Seven quirky tips for better travel images (part two)


This is part two of a two-part series on taking better travel pictures. You can see the first part, from last week, here.

5) Accept ugliness

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course. So this tip is really about what you consider “ugly” or maybe what you wouldn’t normally shoot.

When I started it was postcard type photos. Beautiful places. Photogenic characters. To be honest, I always much prefer to be around such subjects, but I’ll tell you why it’s worth photographing ugliness.

Old Soviet factories belching smoke in the industrial town of Rustavi, Georgia. Drones have given us the ability to film from virtually any angle we desire. I flew quite a bit before settling on this frame, which lines up a few factories and some smoking chimneys. The impact of the scene is amplified by the repetition. DJI Phantom 4. 1/160s @ f2.8, ISO 100.

I was born and raised in the USSR. I came to really hate oppressive Soviet architecture, especially the apartment buildings I lived in.

Many years later I traveled as a photographer to Georgia and Armenia – also former republics of the USSR. Soviet architecture, which I despised so much, was everywhere, in its ugliest, most abandoned and dilapidated state. I couldn’t escape it.

I decided to completely change my approach and make this theme my muse. Eventually, I even started to feel compelled to photograph it. I even tried to find beauty there, like those smoky Soviet factories at sunset, which I filmed from a drone.

I extended this personal challenge to other subjects, which I would never have called beautiful and photo-worthy in the past. Sometimes “ugliness” tells more of a story than beauty, and it can be more evocative. More captivating and even challenging.

By embracing what you consider ugly, what you wouldn’t normally photograph, you broaden your creative horizons. You add variety to your work. You are also probably showing another side to the places you visit. And in our world, which is so full of stereotypes and clichéd images, that can be incredibly fascinating.

6) Be skeptical of local advice on where to go

It might sound counterintuitive, but these are some unusual travel photography tips.

The advice obviously does not apply if a local recommends a famous place to you, which you had planned to visit anyway. Also, when you ask about something specific and get advice about it, that’s different.

This tip applies more when an enthusiastic local feels compelled to tell you “You must see our church, our temple, the view of our village from the top of the mountain, etc.”

Image: Mitchell Kaneshkevitch
Image: Mitchell Kaneshkevitch

We’ve all had these cases, and it’s very tempting to follow local advice. What I mean when I say “be skeptical” is – don’t rush to take this advice. Google the place. You can find photos of the most remote and obscure places today. See if it’s worth it for you. If you can’t find anything, consider your other projects.

I’ve changed many plans to follow local advice, and they’ve very rarely been helpful. Locals are almost never objective. Their places have a special value for them. They may not have traveled extensively so they don’t have much to compare to and they have no idea what you are looking for.

A local would rarely recommend that you photograph abandoned Soviet buildings. Or go to an abandoned Soviet resort town, where dozens of Abkhaz refugees still live. This is where I met Vakhtang the man in the photo above. We became friends and I photographed it. Ironically, he also gave me bad advice on what is worth photographing.

Vakhtang is a refugee from Abkhazia.  At the time of the photo, he had lived in an abandoned hotel/resort for the last 13 years of his life.  I asked him for a portrait on his sofa in front of this carpet so typical of the region.  A detail like this shows that even in an abandoned station, people want to create a cozy environment.  Panasonic GX80, 12mm f/1.4 lens.  1/1000s @ f1.4, ISO 100.
Vakhtang is a refugee from Abkhazia. At the time of the photo, he had lived in an abandoned hotel/resort for the last 13 years of his life. I asked him for a portrait on his sofa in front of this carpet so typical of the region. A detail like this shows that even in an abandoned station, people want to create a cozy environment. Panasonic GX80, 12mm f/1.4 lens. 1/1000s @ f1.4, ISO 100.

So while the locals might know a lot better. After following local advice almost religiously for many years, I have come to a conclusion. When it comes to advice on places of photographic interest, one has to be skeptical.

7) Aim to have the action at your doorstep

What do I mean by action? In this case, that’s what you came to photograph. Street life in a city. Ceremonies in a church or a temple, a market.

Either way, you want to be close to it. Even if it means you pay more for a hotel. Or maybe your bedroom isn’t as comfortable as somewhere further from the action. It will be worth the slight discomfort.

A beach that serves as a living and breeding ground for thousands of sea lions in the Liescas nature reserve.  I wanted to point out that there was a huge amount of sea lions, so I had to photograph them slightly overhead, to show all those heads sticking out as far as the eye can see.  I also wanted to include those jagged, ominous triangular rocks in the water in the background.  Again, my drone helped me get the perfect angle.  DJI Mavic Pro.  1/20s @ f2.2, ISO 100.
A beach that serves as a living and breeding ground for thousands of sea lions in the Liescas nature reserve. I wanted to point out that there was a huge amount of sea lions, so I had to photograph them slightly overhead, to show all those heads sticking out as far as the eye can see. I also wanted to include those jagged, ominous triangular rocks in the water in the background. Again, my drone helped me get the perfect angle. DJI Mavic Pro. 1/20s @ f2.2, ISO 100.

The less you have to travel to the place of your photographic interest, the less early you have to wake up, the less you have to rush, the more energy you have to take pictures.

You can shoot very intensely, exhaust yourself, then rest in your room and start all over again. Staying even a bus or taxi ride away can change the dynamic a lot. There are countless times I never ended up getting out to shoot because I was dreading the car ride, the traffic, or a really long walk.

In a bit more extreme case, you can consider camping or even sleeping in a car to take photos of an amazing place at sunrise or sunset. This is especially handy if a hotel or place where you normally stay is far away.

This was the case when I once visited a nature reserve on the coast of Peru. There was a spectacular beach with a colony of sea lions. I knew in a place like this the light could really make or break the picture so I planned to stay the night so I could take pictures until the sun went down and still have a chance to take more photos at sunrise.

I got the picture only because I gave myself those chances. I returned to a city without rushing the next day.

So this is it. Seven quirky travel photography tips. They come from ideas that I have developed over years of traveling around the world and finding myself in all kinds of situations. I know that if you implement these ideas, if you put these tips into practice, you will grow as a photographer. You will create photos that will be more unique and interesting. Your photos will stand out from the crowd. In a world so saturated with images – usually that’s a good thing. ❂

About the Author: Award-winning photographer Mitchell Kaneshkevich is a travel photographer, YouTuber, e-book author, and creator of educational photography courses. See more at mitchellk-photos.com.

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