Travel Photography…So What’s Changed?

Travel Photography...So What's Changed?
Image by Dariusz Sankowski

Travel and photography are a match made in heaven. In fact, travel photography has been around nearly as long as photography itself and therefore has changed a great deal.

Today we are blessed with such amazing equipment that we can go virtually anywhere easily, to shoot images. We can take cameras up mountains, shoot from hang gliders or drones, even underwater but it has not always been that way. Today we are going to take a look at the evolution of the equipment that travel photographers use.

The Early Days:

There are some pretty amazing photographs of locations worldwide from the mid 19th Century onwards. These are made even more remarkable by the equipment needed to create them.

The two main techniques for photography in those early days were Daguerreotype and Calotype. The former literally required carry an entire darkroom with you on location. The  cameras were huge and required big tripods to keep the camera steady during the very long exposures.

Calotype used a smaller camera and used ordinary high-quality writing paper that could be pre-sensitised in a hotel room before traveling to a location. Unlike the Daguerreotype, Calotype was a negative image and allowed for multiple prints to be made from the original.


Daguerreotypes were hardly a portable solution. By Tekniska museet

Through the rest of the 19th Century, photographic techniques came and went but were characterized by the need to carry large format plate cameras as well as the equipment and chemicals to process the plates.

Thinking about improving your travel photography by upping your game when it comes to landscapes? We have a guide from Photzy specifically fo you then – “Get the Professional Secrets that Will Transform Your Landscape Photography” – what else do you need to know?

The Rise of Celluloid:

The beginning of the 20th Century saw the evolution of what we come to know today as Film. The key was Celluloid and it’s enabler was the Kodak Box Brownie.

The Brownie allowed millions to take their first photos, especially when traveling and was the guiding factor in creating the first generation of travel photographers. These are the guys that realized the severe limitations of the Box Brownie and so progressed onto sheet film and field cameras.

The field camera was a compact evolution of the plate cameras. It was smaller, lighter and took photos on sheets of film inside re-usable holders. This meant that the film could be returned home and processed their rather than on site.

Typically travel photographers would use 5×4 or 6×9 inch film. The later being the most compact and hence easily portable of the field cameras. In good light, it was even possible to hand hold a field camera but tripods were in the main still a necessity.


Arguably the greatest travel camera of all time, the Box Brownie. By Upright_Animal

Roll Film:

Whilst the Box Brownie used 120 roll film, it was a while before there were more advanced cameras suitable for the needs of the travel photographer. Amongst the early 120 cameras, one that stood out was the Rolleiflex Twin Lens Reflex.

Released in 1929 it produced high quality 6×6 inch images through a fixed but very high-quality lens. It's portability combined with image quality made it very appealing to travel photographers.

Roll film eventually split into two main camps, 120 and 35mm taking travel photographers with them. The higher end commercial travel photographers would use 120mm on Hasselblad's, Bronicas et al, whilst the more run and gun documentary style photographers would use Leica’s and 35mm.

The later gave access to more remote parts of the planet and can be seen in the incredible photography in National Geographic through the years.


Leicas were perfect for the traveling photographer. By *Photography by Mike*

The remainder of the films years divided broadly into photographers using medium format and those using 35mm on SLRs, with some high-end travel photographers still opting for 5×4 on-field cameras.

Until the late 1970’s 35mm travel photographers would use a series of prime lenses, often carrying two or more bodies with a different prime attached to each. As lenses got better, these were replaced in the 80’s by the fast zooms we still use today.

Another development of the 80s was the super zoom lens but despite being the perfect travel lens, the quality was often a little suspect.

The Digital Era:

Digital photography has coincided with the rise of budget airlines and affordable travel to the point where it is fairly easy to access even the most remote parts of the planet with our photographic equipment.

The early days of digital were dominated by the DSLR’s and fast zooms but the need to carry laptops and hard drives ironically made the travel photographer’s kit bag heavier than his 35mm counterpart of a few years previous.

For the future, travel photographers are increasingly likely to use compact system cameras such as mirrorless as well as carrying high resolution quadcopter drones to shoot stills and video from the air.


Travel photographers need to embrace new technology to stay ahead. By B Ystebo

It's remarkable how far we have come in the world of travel photography but whatever the equipment we use, the raison d’être of the traveling photographer is to capture the beauty of the world around us and to show it to people.

Thinking about improving your travel photography by upping your game when it comes to landscapes? We have a guide from Photzy specifically fo you then – “Get the Professional Secrets that Will Transform Your Landscape Photography” – what else do you need to know?

Further Resources

  1. Traveling Light: Putting Together a Photography Kit for Travel
  2. Why Adding These 5 Types of Lenses to Your Kit Can Make a Difference to Your Photography
  3. How Art History Can Improve Your Photography
  4. A Photographers Guide to Havana (With 9 Gorgeous Shots)
  5. A Photographer’s Guide To Bordeaux

About Author

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here.

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