7 Unusual Travel Photography Tips

7 Unusual Travel Photography Tips

You might have seen countless articles and videos about travel photography tips. Most of them touch on more or less the same stuff, which is either fairly obvious or pretty banal. Who needs tips nowadays like know your camera, research your location or bring your tripod? That stuff is obvious and not going to touch anyone.

This article is about 7 unusual travel photography tips that you might not commonly heard. These tips come from years of my own experiences. I always try to create photos that are different from the masses of images out there. I wouldd say that the knowledge I have accumulated through my work has definitely helped. And, I think that these seven unusual tips will help you too.

Tip #1: Allow yourself to be naive

This tip applies in particular to people photography. Sometimes it is best to forget your knowledge and supposed wisdom. So many things can put you off and prevent you from even taking the camera out of your bag.

Sometimes it makes practical sense to get into a pure innocent childlike or naive state of mind. A large part of my early work focused on people was made purely because I had this kind of approach. I was genuinely fascinated by whoever I photographed and by what they did. I wanted to capture it all in a respectful manner, regardless of what was happening in my lens. So, in my mind perhaps naively I thought that there was no reason why anyone would not be photographed by me.

I am genuinely fascinated by whoever I photograph and by what they do.

Some of my naivety was killed after traveling to countries like Morocco, Mozambique and Belarus. The people there are less friendly to people photography, but I have learned that even there unless you are absolutely certain of a negative result which is rare it helps to be naive.

I am sure that you have done some things in your life naively, without prior knowledge and without thinking too much. And then, after you had a chance to reflect you thought ‘How did I do that?’ You might have even thought I know better than to do that now, but it is not better because you would not have had the image.

Naivety can be a very useful state of mind to get things done. Of course, if it is a dangerous kind of place then it is common sense that you do not try any of this stuff.

Tip #2: The main event is often not the main thing (photographically)

The main event is what everybody expects to be the spectacle. Think about the fireworks at Disneyland, a camel race in Dubai or a procession commemorating a saint in Sicily.

All that stuff may be interesting and spectacular, but the stuff around it is far more interesting from a photographic standpoint.

I suggest that you always look for what is interesting around the main event. This idea can be extended to almost any event, gathering or spectacle.

Here is an example: A few years ago I visited Hiroshima with friends. There was a big commemoration ceremony for the dropping of the atomic bomb. Most of the amateur and press photographers present took pictures of the lantern ceremony on the river. I found a little Japanese boy in the background who was praying in front of a group of lanterns.

I found this Japanese boy in front of a group of lanterns somewhere behind the main event.

By shooting around the event you end up with outstanding and more interesting images and there might be more photographic opportunities and sometimes more freedom for unusual travel photography.

Tip #3: There will not be a next time

This is one of the most important tips for travel photographers. Out of all the tips that I mentioned I feel that this is the one I need to follow much more myself to really indoctrinate myself with the idea that I must take advantage of my photographic opportunities because there is no next time.

Peter Boyles, a student at my Wildlife Photography School took his chance and took this picture in Kruger National Park, South Africa.
Peter Boyles, a student at my Wildlife Photography School took his chance and took this picture in Kruger National Park, South Africa.

I guess I am spoiled by photographic opportunities. I come across so many interesting scenes and fascinating characters all the time. Opportunities just keep presenting themselves, so it has become easy to make excuses, not to make that picture, to say next time because I am not in the right frame of mind. I have to rush to be somewhere and sometimes there may be a next time.

Landscapes and buildings are not running away, but the light changes and things do not come together all the time. The thing is, even if you do not get that amazing photo you will often walk away with a pleasant memory, sometimes even a valuable life lesson.

Tip #4: When the weather is bad grab your camera

Usually, when we think about travel photography we do not imagine dark cloudy skies, grey wet scenes, sudden snowfall or a really thick fog that envelopes the entire landscape. When we think about rain and bad weather we generally do not think about photography. We want our gear kept somewhere safe and dry, but conditions like these can create some great visual drama and travel photos which are far better than the obvious beach stuff.

wolves high tatras
Wolves at High Tatras National Park, Slovakia

Images made during bad weather show a sight of life and travel which is not represented anywhere nearly as often as scenes made during beautiful sunsets and sunrises, part of it is because there are technical limitations.

Most cameras are not waterproof. I have one which is water resistant, but even so I cannot just walk around with it for hours under heavy rain regardless of the limitations.

I always find ways and I make a point of shooting as much as I can in these situations. I try to take advantage of them rather than avoid them and I think that you should too.

