Making your Travel Photos Work for You!

By David H. Wells


Travel photography is, ideally, the perfect mix of two passions, traveling to interesting places and then making photographs of those places to share with other people. The disappointment often comes when the experience that the photographer had and the final image they made do not match.  Having photographed across the United States and around the globe, I have learned, sometimes the hard way, how to deal with this exact problem.  You might think a piece of gear or a particular photographic technique might do the trick, but, the only thing you need is a changed perspective.


Simply put, remembering who you are photographing for is the key to good travel photographs.   By this I mean that the best travel photographs serve multiple roles:

1)    They obviously show what the place looks like or who the people are who live there, in the sense that the best travel photographs have strong emphasis on the people, place or thing to be found at the place the photographer actually traveled to in order to make the photograph. 

2)    The best travel photographs also convey the feeling of the place, through the typical tools most photographers use such as, light, color, framing, focus, etc. In the best travel imagery, the mood that would be experienced by someone who is actually there is conveyed photographically by the time of day that is shown, the photographer’s position, the choice of lens, etc.


3)    The best travel photographs build on our expectations of a given place but they also surprise us.  Not only do they take us some place that is new to us, but they also show it to us in a new way. The cliché postcard image of a given place is what we know about that place (and in fact may be a good starting point) but the best travel photos take the viewer one or two steps beyond the expected.

4)    An example of this is the clichéd image of a friend standing in front of a landmark, stiff as the building itself. That works fine for you but not for a wider audience. Similarly, a straight on shot of the building in question works fine to show the building as landmark, but it does no better a job in conveying the mood or experience of being at such a place. Think of it this way: A photograph of your partner acting like they are holding up the leaning tower of Pisa is only funny to you.  A photograph of dozens of people doing exactly the same thing, made in such a way as they look like cartoon characters, that is a great travel photograph that anyone can enjoy. 


A travel photography workshop, such as the one I am leading in April built around the Morro Bay Kite Festival is the ideal place to advance the skills required for good travel photography.  We will explore the photographic skills needed to make photos that are more than just documents, photos that convey the mood or atmosphere of a place.  We will also explore the important process of remembering “who is the audience for your photographs and how that affects your working”.  One other great thing about this kind of photography workshop is that the skills you refine in the workshop are applicable to almost every kind of photography you might ever do, so it is real win-win situation.

We hope to see you this April here with David Wells!