my preferred photographic subject matter. I live in a land that is historically rich and steeped in relics of the past. Here are a few samples...

    1. Ancient Roman sea port of Cesearia at night:

    2. Roman baths

    3. Ancient city of Jerusalem

    4. Roman Sea-front fortress at Atlit

    5. Montfort Crusader castle

  • todd atteberry December 17, 2010 05:01 am

    I take a lot of historical photos, and the hardest part is getting rid of the 21st century in the shot. Sometimes it's a question of judicious framing, otherwise the clone tool is my best friend ...

  • Jason Neely December 17, 2010 02:25 am

    Very nice article...nothing like learning about the history of the places you travel to. Here are some shots from Peru:

    And Ireland:

  • Christine Giglio December 16, 2010 02:16 am

    Here is a shot I got at Valley Forge, Pa. I can't wait to go back and shoot some more.

  • Mei Teng December 15, 2010 12:28 am

    I love visiting historical sites when I travel.

  • Maik-T. Šebenik December 14, 2010 07:04 pm

    Thanks for this nice article. I love photographing historic places, buildings, etc. everey time I travel.
    Here are some of my "historic" photos:

    The main square of Maribor, Slovenia with the old city hall, plague memorial and other old buildings:

    Bled castle - atop the beautiful lake Bled in the Julian alps in Slovenia:

    Old Lahaina fort on Maui, Hawaii:

    Nordiska museet - the nrordic museum in Stockhol, Sweden:

  • Cheezman December 14, 2010 06:50 pm

    History and Travel and Photography. This is where as a photographer I most prefer to dwell. There's a story behind everything and the more you know the more interesting it becomes. I like to try to convey the story with narrative captions on my Flickr posts. Sometimes it takes several photos to tell. Sometimes a bit of humor creeps in (the last listed link, for example. In that set, the narrative below the photos was inspired by my confronting a scene that instantly reminded me of Alexander Gardner's photos of American Civil War Battle Aftermath.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck December 14, 2010 09:20 am

    Great article

    During a nine day photo shoot in Rome this fall, we prepared our itinerary well in advance - manged to hit all historical sites, and got some great images. It is hard not to get great pictures in Rome, but the trick is not to take The Tourist Shot. Here are some that do not look all that typical and have interesting perspectives - some HDR work as well

    Regards, Erik

    Vatican dome ceiling in HDR

    Angel at Victor Emmanuel Monument, Rome:

    Victor Emmanuel Monument, Rome:

    Excelsior Hotel, Rome:

    Image of the Day: Vatican Vaulted Ceiling, Rome:

  • Steph December 14, 2010 09:15 am

    Egypt is amazing, past and present are melting everywhere.
    I recommend it to everyone.

  • Stephanie December 14, 2010 08:59 am


    From ancient history

    to recent history

  • Kiran December 14, 2010 07:57 am

    I visited Netherlands and clicked quite a few historic building. The charm is simply amazing!

  • JesseAdams December 14, 2010 07:13 am

    The Parthenon in Athens, Greece. A city full of history!

  • Dave P December 14, 2010 06:56 am

    I like to make sure every trip abroad I make that I get to see some of it's history.

    In India I went to a place just outside of Chennai called Mahabalipuram where they had a stone relief called "The Descent of the Ganges":

    It was hard to believe that they were carving such amazing reliefs whilst in England we had reverted to wooden huts.

    Out of all the places I've seen though, my favourite has to be Machu Picchu:

    Thought I'd link to one of the views of it you don't normally see, but yes I did bother with the typical view you normally see too.

  • dee_gee December 14, 2010 05:55 am

    This is from Tunisia (A Ribat in Sousse) - not sure how old it is:

  • Vishal Modak December 14, 2010 05:53 am

    Carter Shields Cabin at Cades Cove in Smoky Mountains National Park. This cabin along with others in the area are more than 100 years old and still in pristine condition...

  • Kelly December 14, 2010 05:13 am

    I got this one just this weekend. It is from the Deer Valley Rock Art Center (in Phoenix, AZ) and has pictographs from the (I think) Hohokam Native Americans. You can see them best in the bottom right-hand corner of the rock.

  • Mihai December 14, 2010 05:12 am

    one great medieval church in Bucharest, Romania.

  • Scott December 14, 2010 04:57 am

    Great article. History is everywhere, so simple but so easily overlooked. Sometimes it's hard to comprehend what we're seeing. This Cathedral was built in 326 AD.