Today I’m going to introduce a few Travel Photography ideas with the shot list that I usually use in my trips.
The best part?
You will be able to download all, including a blank shot list template, FREE of charge (I don’t even ask an email, the links are later in the post)
In fact, I use all these travel photography ideas as well as the shot list even when I explore my city, Melbourne.
And I should point something out:
This is a non-technical list. It’s more about ideas, how to organise your day, how to improve your style, how to create an interesting story and not about this aperture setting or that shutter speed values.
And if you want to know more about travel photography, including the best settings, I suggest to read and download my Ultimate guide. Again, it’s free 😉
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
Travel Photography ideas – Build your creative project
Whenever I have a trip I try to build a shot list based on the travel photography ideas which are listed below.
I believe it’s paramount to have a shot list with the ideas before starting the trip otherwise the risk is to “produce” much less than you actually can.
The typical disappointment statement is “I could have…”
I like to think that travel photography comes in 3 stages:
- preparation for the trip: I dedicate 25% of my time
- the trip itself: 50%
- post-production: 25%
Post-production, or part of it, can happen during the trip but I am talking more about this in my Ultimate Guide to Travel Photography (free to read & download).
The ideas below do not have a priority or an order.
Make it personal, with a local connection
We all love stories and we give lots of attention to them (if compared to a single shot).
I like to think that we scroll through beautiful photos but we investigate a story with our eyes and our brain too.
When I travel I always try to create a connection with a few locals, possibly prior to the trip.
How do I do that?
I use social media, mostly Instagram, and for the months prior to the trip I just talk about my travel plan and if anyone would like to meet up.
Once on site, I try to go to the same cafe, avoiding the busy part of the day, and talk with the owner or the waiter. You never know what could happen.
I am trying here to get closer to the locals and explore their life. This could be the usual day on a lady in Sichuan or a day at the waterfall with the locals etc.
The idea is to make photos from within the group and not from outside. A different perspective.
Even when you have an on-the-road trip you can try to work on a story.
In my trip to Sri Lanka in 2017, I had a guide (shared with other travellers).
I had lots of talks with him about local life.
Eventually, we were invited to his family home. Talking with the brother, playing with the kids, eating homemade food.
Once I was in the circle I took my camera out of the bag and I started shooting.
I was not only shooting travel photos, I was also shooting memories for me and for them, which was great for everyone.
Interesting enough, a photo of me in the kitchen (I am rarely in my photos) has become one of my most liked on Instagram. And that’s because of the story behind the photo.
Transportation, busses and trains
The idea here is not only to document the locations we visit but also the means of transportation we take.
If possible try to talk with people before taking photos of them. Have handy a map to say where you come from.
Have a small gift for the kids, if you can. I sometimes take tiny fluffy kangaroos, something that shows where you come from.
If you prefer to make photos without talking because they look more natural then I suggest using the LCD with the camera down at the waist level.
If you use the EVF/OVF you create a sort of wall between you and the person, something very noticeable.
I am personally not a fan of big zoom lenses. I feel more like spying than taking a photo. Besides, it’s very noticeable to everyone.
My shot list always includes two locations when I visit a city, the bus and the train station.
These are also great places to gain more confidence with shooting people.
Because everyone is so busy that will not care that much about you.
It’s always advisable to implement the “fishing technique” than the “hunting technique”. What are they?
- fishing technique: you find a great spot, a nice background, you frame the photo, set the camera, get ready and you just wait for fascinating people to come into your frame.
- hunting technique: you see an interesting person and you follow him/her. Besides being weird it is going to be difficult to find the right background,
This travel photography idea works great also on a long-term project as:
- stations of the world (contrasting photos of people queuing up for a train in Switzerland, India and Singapore)
- people seating on trains or busses (different races, dressing, colours etc)
- the different interior of buses, from the crazy ones of Philippines to the plain English ones.
These are projects that become very interesting and could be published by websites or magazines.
This is something you can carry in your portfolio.
My big tip here: remember to organise your photos with keywords that describe these long-term projects.
It will be easy to sort them after 1-2 years of shooting and thousands of pictures.
Food, from raw ingredients to the table
There are lots of people taking photos of food at restaurants, probably not an original idea.
Here I am more talking about the whole chain.
- head to the market as soon in the morning as you can to make photos of the opening hour, with the wholesalers
- walk inside the market for more photos of fruit, veggies, unusual ingredients or meat cuts, something unique of the country or city you visit, if you can
- more pictures of people cooking, either street food, cafes or restaurants
- finally photos of the prepared food
- photos of people cleaning the tables of the surrounding area
You see how you have built a story about the food in the place you are visiting, not just a shot of the food.
- give a priority to the fish and meat section, it’s usually more dramatic than the fruit and veggie section
- try to include the seller behind the counter. It gives more of an idea of the place you are visiting
- eat first at the restaurant/hawker and than ask to make photos of the food preparation. They hardly say no. It is seen as a sign of appreciation of their food.
- try the street food in the market, there is more of a direct link with the ingredients
- use the app Foodie to make photos of the food in case you don’t want to take your camera out. It works really great.
