Travel Photography Tip #1: Take pictures of the stories you want to tell

OK, here goes – the first of the Travel Photography Tips! Some of these may seem overly simple or obvious, but I’ve included them because, from past experience, they are things that everyone (including me) needs to be reminded of now and then.

This first tip definitely falls into this category – it’s simple but fundamental, and worth remembering!

Travel Photography Tip #1: Take pictures of the stories you want to tell

I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has been showing me pictures from a recent holiday, and, after passing me a nice picture of a Iconic Location / Famous Statue / Magnificent Vista, immediately launches into a story about the great little bar just around the corner from the Iconic Location, or the way the stray cats at the Famous Statue would wind around their ankles, or how they got completely lost looking for the train station on the way to said Magnificent Vista and ended up squashed between two grandmothers carrying geese on the local bus.  Unfortunately, their travel photos don’t show any of this.

Picture of giant lemons in Sorrento, Italy

As soon as I saw them, I knew I needed to tell everyone about the Giant Lemons.

It’s easy to get seduced into in the mindset that great travel photography is about taking great pictures of Iconic Locations (etc), but for most people, the most important purpose of travel photography is to capture your memories of a place, and to show to friends and family back home (accompanied by many long and winding tales of your adventures, of course!).

From that perspective, the key to great travel photography is taking pictures of the things you want to remember and share – and that’s not just the postcard locations, but the wonderful place where you had dinner, and the giant lemons in the street stalls, or the time when the roof of your hotel room collapsed onto your bed.

Take pictures of these as well, and your overall experience of travel photography will be much richer. Not only will you have pictures that capture the iconic side of your destination, but you will have pictures that show your experience of your destination, which is much more compelling viewing, both for your friends and family and your future self.

So as you go about your holiday, when you find yourself looking forward to telling someone at home what you just experienced, consider taking a picture that captures what you want to share. When it comes time to share your adventures, your loved ones at home will thank you for it, as will the future you.

44 thoughts on “Travel Photography Tip #1: Take pictures of the stories you want to tell

  1. The roof of your hotel room collapsed on your bed??

    Thank you for this sound advice, I like to think it was fueled by exceptional curry and cupcakes. (Or at least the thought of them, since dinner didn’t come around until 9:30pm.)

    • Nope, that one happened to a friend from work – luckily she wasn’t in the bed at the time! And, as an illustration of my point, since she took a picture, I saw it when I was looking through through her holiday shots, which started off a great long discussion about her experiences on her holiday 🙂

      This post was definitely fueled by curry and cupcakes!

  2. Great and also unselfish to share the sound advice.
    I have some opinions about travel pics of the show and tell kind. I will quickly share them and you can make with it, just what you want.
    1) Many people don’t respond well to show and tell. The more the pics, the worse the response up to the point of being plain rude. For this reason I don’t go a lot into show and tell. Even on my blog, I try to group / categorise them and show it as such. The reason I add some comment to mt pics, is because viewers ask a lot of questions. Anyhow, of the 850 Namibia pics – you probably will see about 20, as an example. I remember my daughter in tears, after we came back from travelling abroad – her friends don’t want to listen to her adventures.
    2) I found that themes work better. I can talk music encounters abroad with my local music shop man. He loves to hear that, but others are not really interested.
    3) At home I have a big room for entertainment. Parts of the walls are covered by my pictures. Those interested will take a look and ask me – what is this, where was this taken, etc. Some people not interested at all, others can spend quite a lot of time. With this last group, time and bottles can disappear – I love it.

    Now that was mostly – after taking the picture and being back home 🙂

    I look forward to other advice you will blog.

    • Thanks for the great reply Loius!

      Getting people to want to sit through travel stories and pictures can be a real challenge. I think that is one of the reasons why having pictures of what you want to tell them about can help – hopefully the picture piques their interest enough to ask for the story behind it, and then you have a willing audience instead of a captive one.

      You absolutely have to be selective in what you show people, and you’re right, different people respond better to different sets of pictures. It’s one of the reasons I put up one picture at a time on this blog, that way it doesn’t take up too much of people’s time and so people are more likely to look

      I like the idea of your entertainment room – it’s sort of the purpose my blog serves for me 🙂

  3. Such good advice, and something I often forget to do, especially frustrating given I barely travel. Case in point: went on a camping trip recently where we encountered a bushfire some distance away and made the decision to abandon camp and drive out to safety (for reasons I won’t go into here).

