Many photographers dream of traveling the world. Using the ship to access places they’ve seen online seems like a dream come true. Being able to travel is a privilege that a photographer can take advantage of if they devote time and effort to their craft. However, travel photography has changed drastically over the years. What was once an opportunity for the privileged few is now available to the masses. So if everyone is doing it, is it possible to do unique travel photography in 2022?
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The birth of travel photography
Before the development of transport, there was no real need for travel photography. When nations fashioned railways, airplanes became commercial and national bus routes became evident, people wandered away from their usual vacation spots. As photography evolved and tourism increased, it only made sense for publications and travel agents to use images to sell the dream to potential tourists. Fifty years ago, few people owned cameras, compared to today’s society where there is one in every pocket. There wasn’t quite as much tourism either, which meant the possibility of creating never-before-seen travel images seemed endless for those who could make them.
According to Our World Data, in 1959 there were only 25 million tourist arrivals worldwide. That seems like a big number. However, compared to figures for 2018, which saw 1.4 billion international arrivals, this pales in comparison. Along with the rise of tourism, the growth of the camera market and the rise of the internet have made it easier to create and consume more travel photography than ever before. Take all of this into account and you’ll soon realize that a world that once seemed endless in terms of exploration now feels tiny.
The oversaturation of travel photography
How many photographs have you seen of Taj Mahal? How many images will we see of Machu Picchu? It’s as if everything we could photograph had already been shot. Some would say it’s redundant to even consider getting into travel photography, especially if you want to stand out from millions of other people with cameras producing the same type of images. The reality, however, is that there is still plenty of land to see and share with the world. You just need to change your way of thinking.
The way we think about travel interests me the most. Many of our travel choices are based on what we’re told to love, rather than arriving out of a thirst to explore the unknown. Since its birth, landmarks such as the Effielf Tower, the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China have been touted as the best destinations on earth. Most of the best destinations in the world are dictated to us rather than discovered by us. The reality is that many people leave these places feeling disappointed. And the consequence of this is that social media and photography portfolios are littered with the same type of travel photography.
Explore the unknown
You have to be willing to think outside the box to change that. You have to dare to travel to places that aren’t overwhelmed by tourism and learn that it’s not always because they have nothing to offer. I believe that every city, town and country has something to offer in terms of visually pleasing places. From local stories in the community to pretty pueblos, there are plenty of places around the world waiting for you to explore. I am currently in Veracruz, Mexico. There is relatively little tourism compared to Quintana Roo, Mexico City and Oaxaca. I don’t know why, because it’s beautiful. It may be because foreigners consider the state more dangerous than others, but I can honestly say that I feel safe. And it has a lot to offer, from beautiful parks to a charming city center.
Where I am is just one example. The thing is, there are plenty of places you can go with a camera that differ from the tourist hubs that others tell us they love. So if you want to be a travel photographer and want to document in a way others don’t, start planning a trip to a less explored part of the world. As with any form of travel photography, the same rules apply. Research how safe a place is and connect with locals to get a deeper experience of the place you’re visiting. Above all, enjoy seeing places that very few people see outside of the local community. Of course, be respectful and accept that you may receive a few curious looks. Smile, follow cultural values and create beautiful photographs – there are still plenty of opportunities to be original.
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