Why travel makes you a better photographer

My thoughts on why travel makes you a better photographer (accompanied by some random shots from my travels) - hope you enjoy this article!

If you have been here before, then it’s pretty obvious that I am a fan of traveling.  I love to travel.  I love to see new places.  And of course, I love to photograph them.  But it’s not all just fun.  There are things that happen when you are in strange new places that are often beyond your control as a photographer.  Learning to deal with them and work through them not only helps you get the photographs you are seeking at that moment, but also helps you become a better photographer all the way around.  

I have found that being out there in this big world and exploring it with a camera has actually improved my photographic skills more than just shooting the things I shoot at home.  There’s nothing wrong with shooting at home of course.  I love to shoot in Austin.    There are some great sites here, like this one:

But things are different out there, and you have to approach things differently and make adjustments along the way, and that is always a good thing to be able to do.  You are forced to be creative, to think different, and to look at things differently.  I find that it makes me a better photographer...and here’s why:

  • Freedom from routines

We all have our daily routines and rituals when at home.  We tend to be creatures of habit.  We do similar things each day, often in the same order.  Does this sound familiar?

At times being in the same place for a while can make you feel “stuck”, creatively speaking.  You can lose inspiration, and your creative juices are just not moving.  I believe this is because of our routines at home.  There is nothing wrong with a routine, but at some point your internal auto-pilot takes over and you don’t have to think creatively.  In fact, you can probably do things without having to think about them much at all.

That’s why travel is beneficial to a photographer.  All of a sudden, you’re in a new place and things are different.  You have to pay attention, you have to act, and you have to think.  Your synapses start to fire again, and you are stimulated.  This is both rejuvenating and inspirational.  It’s good for the creative part of your brain, and that’s where you are getting your photo ideas.  Feed that by traveling.

  • Go with the flow (even in the rain)

If there is one given with travel, it’s that things are unpredictable...especially the weather.  As photographers who like to plan their shooting spots in advance, we like predictability (and we want to arrange a gorgeous sunset every night, too!).  These ideas are obviously at odds, and of course we do not have any control over any of it.  And although we cannot control things when shooting around home either, at least there we have the option to return most any time.  When traveling, it’s not easy to make a return trip, especially if you have gone a long way.  

So my recommendation is to take a deep breath and just go with the flow.  I have been in some pretty magical places and gotten horrible photo conditions.  That happens.  The best thing to do is to go in with limited expectations, knowing that it’s just awesome to be seeing these spots, weather-good or weather-bad.  

This can also be beneficial in that if you get much different conditions than you were hoping for, you have to look for different shots, and you may have to stretch in post-processing to create something interesting from them.  You can learn from disappointments, because you can’t always get the incredible sunset you are hoping for.  You have to adapt from behind the keyboard later, as well as behind the camera at the moment.

But don’t forget to always have the gear ready, because in a split-second, the weather may change and the light might turn magical!

  • Dealing with change and uncertainty

The other side of the “go with the flow” idea is about getting access to locations. Whenever I plan out a trip, I usually have a list (normally created as a note on my iPhone) of spots that I am hoping to get to.  I list everything that is interesting to me, but I don’t expect to get to them all.  It’s just too hard to get to every spot, unless you are visiting a small town for an extended time. :-)

But even armed with a list and a logical route, you will get sidetracked and derailed.  Perhaps the church you wanted to shoot inside of was closed (happened to me).  Or it was in service, and that was the only time you could be there (happened to me).  Or worse, you wanted a great shot of the exterior but there was scaffolding up around it (alas...also happened to me). 

These things happen, and they force us - once again - to get creative in terms of what we want to do.  Perhaps instead of wide-angle shots of the exterior, you can put on the zoom lens and get some shots of the architectural details.  The options are really only limited by our imaginations.  The point is that you can’t let a little disappointment dampen your enthusiasm for getting great shots.  It’s up to you to make it happen, one way or another.

  • Dealing with pressure

When traveling, I think most of us have to deal with certain limits and restrictions on how much we can get done, photographically speaking.  It could be anything - fading light after sunset, too much light after sunrise, pending family commitments (meeting for dinner!), pending work commitments (meeting a customer!), time pressures (this church is closing in 5 minutes!), or travel requirements (I can’t miss my flight!) – but usually what I find is that there is a whole lot more that I want to shoot than I actually have time for.  So in some sense it becomes a game: how much can I squeeze in?  

What this really means is that you have to learn to go into high-speed, quick-decision mode and figure out what makes the most sense.  It’s virtually impossible to get everything done, sadly.  So, hit everything you can within the time you have.  I deal with this on every single trip I take.  But that’s ok actually, because I think it teaches us critical decision-making and judgment skills that can translate to better photo choices in the long run.  

You learn to pick your shots quickly, set up and fire quickly, and move on.  It’s a heightened awareness state where you become a robot and focus on “getting it done”.  The reason I think this is a good thing is that it teaches you how to handle this pressure so that it doesn’t cripple your decision-making in the future. 

  • Looking at things from a new POV

I think that one of the great things about travel is that you are forced to open your eyes and examine things - people, culture, customs, even food - from a new perspective.  And of course, I believe that also bleeds over into photography.  In fact, in many ways that is what photography is really all about - finding a new perspective.

So, take a fresh look at things.  Try something new.  Experiment.  Get creative.  Go ahead and take the classic shots that everyone takes - you sort of have to - but then get creative, be original, and snap some random stuff too.  It really cements the trip in your mind.  Plus, it’s fun and if you aren’t enjoying your photography, that’s doubly bad! 

What do you get out of your travel experiences?  How has it helped your photography?

Feel free to let me know in the comments!  Thanks for stopping by!