Travel photography is a wonderful profession or hobby to be involved in. Being able to travel the world and take photos in exotic places can seem like the perfect job. But as any travel photographer will tell you, taking photos on your travels as a job is completely different from taking photos whilst on vacation. As a travel photographer, you have to sacrifice everything when you are away in search of the perfect shot. Often this involves tiredness, hunger, boredom and even time spent with loved ones if you’re travelling with them. So what does it actually take to be a travel photographer? Here are the skills that you need to be successful.
It’s no surprise that travel photographers just happen to be in the right place at the right time. Often this doesn’t happen by luck. A lot of planning and research has gone into any trip that a travel photographer goes on. The reality is that the majority of the time when you are travelling you won’t have enough time to photograph everything you want to. In addition to this, you will often have to make do with unforeseen circumstances. Bad weather, closures and even unexpected events can all happen. That is why it’s so vital that you plan as much of your shoot as possible in advance. This involves not only creating a shot list but also understanding the direction of the light, the sort of photos that already exist and even have a backup plan in case the weather is not great. As a travel photographer, you also have to be an expert planner.
Know how to photograph everything
Whilst it’s impossible to be an expert in every genre of photography, as a travel photographer you have to be able to photograph anything. This includes everything from landscapes, cityscapes, portraits, sport, food, close-ups and even occasionally wildlife. You have to be comfortable photographing in low light conditions as well as the midday sun. You have to know how to compose cityscapes as well as portraits. As mentioned above it’s impossible to be an expert in every single field but you need to know the basics of what it takes to capture images in any situation. The reason being that every destination is different and every shoot will be different also.
Hit the ground running
One of the biggest limitations you have as a travel photographer is the amount of time you will have at a destination. It is never long enough. So one of the key skills you need is to be able to start the moment you arrive at your destination. For Example, if your flight lands in the morning you need to be photographing the moment you get to your hotel and get your camera equipment out. You won’t have time for culture shock or jetlag. Some people are naturally more comfortable at adapting to new places. If you struggle with this sort of thing the only way to improve is to practice. The more you do it and the more places that you experience the more confidence you will have to be able to cope with new environments.
Strong visual analysis
There is a photography term known as previsualization. It is the concept of being able to see a photo in your mind before actually taking the picture. This is one of the key skills that set apart good travel photographers from ordinary tourists taking photos on their vacations. Being able to look at the scene and analyse it in your mind and put together the composition is usually what will give you those amazing photos. For example, you may get to a scene and think that it would look better with a person or a cyclist in your foreground. Or it could be that you imagine how the photo would sit on a double-page spread so you leave enough room for a headline to be written. The key to being able to do this well is to practice. The more you get into the habit of being able to do this previsualization in your mind before taking a photo, the quicker and more efficient you will become at it.
The vast majority of the time you have to be patient and wait for the perfect opportunity to capture the photos that you want. But there are also occasions that you need to work fast. It might be because there is a fleeting moment in front of you that you only have one chance at capturing. Take too long and you won’t get another chance to capture that photo. This, of course, involves knowing your camera inside out. You also need to have a good understanding of the technical elements of photography such as the exposure triangle and composition. But the real challenge is being able to do all of that in a split second. Again like most things in photography you will improve with practice.
As a travel photographer, you have to immerse yourself in the destination that you are visiting. It’s culture, it’s people and even it’s food are all vital components that make the destination unique. So you need to be able to get out there and be confident enough to approach people to take their photos. But you also need to have confidence in your own ability to be able to capture photos in a foreign country. This often means putting yourself beyond your comfort zone. But if you can do it, you will end up with fantastic photos.
Enjoy your own company
Travel photography is a lonely profession. The best way to capture the photos that you want to take is to travel alone. One of the things that I learned very early in my career was how difficult it is to be able to have a successful shoot whilst you have family or friends around. After all, no one likes to hang around for hours on end to wait for you to take a photo at the perfect time. Inevitably travelling on your own means you have a lot of time for yourself. So you have to be able to enjoy your own company but also be comfortable enough to be able to go to places to capture the photos that you want to take.
Commit to the photo
It often astonishes me when I see photographers turn up to a location take a photo and leave faster than it has taken me to even set up my tripod. Every time you decide to take a photo you should be making a commitment to making that photo the best it can be. That means taking your time analysing the scene and visualising it in your mind. Then once you have taken the first shot, be willing to critique it and look at how you can improve on it. Don’t ever settle for your first photo. Make it the best it can be.
I always find it funny when I get to a location out in the wilderness when the weather isn’t great and I see a load of photographers all set up and waiting. They are of course waiting for that off chance that the weather might just change and give them something special. Being a travel photographer also means being optimistic. Because I have lost count of the number of times that I thought a shoot wouldn’t happen only to be surprised by the most amazing sunset or light I have ever seen. There are of course times when it doesn’t happen and you are left frustrated. It’s in those times that you need to be able to lift yourself to try again tomorrow. Because after all you never know what opportunities will present themselves.
An insatiable wanderlust
It might seem obvious to say but to be a travel photographer you need to love to travel. But whilst most people enjoy going on vacation not everyone loves to travel. For travel photographers, it is often more than that. It is an insatiable appetite to be able to see the world and capture it in photos. There won’t be time for sunbathing by the pool or spending an afternoon in a bar, as a travel photographer all your thoughts are on where and how to capture the next amazing photo.
Know how to edit
There is no way around it. If you want your photos to look the best that they can do, you have to be willing to edit them. Whether it’s subtle changes or more extensive ones, editing your photos in a post-processing software will make them look better. So, without a doubt, one of the key skills of a travel photographer is being able to use post-processing software.
Travel photography is often a lonely, tiring and high pressured profession. It is also one of the most exciting and rewarding. But to be a great travel photographer takes time, discipline and hard work. So ask yourself if you have the skills above to be a travel photographer? Don’t worry if you don’t because like anything in photography, the more you practice the more you can develop those skills.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission. Dreamstime.