5 Tips For More Authentic Travel Photos

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Most people enjoy traveling — the thrill of adventure and discovery, experiencing new cultures, tasting new foods — the usual. People also enjoy taking photos to document their travels. If there’s one problem with travel photos it’s that they all look the same.

I suppose this really isn’t a “problem” if all you’re trying to do is show your friends and family that you’ve visited some world famous landmark. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But many photographers want their travel shots to stand out in some way. The best way to make your travel photos stand apart from the pack is to make sure they are an authentic representation of the place you visit.

Here are 5 tips to help you create more authentic travel photos.

Embrace The Mundane

Everyone flocks to the most beautiful or iconic locations in any city they visit but such locations don’t truly reveal the essence a place.

By venturing into the more sedate areas you can get a view of daily life. Photograph the regular, everyday movements of the people and the places that matter most to the locals.

These scenes may not be “beautiful” in the most traditional sense, but if you’re in search of authenticity this is where you might want to start. You will get a glimpse into the reality behind the shiny facade that most tourists chase after.

Be Curious

I’ve addressed the importance of curiosity before and it applies well here also. As you wander through each area you visit, throw off any pretentiousness of being a “professional” photographer.

Just be curious. Be willing to engage with locals and ask them questions and listen to their stories. Don’t turn your travel photography into work — forget all the analytical, procedural stuff and use your camera as a tool to help you answer questions.

photo by dino reichmuth
Photo by Dino Reichmuth

Take Full Advantage Of Your Time There

In other words, don’t rush and don’t pass up opportunities.

Understandably, you will be operating within certain time constraints — you have to go home eventually. This means you need to spend your time wisely. If it’s authentic photos you want, you should spend less time in areas typically frequented by tourists and, instead, give preference to those purportedly mundane places mentioned above.

Additionally, no matter where you’re shooting, be sure to take the shot when you have it. When you see something/someone intriguing, take the picture. There’s no guarantee the same opportunity will be there a day later. Or an hour later.

Sometimes, setting yourself apart from others is simply a matter of capitalizing on situations that others pass up or don’t notice.

Get Up Early

It would seem that all the good stuff happens in the middle of the day — sporting events, festivals, markets. These are all potentially wonderful photo opportunities, but you’ll have to contend with crowds, meaning other other tourists will also be taking very similar shots.

Want photos that others aren’t going to get? Well, you’re going to have to wake up early. Before all the tourists come out, before many of the locals even appear on the scene.

Capturing the early birds and their morning routines is a way to show a side of a place that most outsiders don’t see.

pexels photo
Simon Matzinger

Embrace Bad Weather

One thing that makes travel photos so homogenous is that they often portray places only as picturesque, sunny utopias.

Well, any place can be picturesque without being sunny. The people who live year round in that place have to deal with the reality of bad weather. So why not capture that reality?

If you encounter bad weather while on holiday, don’t stay indoors. Go out and take it all in. Dark, cloudy skies can make for dramatic landscape/cityscape images. Snowfall can add a touch of visual magic. Rainfall can quickly alter the appearance of absolutely everything around you.

The shots you get by going out in anything but sunny conditions won’t be the run-of-the-mill travel shots. And that’s exactly what you want.

pexels photo
Parij Borgohain

Final Thoughts

Your travel photos don’t have to look like millions of others that populate personal websites and social media pages; they don’t have to resemble cliched postcards that line the shelves in tourist shops.

With the ideas above as a starting point, you can make inspiring travel photos that are a more authentic representation of the places you love to visit.

Further Reading

  1. 5 Ways to Spice Up Your Travel Photography
  2. 3 Free Guides To More Meaningful Travel Photography
  3. 5 Ways to Create More Interesting Travel Photos
  4. Travel Photography: 5 Free E-Books to Help You Capture Better Travel Photos
  5. A Stunning Collection Of Photographs From Norway

About Author

Jason Little is a photographer, author and stock shooter. You can see Jason’s photography on his Website or his Instagram feed.

Jason, “most people” is the group with little or no training in photography, armed with the latest cellphone of their choice (and perhaps a selfie stick), travelling because it’s light hearted fun and they’re taking their family with them.
And they want shots to remind them of the time they were there – where everyone else has gone before them, and everyone else will come along after them.
And they generally take either the standard shots seen in all the postcards and everyone else’s photos. Or shots of themselves and their family.
The photos are then circulated on the internet or by emails, from their cellphones. Taken home and shown to more friends. Stored on a computer till it freezes and all the shots are lost – because the backup wasn’t set up properly. And in this “modern”, “computer driven”, age, nobody prints their photos – or (shock, horror!) puts them in an album.
That, these days, seems to be the fate of something like 99% of all the photos being taken.
Photographers, on the other hand, use programs like Lightroom and Photoshop. Quite why is a mystery, because mostly they don’t print their photos either. But instead of relying on computer backup, the trend is towards storing their shots on someone’s “cloud”. Adobe’s perhaps.
OK – but at least one of those cloud systems went up in a puff of smoke, when the company running it went into Chapter 11 (AKA bankruptcy or liquidation) in the US.
Sigh – à chacun son goût – each to his own.
Personally my travel photography kind of stopped before it started. I enjoyed my first overseas trip so much, seeing so many new things and enjoying the company of my new friends, that I left my camera alone for the entire 3 months. The images of what I saw and lived through are still stored in my head.
Later, I occasionally pointed the camera at things – to my disgust, my brother is a monarchist and he was absolutely horrified after I went to London and didn’t even go and see Buckingham Palace (let alone photograph the place). As my gear began to be allowed out of its travelling bag from time to time, I found my travel photography developed as a combination of things – candid (which I’ve always loved), street photography (which is often similar to candid), available light photography (which I have also loved since my first SLR’s), travel (of course) and portrait.
Do I have a shot of Buck Palace yet? No – but if it matters I have lots of other shots in London and the home counties.
The Eiffel Tower? – il va san dire – je suis un fromage! Some are night shots – one’s from Montmartre – others are from all sorts of other peculiar locations, that just happened to appeal to me at the time.
And when you show the rest of the photos to friends etc on returning home, they look at you with a pained look on their faces and start asking questions like my brother did – “but where are your shots of the Eiffel Tower?”
Your suggestions hold a great deal of appeal, to me, Jason. Someone said to me a while back that nobody takes photos where they live – which I treated as a challenge, and promptly start taking photos where I live. I’m very grateful – I’ve learned a great deal from it – dozens of shots of exactly the same scene, taken at different times, or under different lighting conditions – what the cameras makes of those differences is quite extraordinary! And the knowledge gained is transferrable – I can use it while I am taking travel photographs.
My apologies for the length of this – it’s a subject very dear to my heart.

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