Lights of the night
Who said that the night is not a great time to take photos.
I think it’s actually the most creative time of the day to make photos.
Creative because you can decide to use a long exposure or a short exposure with high ISO (again, this is not a technical post, more details on the Travel Photography guide)
Ideas I usually use:
- light trails of the city: the best way to prepare this idea is to look for bridges over busy roads, or just high viewpoints. The best tool is Google map.
Move the map to the area you will visit and just type “bridge”. Google map will show you all the bridges in the area. Have a street view to see if it could work.
Sometimes you can find great locations also in the multilevel carparks. Just look for “carpark” in the map area. I built a whole project on it for Melbourne. You can see it here. Rooftop bars are another option
- city ghosting: I keep the shutter speed for 1-2 seconds open and I shoot people moving. You get an interesting ghosting effect, sometimes even a sea of people in crowded spots. Still, the background (buildings, streets) will be sharp
- street lights: it works amazingly great in some cities as Tokyo or Bangkok, with plenty of colourful neons all around
- busy bars: I suggest to use the mobile to avoid privacy issues or at least the camera in a low corner (no EVF) to be less visible
- people with colourful neons: if you find an interesting light from a shop, just stop there and wait for people to pass by and shot whenever you find a fascinating subject.
- pan around: panning is a technique I personally use a lot in the night on people, bikes and cars. You can get some interesting light effects
- people working at night: more than you expect, sometimes with an interesting light or background
Be local, shoot in the neighbourhood
This is an idea that works great for weekend city trips.
Instead of visiting the full city, try to concentrate on a single neighbourhood. Book your accommodation there, eat there, take your coffee there. Go to the local pub, if any.
Try to talk to people. There are always interesting stories and corners that you would miss out on a quick trip.
It’s also a great idea to use where you live. Focus on the top 5-10 districts of your city and document them like you are on a trip.
Every neighbourhood has usually the own story and architectural style.
Be global, shoot the iconic side
This is a bit in contraposition to the previous idea.
There is nothing wrong with taking a photo of the Eiffel Tower, the London Bridge or the Sydney Opera House.
I am sure you read so many times to try a different corner. I think that nowadays all the corners have been exhausted, unfortunately.
You can, however, try to introduce something different. This could be a photo composition, for example, half Paris and half Vegas Eiffel.
Or use the mobile as a mirror to give a different view of the place, with “water” on the foreground (more on this later).
We all love to take photos of iconic sites, but don’t forget other iconic things like the yellow taxis in New York, the black cabs in London, the manholes with the name of the city, the street signs, the city/state/country names on the old buildings (for example, Bank of Australia, not existing anymore but still carved on old buildings).
Visit the old libraries and make a photo of a book including the city name and the background of the library.
The idea here is to show straight away where you are.
Worthless saying you should try to visit the iconic places as early as possible in the morning to avoid the big crowd.
Another thing that can help is the use of an ND10 filter so that moving people will “disappear”, however, keep in mind that the use of tripods may be not allowed.
Hands and people portraits
When I travel I love landscape photography as much as portrait photography.
It’s about documenting not only the place but also the people living in it.
I also try to capture the hands of the people, sometimes blurring the face, to move the attention to what a person does in its life.
I still remember the many cuts in the hand of a farmer in Thailand or the old hands of a lady in a fishing village in Indonesia.
Hands can actually say more than a face.
Colours from the local people
This idea works better for a group of photos than a single picture.
As an example, white is a colour which is used quite commonly in Cuba or orange in Thailand.
When you store the photos on your hard disk add, as a keyword, the predominant colour, if applicable. Once all the photos will be tagged it will be easy enough to create a project based on colour.
To have some ideas just google the country name together with the “common colour” words.
As, an example “common colour Australia” would show the Aboriginal flag, based on black, yellow and red.
I would take red as a common colour to work on, especially if you visit the bush and the countryside.
Sometimes you find the inspiration for the colour once you are in the country.
It happened to me in Cuba when I started seeing many people dressed all in white, the colour of the post-initiation in the Santería religion.
I personally consider the colours as the range of visible and not visible light that humans can see, therefore also white and black.
Of course, you may argue that should be only the visible one. But this is not the subject of this post 😉
Imported coloured fabric
What does it mean?
Consider this. You are taking a photo of a person in a tea field, all green. It would be great if this person would dress a contrasting colour, like red.
If you are planning a photography session with a friend on a certain location then try to dress him/her with contrasting colours.
But if you are travelling this may be not always possible.
I sometimes carry with me coloured fabric that I use to create this contrast.
I fully understand that in travel photography things should be spontaneous and in this respect, I would consider this idea more for creative shooting.
Religion and cemeteries
Who is not attracted by beautiful cathedrals and amazing temples?
I suggest to include them in your travel photography reportage, however, try to add also the life around the church or the temple.
People playing or working around. Build a story, if you can.
Another interesting place is the cemetery. I found, for example, a “boutique” one, right in the middle of Sydney, in the Newtown area which was absolutely a revelation, especially considering the busy location.
