This blog was first published in July 2019. Updated September 2020
When I consider travel photography what comes to mind is the shiny photographs of fabulous landscapes in National Geographic magazines, the unique viewpoints of famous landmarks in amazing far flung locations or the perfectly composed candid images of people of various nationalities in celebration of their culture. It is quite far removed from the holiday snapshots I usually take when visiting a new place, even though there may be one or two nice backgrounds among them.
Even though the images might not be great, they still provide us with memories of places we have visited
Most serious travel photographers would not agree that strategically placing a person next to a famous landmark or in a beautiful scene constitutes travel photography. There is widespread agreement that this type of photography needs to capture images that reflect the culture in which they are set as well as local people in their natural environment. It is primarily about documenting a place, its people, environment, culture and traditions. If travel photography is to be part of my photography journey I have to think of ways to incorporate this genre into my craft within the constraints of my own personal circumstances. I am not likely to be able to travel extensively with professional camera gear in tow, so does that mean I can’t do travel photography? I would like to think not. To me, travel photography can start in my own country by visiting different parts of the country with the specific aim of making images. With photography in mind, every place can yield some potential for a decent image. What will be the difference between travel photography and holiday snapshots? A number of things. Composition will be important, so will remembering the techniques I have learned and applying them to my practice. Doing photography while travelling gives me an opportunity to put into practice the tips and techniques I have learned while in a variety of different settings and situations.
I took these images on Rosslare beach in Co. Wexford. Getting down low with my smartphone camera seemed to be a good position to capture these stakes, placed in the late sixties/early seventies to prevent coastal erosion. The stakes also create a leading line out to sea.
The image below is a candid photograph of a boy as he tried to fish from the rocks.
Travelling along the Wexford coast from Hook Lighthouse I came across this tiny spot which looked to have some potential in terms of photography so I felt it was worth stopping here. After chatting for a while to this local man who was cutting fish to feed the seagulls I did indeed manage to get some photographs that created a story.
In the same spot I was walking along the cliff when I met this group of canoeists returning from their adventure. I looked behind when they had passed and I like the shot that I managed to grab.
I took some other images in this location, a place that has no claim to fame but can still offer plenty of opportunities for photography.
Many images of the Irish coastline are produced by professional photographers and they can make the natural environment stand out as places of great beauty. Not having the equipment or know-how to do this I concentrated on a few photography techniques such as choosing the place I wanted to capture and then waiting for a person to walk into the frame or taking a well photographed landmark from a more unusual position.
The gallery below offers a few images, taken in different locations, as attempts at travel photography.
Does a beautiful scene always translate into a good image?
Most people visit an area to view the beautiful scenery and any well known landmarks associated with the place. It is true that we often look at a beautiful scene, beautiful landscape or beautiful subject and think, “that will make a wonderful photograph”. We take the picture and, sadly, it turns out to be nothing like we intended. So what do we do? How do we compensate for the fact that the camera can’t see as the eye does?
Photographer and photography trainer, Anthony Epes, has said that just because something is beautiful doesn’t mean it will necessarily translate into a beautiful image. When I heard this statement it struck a chord with me because I tend to confuse a photograph of a beautiful scene with what might be called a beautiful, or even a good, photograph. Usually when I come across a beautiful scene I want to take a photograph but the truth is that these scenes have been photographed so often by professional photographers that there is no way my images will compete. What I need to do is admire the scene but chose something less famous for my own photographs.
Photographs of famous landmarks or taken at famous viewpoints, taken as part of our travel, are often quick shots which as images are frequently disappointing. Often, the composition of these images leaves a lot to be desired - many times the exact subject is not defined and everything is vying for space in the frame, with nothing for the viewer to focus on. The amateur photographer might be better served by taking photographs of subjects that are not inherently beautiful but where the task of making the image has involved some intention and planning, some use of composition ‘rules’ and some degree of effort on the part of the photographer that will help us produce images that are photographs rather than snapshots.
Alternatively, we can try to get our own unique view of a beautiful scene, again, employing some photography 'techniques'.
Ben Bulben, Co. Sligo, is a well photographed landmark. I took this image from Drumcliffe Graveyard using the technique of natural framing. The foreground is in focus with the mountain providing a beautiful background
Travel photography is a photography style that has yielded amazing images from countless photographers all over the world, photographs that have been printed and re-printed, and many of which have become iconic. Most of us will never reach those dizzy heights with our photography but we can still travel and we can still take good photographs on those travels. All we need is to be true to our own unique view of the world around us and we will begin to produce our own unique images.
"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes". - Marcel Proust