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According to a 2017 study, an estimated 1.2 trillion digital photos were taken in 2017. That works out to about 160 photos per year for every person on the planet today. With the advent of smartphones, and the improvement of smartphone cameras, it’s becoming even easier to snap a selfie or to take a memorable shot of a landscape. In fact, it’s estimated that 85% of the photos taken in 2017 were taken with a smartphone. The good news is that you don’t have to have a fancy digital camera to take great photos. The bad news is that it probably would have been better for some of those photos to have never been taken. You may find yourself whether you really need to take “that travel photo” on your vacations…I know I sure have asked that.
Answering the question “Why take travel photos?” is at least as important as answering “Why not take travel photos?” In this article we’ll give you some good tips on answering both.
In 2016 my wife and I visited Tanzania for our 25th anniversary. I took lots and lots of photos to record the wildlife and scenery we saw. I took approximately 3,000 photos over a nine-day trip – far more than I knew I’d actually publish to my site. I ended up picking 200 of my favorites and posted them online. When I look back at those 200 photos now, I can recall the location and the conditions very vividly.
The photo on the left shows one of two cheetahs we encountered within minutes of them making a kill. I remember how hot and how still the air was that day. I remember watching the cheetahs breathing heavy – doubtless trying to recover their wind after the sprint to chase down their kill. And I remember how amazed my wife was at the scene that unfolded in front of us.
Photography is an international language. If you’re in a foreign country – especially if you’re in a developing nation – it can help you better bond with the people who live there. I’ve had the experience multiple times of taking people’s photos and then showing them what the camera recorded. Invariably, these people break out in a smile…some are seeing what they actually look like for the first time in their lives. This also works really well with children. Kids always seem to love seeing themselves in a photo, regardless of their age.
I met this little boy while on a tour of a children’s home and school in Nairobi, Kenya. He didn’t speak English, but that didn’t stop him from approaching our group. Pretty much every child at the school wanted to have their photo taken – either by themselves or with us. I took this photo and showed it to him…his face absolutely lit up with delight. Throughout the remainder of our trip he’d always give me a smile and a wave or a hug anytime I saw him. Of course, I took (and shared) several more photos of him, just because he enjoyed it so much. This is one of my best memories of the trip.
If you are going to take a photo of someone, make sure you have their permission first – the easiest way is to point the camera in their general direction (but not directly at them), point to the lens, and then point to the person. If you get a smile or a head nod, take the shot – and then show it to them. Be especially careful when taking photos of children, and make sure you have the consent of the parents first. Show the photos to both the kids and the parents, and their faces will light up with smiles.
Back in the days of film camera, my dad always shot slide film and we’d have big slide watching parties after we got home from a vacation. This was in the pre-Internet days, so just about every destination we went to seemed exotic and strange, and our family friends always wanted to see where we’d been and wanted to hear the stories.
Nowadays it’s not that much different. The technology has changed, but our friends (whether we know them from real life or social media) are still interested in our photos. Rather than seeing 75-100 slides all at once, you might grab their attention with three or four good shots on Facebook or Instagram.
Regardless of how you do it – sharing your photos invites people to be inspired by the places you’ve visited. It also offers them a deeper conversation with you about your destination.
I’ll admit that I can become somewhat photo obsessed while traveling. My wife’s very wise advice to me is “don’t live your trip through the lens.” She’s reminding me of some of the importance of knowing the answer to “Why not take travel photos?” She’s als patiently encouraging me to put the camera down and to take in the beauty in front of me. There are all kinds of sounds, smells and textures that the camera can’t record. Sometimes you just need to step back and say “Wow, this is the most beautiful place I think I’ve ever seen.” If you’re planning for the perfect shot or waiting for just the right angle, you might miss those special moments right in front of you.
Ideally, your travels should be made up of equal parts living in the moment and capturing beautiful images. I spent a week trekking through The Badlands, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. I planned the trip with photography in mind, but also made time to just enjoy the scenery. You should consider doing the same.
Psychological scientist Linda Henkel released a study in 2014 showing the effects of photography on memory. Her hypothesis was that capturing life events with a camera could affect one’s recall of the event itself and of specific details of the event. She concluded that
“…when people rely on technology to remember for them — counting on the camera to record the event and thus not needing to attend to it fully themselves — it can have a negative impact on how well they remember their experiences…”
Think of how often you see people pulling out their smartphones or cameras to shoot something interesting in front of them: are they really remembering the event? Are they going back through their photos to recall the event and the good memories associated with it, or are the images just gathering some digital dust on a hard drive somewhere?
Truly amazing travel photography takes work and planning. You have to research and scout out your location. Sometimes you have to wait for the right weather or the right lighting. Great photos can involve a lot of walking, climbing or hiking to get to the right spot. You will most likely not be the only photographer on the scene, which means you might have to wait your turn. And the list of issues and challenges continues.
Consider this photograph of Neuschwanstein Castle – arguably one of the most recognizable castles in the world. Now consider what a photographer has to go through in order to get this shot. The castle is 45 minutes outside of Munich by train or car. Once you get to the town where it’s located, you’ll have a 30-45 minute hike to get to the exact spot from which this image was taken. The path to get there isn’t paved and isn’t handicapped-accessible. All of this means that to get a good sunrise shot of this location, you’d have to leave Munich between 3:30-4:00AM to get set up.
Only you can decide if doing photography while traveling is the right for you. If you’re traveling with others, make sure to strike a balance: take some time for yourself and for photography, and then be fully present with your travel companions when you’re with them. Even if you’re traveling solo and are on a trip that’s specifically planned around photography, you should consider putting the camera down once in a while. Don’t forget that regardless of how fancy your photography equipment is, your eyes still take the best photos ever.