Almost everywhere you look today; you will see virtual treasure troves of people’s travel snapshots. It is safe to say that travel photography is quite a popular niche in today’s travel industry, but this wasn’t always the case. Before the high-powered smartphone cameras, expensive modern DSLR photography equipment, photo-editing software, and photo-sharing platforms travel photography wasn’t a thing. As the world moves forward at a dizzying pace where travel and photography firmly carve a niche in our daily lives, it’s worth taking a quick look at how this all started to appreciate how far it has come.
The early days of photography
During the early days of photography, taking and developing photos wasn’t necessarily seen as an art-form but more of a technical innovation given the hoops that travel photographers had to go through to take a picture. It was such a massive effort to take these photos, and you can see for yourself that the quality of said photos wasn’t the best.
They worked with what they had, and that’s what mattered at that time unless you like looking at photos of un-smiling people with no thought to angles or lighting whatsoever.
In its early days, photography was used as a way to capture portraits and memories, and considering how cumbersome the equipment was, there was no way to bring it around during times of travel, so no actual travel photos were taken.
As with anything that was invented, people sought to make improvements, and as people began to see the real potential for photography, leaps and bounds were made to make it easier to bring around and use.
One of the pioneers of travel photography was John Thompson. A Scottish photographer who was one of the first to travel to the Far East. His images of the people, landscapes and historic sites captivated people upon his return home. It was also his images which were the first instance of social documentary photography which would later form what we regard as photojournalism.
The early tourism boom
As photography technology developed and blossomed, so did the tourism industry, but at this time, only the rich could afford the prices travel commanded. Then more efficient modes of travel were invented, and it became accessible to a broader range of consumers. So much so that one didn’t have to be filthy rich to see the world anymore. As more and more people traversed the world, this created a demand for a better way to chronicle their travels when mere words weren’t enough to capture the splendour of faraway places.
Tourism and photography
It’s hard to say which one spurred the growth for the other, but it is safe to say they each had a hand in the popularity of the other. As more and more travelled, this created a demand for photographs of people’s travels, and as people were shown images of exotic locations in far off lands, their wanderlust was stoked; there was never a more perfect pair.
While speaking of perfect pairs, one of the very first photography expeditions was undertaken by a couple of Frenchmen called Maxime du Camp and Gustave Flaubert. These two travelled to North Africa, and the Middle East, wherein the photographs they took gained them instant notoriety when they returned home.
Notable early Cameras and their creators
Where there are photos, there are cameras. In 1839, Louis Jacques Daguerre created the daguerreotype, which was a type of photographic process that made travelling and taking images a more feasible method. That invention allowed early travel photographers to bring their travel photography equipment with them but had the downside of long exposure times and a lack of negatives, which made it less attractive to commercial travel photographers. After all, no negatives meant they couldn’t reproduce prints for commercial distribution.
Then, the real breakthrough happened in 1888 when a certain someone named George Eastman invented the very first point-and-shoot camera. Photography enthusiasts will be familiar with him, but to those who may not know, George Eastman founded Kodak and wanted to bring photography to the world and make a profit. Selling and developing films was a big money-maker for Kodak.
The very first point and shoot didn’t quite have the features that the cameras today have, far from it even. But what photography lacked in quality, it more than made up for in portability and made photography more accessible to budding photographers.
These point-and-shoot cameras proved immensely popular. One of the most popular models was the Kodak Brownie, which had no aperture control, no focusing functions, and had a fixed shutter speed. It was little more than a box wrapped in leather for added grip.
It sounds insignificant to the cameras we have today but make no mistake, the Kodak Brownie brought photography to the world because it was cheap. It was easy to use with illustrations explicitly created to cater to a young audience.
Travel safaris and photography
You have no doubt seen old-time photos of people on Safaris, and chances are some of those were taken by a Kodak Brownie or another make of camera, but the point is, people then loved taking their cameras to safaris. Documenting their travels through the African jungles and savannahs has provided modern-day photography enthusiasts with a myriad of exotic landscape and animal photos that are equal parts beautiful and disturbing.
Old black and white photos of hunters with big cats and dead elephants are shocking to look at these days but were one of the reasons behind photography becoming a way of documenting a holiday.
Modern Travel Photography
These days, travel and photography no doubt go hand in hand with people being able to access super-powered and feature-packed cameras and smartphones that can edit photos and connect to the internet to publish photos in an instant. Where plane tickets can be scored for pennies, if you are savvy enough to hunt down all the best deals, it is easy to forget how far the world has come since the days where cameras had to be stationary. No negatives were produced. The first point-and-shoot was a box that needed the perfect conditions to take good photos.
It is fascinating to see where travel photography will go next and what wonders it will continue to show the world as it too evolves and changes. But there’s no doubt about it, with technology advancing and cameras become more powerful, cheaper and accessible, the boom in travel photography may go on for a while longer.