7 ways to improve your ‘staycation’ photography

Usually, this type of post would be termed ‘ways to improve your travel photography’. Unfortunately, with the current global pandemic, travelling abroad for photography is not an option for most people so it looks as though close-to-home photography or staycation photography has taken over from the concept of travel photography, at least for the immediate future.

During this Covid-19 crisis tourism has stopped in many popular destinations, city streets are relatively quiet, festivals and cultural events have been cancelled and international travel is being discouraged. In most countries people are being urged to travel and holiday at home, in other words to have a ‘staycation’.

The photographer’s dilemma

For a photographer whose work primarily involves travel, which includes landscape and wildlife photographers as well as travel photographers, the global pandemic has brought the dilemma of where and what to photograph. Gone are the opportunities to head off for months of travel to capture the best images the world has to offer. Not only that, but many of the world’s cultural and sporting events, which brought great opportunities for photography, had to be abandoned this year. With so few opportunities for photographers to travel outside their own country, many professional photographers are turning to new projects nearer home. Instead of having documentary films shot in the world’s more exotic places, or iconic photographs from the world’s most sought after locations, film crews and photographers are locating to various corners of their own country to showcase the main features and highlights on offer in their near environment.

Some have even found neglected areas of great beauty: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2020/10/america-long-neglected-hiking-trails-are-more-popular-than-ever-but-they-are-struggling-feature/.

Some photographers have taken a new direction:


Award-winning wildlife photographer, Matthew Maran, normally takes photographs in numerous locations all around the world. His most recent work has focussed on life in Hampstead Heath, near to his home, and he has become fascinated with urban wildlife. Recently, he has almost exclusively photographed foxes. This type of close-to-home photography could become the main feature of the work of many photographers whose work normally takes them around the globe. It is challenging but photographers like Matthew Maran demonstrate what can be done despite the constraints.

For the amateur photographer too, who simply wants to capture images of a different culture while on holiday in a new destination, gone are the opportunities to engage in this type of travel photography. Even in normal times, while it would be great to be able to travel the world and photograph the iconic landmarks, for most of us that will never be possible. Add to that the current global pandemic situation and we have lots of reasons to turn to close-to-home photography. Getting involved in photography near to where we live gives us the opportunity to treat our own country as though it is an exotic photography location and to explore our local area, our wider environment and indeed our country, through our camera lens.

One of my own recent achievements was to climb the Cuilcagh Mountain Boardwalk Trail, nicknamed the Stairway to Heaven Walk. Cuilcagh is Ireland's only cross-border mountain top, spanning counties Fermanagh and Cavan. The route to the summit takes you over bogland, mountain tracks, a boardwalk and a steep staircase to the viewing platform which opens out to breath-taking views over the surrounding countryside.

I didn't want to carry a camera on this strenuous hike, but I managed to capture a few scenes with my phone camera

Ways to improve your staycation photography

Taking the current climate into consideration, and the subsequent need to engage in photography close to home, here are some tips that will help us improve our close-to-home or staycation photography.

#1 Showcase your own area

No-one knows a local area better than a local, so get out and about in your own local area and take photographs, as you would on holiday. Be a ‘tourist in your own town’ with your camera at hand to capture what you see. If you are a city dweller, you will know the different areas of interest in your city, places where people might not always go but which offer many photography opportunities. Local parks or city parks will always be good for a photograph, as will woodland areas. Cities and towns will also be perfect locations for a spot of people watching, and capturing some of those interesting candid moments that happen on the streets will be a bonus.

If you live near a coastal area there will be ample opportunities to make some images - of people by the sea, coastal landscapes such as rock formations or vegetation, sunrises and sunsets over the sea, silhouette images when the light is right, or even seascape photography by getting close up to or into the sea to capture the action of the waves.

This is an image from Sandymount beach, Co. Dublin, looking towards the nature reserve

This is a much photographed image of the Poolbeg chimneys, which are an iconic landmark on Dublin's skyline. The chimneys are a relic of the recent industrial past and despite the fact that they are no longer in use they have been saved from demolition due to their cultural significance. On entering the country into Dublin by plane they are the first structures you see and they're the last that you see when you fly out. In that sense, they have significance for Irish people, because they are a symbol of either leaving the country or coming home.

This image was taken in Bray, Co.Wicklow, at sunset

I am lucky enough to live near the coast, so I can regularly make a trip to explore what the coastal area has to offer. My local parks and river walks also provide ample photography opportunities.