The resulting photos can be quite evocative, even poetic sometimes and they will be outstanding because not many people shoot in this kind of situations.

Tip #5: Embrace the ugliness

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder of course, so this tip is about shooting what you consider ugly or perhaps what you would not normally shoot.

When I started out it was all about beautiful places, photogenic characters, beaches with perfect white sand and similar imagery. To be honest, I still prefer to be around the most photogenic beaches in the Caribbean and other sort of stuff which I consider beautiful, but I will tell you why I think it is worth getting out of your comfort zone and trying to create something new.

One subject matter I consider incredibly ugly is mud. I would have never considered photographing this sort of stuff in the beginning of my career as a travel photographer. Over my recent travels I have seen a lot of mud in it´ s ugliest stages and I have tried to find something weird or interesting in it.

One subject matter I consider incredibly ugly is mud. I would have never considered photographing this sort of stuff in the beginning of my career as a travel photographer.

I have extended the challenge to other subject matter that I would never call beautiful. Sometimes the ugliness tells more of a story than the beauty and it can be more gripping and thought-provoking.

By embracing and photographing what you would consider ugly or what you would not usually shoot you are expanding your creative horizons. You are adding variety to your work and you are also likely showing a different side of the places that you visit. In our world which is full of clichés this can be incredibly fascinating.

Tipp #6: Be sceptical about local advice on places to go to

This might seem counterintuitive but we are talking about unusual travel photography tips here.

First thing though, if it is a famous place that a local recommends to you this tip does not apply obviously. You are probably there to visit it anyway also if you are asking something specific then that is different.

This tip is more about those cases when the enthusiastic local feels compelled to tell you that you have to see our church, a nearby lake or the view of his village from the mountain top. I am sure that you have all had those cases and it is very tempting to follow the local advice.

What I mean when I say be sceptical is do not rush to follow their advice. Google the place and look for photographic opportunities. If you do not find anything interesting skip the local advice.

bodie ghost town California
When it comes to advice on places of photographic interest you have to be sceptical

I often have changed plans to follow local advice and it has very rarely been worth it. Locals always try to recommend what they think is beautiful and what they are proud of. Their places hold special values to them and they might not have traveled much, so they have nothing to compare to. They have no idea what you are in to.

Locals might know best about many things, but after following their advice almost religiously I have come to the conclusion that when it comes to advice on places of photographic interest you have to be sceptical.

Tip #7: Aim to have the action on your doorstep

What do I mean by action? Well, it is whatever you came to photograph. Maybe you came to shoot streetlife in the city, wild animals or the local fish market. Whatever it is you want to be close to where things are happening, even if it means that you are paying more or your room is not as good as a place further away. It is worth it. You do not have to rush, you do not have to wake up early and you do not have to worry about taking a crappy road at night. You can photograph really intensely, exhaust yourself then rest in your room and do it all again.

The best places to go kitesurfing in Spain can be found mainly on the Atlantic coast in Andalusia.

Staying even a bus ride or a taxi drive from the action can change the dynamics a lot. There are countless times that I had never bothered going out again because I did not want to spend money again for the bus or a taxi. I remember not wanting to shoot in the mornings because I needed to wake up way too early to get to where I wanted to be. I am sure that many of you can relate.

I have taken this idea of action on my doorstep even further. I often drive by car and have modified it, so I can sleep in it. I remember talking to other photographers in Slovenia. We had all come to a lake to photograph a misty mood just before sunrise. Because I was the first one there, someone asked me when I got up. I said “15 minutes ago” and pointed to my car that I had parked nearby. All the others had to crawl out of bed much earlier because they had to travel one hour and more. In another case I wanted to photograph ancient ruins at night and to go sleep after, without searching for a hotel somewhere.

You do not need a modified car of course. You can camp or stay at a village. It is just about finding your way to be right there where the action is.

I hope you got something out of these seven unusual travel photography tips. I have shared my ideas because I know if you implement them they will help you create photos that will make you stand out of the crowd and if you ask me that is usually a good thing or at least the beginning of something good.

If you need more in-depth advice, take a look at our Travel Photography Masterclass. It gives you a behind the scenes look at how we run our successful travel photography business. You will get the nuts and bolts of how your camera works, many advanced photography techniques like time-lapse, FREE tech support, cheatsheets, useful help and much more. Click here to get started now.


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Markus Hermannsdorfer

Markus Hermannsdorfer is a professional travel photographer, working as a photographer for the hotel and tourism industry since 2013.

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