What is travel photography? The question popped into my mind after I heard the next meeting of the photography club in our village was going to have a travel photography theme. I haven’t been to a meeting of the photography club yet, but given it’s a part of my work I thought I should put in an appearance for this one. For a start, I’m interested in knowing how others view it.
Do people consider it as mainly landscape shots of beautiful locations?
It partly is about that. But it’s also about capturing the essence of a location, and that includes people, architecture, food, traditional events, culture … anything directly related to the destination.
Instagram is full of stunning landscape shots. But anyone with a basic understanding of photography can’t fail to take an impressive shot of somewhere like the Matterhorn in sunshine. When we visited, all I had to do was point my camera and I’d know I’d get a WOW shot. It’s easy to take good photos of naturally beautiful locations.
And the not so photogenic
I learnt a valuable lesson when I started out in travel writing and was asked to supply photos as well as text. Not all locations are naturally beautiful. Some don’t like the camera. Think purpose-built resorts. They might have sparkling seas fronting them, but the resorts themselves aren’t photogenic. On Tenerife, Andy and I wrote a monthly guide called ‘In Deep’ for a magazine which focussed on a specific town or village. Sometimes the subject matter was so meaty I could take any number of photos – as was the case with traditional towns like Garachico or La Orotava. But there were plenty of others where I had to get more creative. Places like El Médano in the south of the island. It’s a great little town and its beaches are among the best on Tenerife. But turn the lens away from the seafront and it isn’t so easy. Look at Google images and you’ll see most involve scenes of the sea and beaches. The few that don’t, feature uninspiring architecture. There are any number of locations that fit that mould. That’s when travel photography becomes more challenging. Throw gloomy weather into the mix and it becomes even more of a task.
Taking a closer look
There are some things I do if the ‘big picture’ isn’t pretty enough to stand on its own, or the weather sucks the colour out of a landscape. One of my favourite techniques is to go closer. Cut out grey skies and bland cooky cutter 80s apartment blocks; focus on the smaller things like food, signs, landmarks, street art, quirks etc.
We’ve just been working in South Devon, walking part of the South West Coast Path. The weather was fabulous and the scenery exceptional, so no problem with that. But another limitation with travel photography when it’s a secondary task, as it often is in our case, is that I don’t get to pick optimum times for taking photographs of specific locations. It’s a case of good or bad luck, hoping the sun is in the right place at the right time.
In Devon, we were based in Salcombe. The tourist board describes Salcombe this way – ‘The beautiful coastal town of Salcombe sits on the banks of the Kingsbridge Estuary making it one of the prettiest towns in South Devon.’ Salcombe is in a peach of a location, and it’s an attractive little town. But, again, check out Google images and most photos involve dreamy estuary views. When I tried to take photos away from the estuary, I struggled to find scenes that stood out. This was partly because I was never in the town at the right time of the day to catch the sun streaming down the narrow streets, and partly because the architecture is quite ordinary, especially when compared with somewhere like nearby Dartmouth which, incidentally, I didn’t get a decent photograph of either because we were there at the wrong time of the day.
Ultimately, travel photography can be many things. What it isn’t is effortlessly taking photos of places that look fabulous no matter what.