Six top tips for taking exceptional travel photos

One of the biggest challenges for the keen travel photographer is to try to come home with a set of pictures that capture a unique vision of your journey.

It’s true the traveller encounters many scenes that require little or no thought. The camera virtually takes over and shoots the irresistible. This is especially the case when we visit famous landmarks. No matter how many pictures we’ve all seen of the Eiffel Tower, Mt Fuji or the Taj Mahal, your camera will demand another one.

The challenge is to go beyond that. Make it your mission to create your own set of photographs that evoke a portrayal of place. At the same time, infuse them with a sense of your own personal experiences and feelings. 

To achieve this, travel photographers should learn how to look out for less-obvious scenes, sights and subjects.

Producing thoughtful images that only you have conceived is a most satisfying way to record and share your travel experiences and to build a portfolio of appealing photography.

Here are my tips for capturing something different:

1. Engage with strangers. 

For example, if you’re in an antique shop or a pub or similar venue, after a chat with a local, ask if you can take their picture. That’s how I photographed a shopkeeper in Kilkenny, Ireland, and a boat shed foreman in Oamaru, New Zealand.

2. Include a unique element in your composition. 

Combine a well-known landmark with another component to vary your picture from the predictable. Two of my featured examples are shooting the Statue of Liberty through the rigging of a sailing clipper or the inclusion of local Aboriginal climbers enjoying the environs of Uluru.

3. Break away from your mainstream tourist itinerary or travel companions. 

This may mean getting up early to shoot at sunrise or exploring lesser-known quarters of a city. I stumbled on a night market in Hong Kong because we had some down time and in Toulouse, France, I took my camera with me every morning when I was buying a baguette in the back streets, finding locals chatting on a corner.

4. Tune your eye to unusual objects. 

I spotted a bunch of old bicycles assembled for a film shoot in the main street of Ballarat one evening and a row of grain bins aglow in the dawn light at Albany port.

5. Find a different vantage point. 

Lots of otherwise familiar subjects can take on a unique perspective if you can photograph them from a strikingly different angle, viewpoint or height. For instance, a termite mound in Kakadu National Park (pictured at top) looks more potent when shot from ground level and a moon rise at sea is enhanced by including some of the cruise ship’s infrastructure.

6. Home in on detail or a portion of the subject. 

Dublin’s Samuel Beckett Bridge and Trinity College Library become more aesthetically intriguing when only a section is included in frame.

Richard Goodwin is a journalist, editor and Walkley Award winner. He is secretary of the Western Australian Camera Club, which in 2017 achieved its centenary, and a member of the board of the WA Photographic Federation. He was a finalist in the 2013 National Photographic Portrait Prize, won the Subiaco Photographic Awards (Open) and has had work published in national and international magazines.