River Dodder, Dublin

#2 Moving further afield

If you don’t live near the coast, it is probable that a staycation will involve some travel to a coastal area of your own country. It could be that you prefer hiking in the mountains – take some photographs to document your hikes! Maybe you will take a river cruise, stopping off regularly at different locations. Taking time in an isolated spot, close to nature, might be your idea of the perfect holiday, but that place will still yield some great images. Staycationing is an opportunity to get to know parts of your country that you normally don’t get to visit, so treat them like a foreign country and capture their secrets on camera.

One of my favourite counties to visit in Ireland is Sligo. It has something for everyone; history, culture, a beautiful coastline and great places to eat. Mullaghmore is a picturesque seaside village, situated 25 km form Sligo town, which is renowned for its big wave surfing. It is a perfect spot to spend a relaxing staycation, with beach and cliff walks and bracing sea air. Most images of the village show the busy harbour area (above) but I spent some time finding some different angles from which to show off this beautiful coastal village and surrounding area

#3 Take a different view

Seeing the sights of your own country that tourists normally come to see might not appeal to you as a photographer. You probably see these as well photographed places whose images adorn all the postcards outside souvenir shops. But why not take a different view, photograph these places and landmarks from a different angle or unusual perspective?

In Drumcliffe Churchyard, the location of W.B Yeats' grave, I took a symmetrical image of the church door...

...and a view of Ben Bulben form the church grounds

Hook lighthouse, Co. Wexford

Alternatively, find some out of the way spots which are off the beaten track and see what image-worthy subjects you can find.

I love this secluded spot in Co. Leitrim which has provided me with lots of photography opportunities in all seasons and at all times of day

Images: Mohill - Cloonboniagh North, Co.Leitrim, Ireland

We can also use the weather to our advantage. I like these images taken on a misty morning just before the sun broke through.

#4 Capture everyday moments

Life in every country goes on as normal for most people while others are on holiday, so watch how the local people live in the location you are visiting. Capture people at work, doing what they always do. I love this aspect of travelling, no matter which country I am in. I love to see how the locals live, what they do, what life is like for them. It is usually very different than for those who stay in hotels and visit the best places. So, blend in, talk to locals, and get some candid shots that record the real place rather than the tourist place.

These are all images that depict everyday life. I like to find these whenever I can

#5 Look for beauty in the mundane

Photography is not all about photographing fabulous locations and landscapes. A simple image can have just as much meaning because it reflects a part of life. Some objects prompt us to think of the human life around them. We might ask, who left the object there and where are they now? What is or was their life like? These questions build the story that our photograph shows.

I love to find images that get me thinking about the human story behind the object

#6 Tell a story

This can be an important part of documenting aspects of our own locality. We see the people in their own environment, we know their struggles in life, we know their story. Sometimes an image can stand on its own and tell its story, but sometimes by talking about our images, telling the viewer why we chose to take this particular image and how it speaks to us, we can add to the story that the image tells. By explaining our thought process behind our image we can also engage more fully with our viewer.

This image stands on its own and it allows the viewer to imagine the story

This provides the context for the first image. This local man collects fish that are discarded by the fishermen and cuts them up to feed the gulls. He allowed me to take his photograph and I watched him finish the task and go off with his bucketful of fish

(Hook Peninsula, Co. Wexford, Ireland)

#7 Make notes

When I travel abroad I always make notes about the places I visit, when I visited and something that will be a reminder of my time there. This can be done with our staycation photos too. I can say when and where I took the image, and also a note about why I took the image, what I was thinking when I took the image, why I photographed it in this particular way, and so on.

I was drawn to the sky in this scene as well as the reflection in the water

Mohill - Cloonboniagh North, Co.Leitrim, Ireland

People travel for all kinds of reasons – to satisfy their sense of adventure, to experience different lifestyles and cultures or just to enjoy a leisurely sunshine holiday. These are the things that we must compromise at the moment, but we can make some changes to ensure that we have an alternative to travel photography. So, pack your camera, a lens or two and a spare battery and head for your favourite local spot to make some photographs. Who knows, you might come home with that gem you’ve been waiting for!

Further reading

Book: The Skelligs: Islands on the Edge of the World. This is the third book by Cork based photographer Peter Cox, who claims that, despite having photographed 'most of the world's most stunning landscapes', nothing can match 'the drama and grandeur of the Skelligs in Kerry.' He says, “I’ve travelled all over the world, I’ve photographed in Greenland, Antarctica, Iceland. The Skelligs is probably my favourite place to photograph — it is a place that is very special to me personally, but also photographically." Read more here

A great recommendation for close-to-home photography!

You might also be interested in my recently updated blog post https://www.wildwillowways.com/post/travel-photography-without-too-much-travel

“Some people look for a beautiful place. Others make a place beautiful.” – Hazrat Inayat Khan

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