How Travel Improved My Photography

And How It Can Help Yours Too

It’s a known saying that travel expands your horizons and invigorates the mind. Did you know it can help your photography too? Below are 4 ways traveling helped mold my photography and how it can affect yours as well!

How I Started

To understand where I’m coming from, it might help to know where I started. Growing up as a native South Floridian, visiting the beach was one of the best locations to pick up a Publix Sub and hang out. Whether it be to hang out with friends, listen to music, or go snorkeling, there was always something to do. When it comes to taking photos, the beach was readily available, super photogenic, and almost always had gorgeous light. So, why not?

A photo of the sunrise early-ish in my photography journey

I bought a Nikon D3200 when I was about 16 years old and started messing around with it. I wasn’t very good (obviously) and just used the automatic settings on the camera for every shot. Almost 100% of my shots were of the sunrise and they were edited quite gaudily. I eventually moved on to doing my first portraiture working with my good friend, Chelsea, at Cheeky Swim. (She creates awesome, hand-made bikinis that emphasize the “suns out, buns out” mentality.) After I started traveling, my photo-taking started to change. I was exploring new environments that weren’t just beaches and I found that my photography style, substance, and processes started to change.

1) Exploring New Locations Expands Your Horizons

Get it? Expanding horizons, beach photos… Anyway, this one might seem kind of obvious, but hear me out. As you can see above, I started off my photo-journey by only taking overexposed, super-saturated photos of a Florida sunrise on the beach. I would wake up super early, go to the beach, take meh photos shooting directly into the sun, and make the colors unnaturally saturated. I’m not proud of it, but everyone has to start somewhere, right?

A random tree and a bright-ass sun

Now, imagine if I had never started traveling and stayed in my hometown. Do you think my style would have changed? Sure, I would eventually learn more about the methodology and technical skill, but would I experiment with new editing styles or composition? Only photographing one particular setting or a single type of subject matter stunts your growth as both an artist and a storyteller. Variety is the pizza of life, so travel to new spots! You’ll find your picture-taking methodology and style will adapt pretty quickly.

2) Realizing It’s Not All About Gear

The most common mistake fledgling photogs make is to think, “If I can just get that new body/lens/filter/flash, my photos will be epic.” As you might know, that’s not the case. As time went on, I found that bringing my Full-Frame Canon 5D Mark ii on every hike was getting tiring. It’s a hefty camera so that extra weight around your neck or in your backpack can wear you out! It certainly did during our hike through Bryce Canyon.

Not bad for a phone-photo right?

As the saying goes, “The best camera is the one you have with you.” In fact, the above photo of Kanarra Creek was taken on my iPhone! Luckily, most of us have relatively incredible cameras attached to our smartphones! Once you learn the proper techniques and keep challenging yourself, you’ll find you can take great photos with just about any photo device. In fact, I’ve rated all of my photography gear for travel. While I do have a lot of equipment, my preferred travel photography kit might surprise you. Give it a look!

3)  Seeing the world through a lens improves your technique

When you start traveling more often (and by extension, you take more photos), you’ll find you start seeing the world as if you had two cameras strapped to your eyes. When I’m hiking a new trail or wandering through a foreign city, I’ve found that I’m constantly looking around for cool compositional elements, such as tree branches making a natural frame or the sun shining through a circular shape or the leading lines of some barrels in a winery.

See how the rows of barrels lead your eye to my buddy Jochen?

Now, this type of mentality is easier to slip into if you’re exploring new places. It’s more challenging to see the world this way if you’re going about your everyday life in a familiar environment. Are you really thinking about composing a shot when you’re standing in line at Starbucks? Not me, I’m just normally trying to convince myself not to buy the banana bread.

4) Challenging yourself is a surefire photography growth-hack

Remember when I said all I used to shoot was over-exposed beach photos? That style most likely wouldn’t have worked on the frosty roads to Crater Lake or in the darkness of Falling Water State Park’s swampy forest. You learn and adjust your editing and shooting techniques based on your surroundings and the emotions they cause you to feel. A bright, overly saturated photo might not fit the mood of a lonely house in the middle of nowhere.

This wouldn’t look as good if my editing style had stayed the same

The other benefit of this adaption is it helps you find your personal style and method of visual storytelling. Maybe shooting in the forests of Seattle makes you realize you love saturated greens in your photos. Perhaps you find you only like shallow depth-of-field portraits like the one above. Anything can happen. Explore! Experiment! It’s the easiest and most enjoyable way of discovering how you want to tell your story with the world.

Results

Since we started this post using my beach photos as an example, how about we end it with some beach shots too? The three photos below were taken at sunrise at that same beach in late 2017. While they’re not perfect, I think they show significant improvement over the previous ones. See for yourself!

What’d you think?

It’s pretty simple when you think about it, right? These are four ways that travel changed my outlook on photography. Do you agree? Have you found any insights while you were taking adventure photos? Comment below and let me know!

Until next time!