    It was a most memorable experience, but of course I have pictures of everything BUT that awesome Mount Doom looking thing in the distance, and how the spectre of it stayed in my rear view for hours while crawling away along the track etc etc.

    So yes, great advice! And I will follow it next time.

    • Don’t worry, you’re not the only one, I’ve forgotten it many times too. And then, sometimes you’ve got other things on your mind – like running from bushfires, which I imagine can be a little distracting!

  4. Podróżuję i fotografuję to co budzi moje emocje,tylko wtedy jestem pewna swojej zrobionej fotografii.Czasami są to detale architektury ,czasami całość,ale musi to być rzecz któa mnie zaintryguje……

  5. Thanks for the tips. You are right, some of the most interesting photos are of obscure things. Most of my family is not remotely interested in my travel – or my photos. I don’t even bother to tell them anything now, because their eyes just glaze over. They don’t look at my blog either. Fortunately a few others are interested. It would be no fun if nobody looked.

    • It can be tricky, when family and friends don’t want to know. My family are reasonably good about listening to me (as long as I don’t try and show them *too* many pictures), and they occasionally check this blog. But hey, I guess that’s part of why we make blogs – to share our stories and pictures with the people who are interested!

  6. I’ve always tried to do this… it’s so darn easy to take pictures of big locations — everyone does it. It’s harder to think about the importance of the geese on the train, thought honestly that is what I would rather see…

  7. What a great advice ! It seems obvious and yet it does not always happen like this during my travels. I often forget or am not ready to take The picture I want to show at the right moment. I will remember though. Thank you.

  8. Indeed, a story-telling picture is definitely worth more than 1,000 words.

    On the other hand, if you can use a single photo to convey a single message – that’s actually more powerful than “a picture is worth a thousand words”.

    By the way, can you read Polish?!

  9. All so, so true. We have loads of travel transparencies dating back to childhood but when both my parents had died I scanned a handfull but gave my brother the rest for safe keeping. The vast majorty were good but standard shots of places and architecture which change very little over the years. The most interesting were those with people or vehicles in because it brings everything to life and places a shot in time because of style, fashion, design etc. It’s so true that we also fail to record the special things that make a holiday unique and my daughter – of the mobile phone pic era – taught me a lot about sometimes photographing seemingly random and silly things that later have great significance and bring a smile to the face.

    Thanks for this – I can see I’m goin g to enjoy this series. 🙂

    • Thanks Jayne, hopefully it will continue to live up to your expectations! 🙂

      Yes, it’s the personal connection that makes things special, and while there is a connection to the ‘standard’ shots because of who took them, the memorable ones are the more personal ones.

      I think it’s one of the great benefits of digital, and things like mobile phones make it even easier. We could all learn from your daughter!

  10. Awesome post. What you describe seems obvious, and yet when you ask some people to show you their holiday photos, you don’t get to see much of the place they’ve been to, just photos of themselves in front of various generic landmarks/sunsets/their hotel room etc.

  11. Great tip I don’t do a lot of travel photography simply because I don’t do a lot of traveling, but I think the only reason to take pictures of the “iconic” locations is to say “I was there.” and have that memory stored away, unless you can find a truly unique and new “take” on it that shows us something we haven’t seen or considered before (which is not an easy thing to do).

  12. I really love that you are sharing tips for travel photography. This is excellent advice. I don’t get to travel much, but when I do I usually take fewer pictures that I think I will… just so overwhelmed by the awesomeness of everything. I often miss shooting the “stories”, although I always try to shoot all the places I ate at, and all the people I meet, and all the funny things… but I don’t usually post those online. When going through the images at home though, it’s always THESE pics that make me smile the most. Next time I travel I’m going to try and look for more storeis 🙂 Your travel photography is inspiraitonal.

    • Thank you! And yeah, not everything we shoot has to be posted online (I have to remind myself of that sometimes – it’s not only about pictures for the blog!). I think the places you eat at, the people you meet and the funny things that happen are some of the most important things – like you say, they are the ones that make you smile when you look at them.

  13. Pingback: Travel Photography Tip # 2: Bad Weather Makes Good Pictures | Journey Photographic

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