And besides photography, it gave me a great inside of the story of the city of Sydney.
Mirroring your trip
Look around for water. It can be either a lake, a puddle, a pool, the sea.
Try to mirror your subject into the water.
A couple of tips that can make your life easier
- bring with you some water and create your puddle
- use the mobile screen to mirror or a prism (this is an idea that works great in busy destinations because you can exclude the crowd)
Here below a quick tutorial (skip to minute 1:10) on how to use a mobile screen. Very easy.
How to build your travel photography shot list
Let me explain how I build my travel photography shot list. It’s a simple 6 steps process
- Identify the main destinations/cities (this is still the trip planning phase)
- Build the spreadsheet (free download below) with the places to visit as well as the days to travel
- Start contacting locally to create new connections
- For each destination, break the day in 5 slots (sunrise, morning, afternoon, sunset, night) and 2 breaks (lunch, dinner)
- Start filling in the slots with places to visit and backup locations (for example in case of rain)
- Add the ideas to the location (what can you shoot)
Sometimes things change during the trip and I adjust the shot list based on that (delays, impossibility to travel to a planned destination, etc)
I must admit that I also take this list as a reference more than the “perfect plan” to follow. The risk, otherwise, is to lose in spontaneity.
Maybe I am in a destination that I underestimated during the planning phase and I want to spend more time, or even go back for more shooting the day after.
Also, you can plan a full day of shooting, however, you may be absolutely be exhausted the day after.
The important thing is to enjoy what you do otherwise it becomes a “job”, and not anymore a passion.
And even if you are paid for it, my advise here, is to keep it as a passion. You will achieve more in that way.
Suggested external tools
This is the list of the tools I use. As I may not have internet when I travel I tend to favour the apps that work also offline.
- Google spreadsheet (the Microsoft one works as well). They both work offline too. Just remember to set it that way.
- Maps.me. My favourite app for maps offline. It offers more information than Google Map, including trekking in amazing hidden places
- Google MyMaps: to build a rough itinerary that can be exported easily to a website or a GPS device
- 500px.com, Flickr and overall Instagram: to look for photography inspirations and locations I may be not aware
- All of the social media to create local connections
- Suncalc.org to plan sunset and sunrise landscape photography
- Google Map street view to inspect closely a few locations
FREE Travel Photography shot list template to download
Based on the above process I have built this spreadsheet that I share here with you.
You can probably do the same with a simple word document. I prefer to use the spreadsheet because I can pre-fill a few fields and the data input becomes easier.
How to use it
The file is organised in two spreadsheets:
- Tables: here I usually input
- the sites I am going to visit (“Destinations” column), this is a table I build once I organise the trip
- the Travel Photography ideas, what to shoot (“Ideas” column), this is prefilled based on the ideas listed in this post. You can add your own
- local connections, a table of the people I will be in touch during the trip
- Planning: this where I plan the trip using the information from the “Tables”.
I add first the name of the trip and the arrival and departure date of the country/city I am visiting. The length of the stay (days) will be calculated automatically.
For each day I fill in these fields:
Day: automatically updated based on the arrival day (you can also change it)
Destination: I select it from the drop-down list pre-loaded in the “tables” sheet
Local connection: I leave it empty or add a name from the drop-down list pre-loaded in the “tables” sheet
Notes: I add here all I need for the day which I can’t fit in the pre-formatted fields
Day slot: for each one, I can add up to 2 places to visit (including a backup one), up to 3 ideas and a generic comment
I feel happy if I can fill in 50-70% of the table. If the trip is not only about travel photography then 30-40% is enough.
I use this spreadsheet as a good guideline to consult on my mobile as the trip is progressing.
Please, note that you need to save the file as your own spreadsheet before you can start to insert data. In this way, it will be private to you.
If you do not use Google spreadsheet then you need to save it in MS Excel format (File > Download as > .xlsx).
Be creative, build photography projects
I like to say that I am not the person that is after the National Geographic best photo prize. There are so many better travel photographers around.
To me, it’s about documenting a trip for myself.
Of course, I am also after some great travel photos which possibly could be recognised and remembered but that comes second.
The most important thing is keeping the passion for what I do, creating a story out of my trip.
When I show my photos I love to talk about them and I have definitely noticed that I can engage the audience in a much better way.
In the past, I suffered moments of photography frustration when I could not get out anything from a trip.
I now reckon that the main reason was my continuous search for the perfect photo.
Now I am more relaxed, it may come or it may not. And usually, it comes more often than it used to be.
The last thing I may suggest here is to get used to keyword all your photos with location, colours and other important information.
In this way, you can build creative projects across different countries or locations like:
“metro stations in the world” or “street food in Asia” or “markets from Europe” or “the white Cuba” etc.
Enjoy your travel photography and remember it to keep it as a passion 🙂
If you think that this post has helped and you want to know much more about travel photography then you should read and download the FREE Ultimate Guide to Travel Photography (no emails required), a 70 pages PDF file.
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