Many photographers dream of traveling the world. Using the craft to gain access to places they’ve seen online seems like a dream come true. Having the ability to travel is a privilege a photographer can enjoy if they put time and effort into the craft. However, travel photography has dramatically changed over the years. What was once an opportunity for a select few is now accessible to the masses. So if everyone’s doing it, is it possible to make unique travel photography in 2022?
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The Birth of Travel Photography
Prior to the development of transportation, there wasn’t much of a need for travel photography. When nations fashioned railroads, airplanes became commercial, and nationwide bus routes became manifest, people branched out from their usual vacation spots. As photography evolved and tourism increased, it made sense for publications and travel agents to use pictures to sell the dream to would-be tourists. Fifty years ago, few people had cameras, compared to today’s society where there is one in every pocket. There wasn’t as much tourism either, which meant the opportunity to create never-before-seen travel images felt infinite for those who could make them.
According to Our World Data, in the year 1959, there were only 25 million tourist arrivals around the world. It seems like a big number. However, compared to 2018 figures, which saw 1.4 billion international arrivals, it pales in comparison. Along with the rise in tourism, the growth of the camera market and the rise of the internet have made it easy to create and consume more travel photography than ever. Factor it all together, and you soon realize a world that once felt infinite in terms of exploration now feels tiny.
The Oversaturation of Travel Photography
How many photographs have you seen of the Taj Mahal? How many images will we see of Machu Picchu? It feels like everything we could photograph has already been shot. Some may argue it’s redundant to consider taking up travel photography, especially if you want to stand out from millions of other people with cameras making the same type of images. The reality, however, is that there’s still plenty of earth to see and share with the world. You just need to modify the way you think.
The way we view travel interests me to no end. Many of our travel choices are based on what we’re told to like, rather than arriving out of a thirst to explore the unknown. Since birth, monuments such as the Effielf Tower, the Taj Mahal, and the Great Wall of China have been billed as the best destinations on earth. Most of the world’s top destinations are dictated to us rather than discovered by us. The reality is that many people leave these spots 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
One must be prepared to go off the beaten path to change this. You must dare to travel to places that aren’t overwhelmed with tourism and learn that it isn’t always because they have nothing to offer. I believe every city, town, and country has something to provide in terms of visually pleasing spots. Whether it’s local stories in the community or cute pueblos, there are plenty of places in the world waiting for you to explore them. I’m currently in Veracruz, Mexico. There’s a relatively small amount of tourism compared to Quintana Roo, Mexico City, and Oaxaca. I have no clue why, because it’s beautiful. Maybe it’s because outsiders deem the State more dangerous than others, but I can honestly say I feel safe. And it has plenty to offer, from beautiful parks to a lovely city center.
Where I am is just one example. The point is that there are many places one can go with a camera that differ from the tourist hubs others tell us to love. So if you want to be a travel photographer and you want to document in a way others don’t, start planning a trip to a less explored part of the world. Like with any form of travel photography trip, the same rules apply. Research how safe a place is, and connect with locals to get a deeper experience of where you’re visiting. Most of all enjoy seeing places very few people see outside of the local community. Of course, be respectful, and accept you may get a few curious looks. Smile, follow cultural values and create beautiful photographs–there are still plenty of opportunities to be original.