Photography, as well as writing, have always been my two weapons of choice to document the memories I’d otherwise forget. Surprisingly enough, I’ve started to realize my photography style is completely different from my written musings. When I go back searching for a certain type of photo, I find more landscapes and candids. In my travel journals, it’s filled with brief encounters, spellings of places I dined at, the outfits I wore, and pricing of the expensive food I ate in Iceland.
Scrolling through thousands of photos, it’s divided among 75% landscapes, 20% people, and maybe 5% food or other random signs I didn’t have time to write down. Most of the time, I’m so excited to be in a new place and I tend to get a bit snap-happy. This results in having thousands of mundane or blurry photos to have to slog through at the end.
So what’s the big deal?
Somehow, when I go back to pair a tale of a new friend or strange animal, I find there’s no photo to match up. Missing pieces to the story I had formed so carefully in my head. Why did I not photograph the awful dorm I slept in for 3 nights? What about the crazy-cheap donuts in California? Does this happen to anyone else?
I’d imagine so, I can’t be the only one alone in this.
As you look through this list, notice what you tend to capture more than others. Do you only take pictures of your food, and not of the friendly host who made it for you? Do you hide behind the camera so no one’s really sure if you actually went, or if a robot took photos for you? Regardless, any photos or video is better than nothing at all. But these are the things I always seem to kick myself in the ass for not getting enough of and finding I treasure the most when I do.
All of the delicious food.
Honestly, screw anyone who makes fun of you for taking the quintessential food shot.
- If you hear strangers snickering: you won’t see them again. They won’t even be able to recall your face in an hour, moment forgotten. Out of all the embarrassing things I’ve seen others do, I can honestly say I cannot recall a specific face.
- If your friends are the ones begging you to just eat: ignore them (that is, unless you’re crouching on your chair in the middle of a restaurant for 5 minutes..)
The food is a large part of what makes whichever country/state different from your hometown. A lot of history, culture, and love goes into making each dish, so why shouldn’t it be a part of the narrative?
Good food has always been the universal language everyone can understand.
This is where I become a HUGE baby.
My palms get sweaty. My heart starts beating rapidly. All at the thought of simply approaching someone for a photo.
But honestly, I’ve only regret the times I’ve let the question die on my tongue.
For the most part, people will say yes (depending on the area & culture) as a small part of everyone does want to be acknowledged and seen as special. Obviously keep in mind local customs and respect the privacy of others if it doesn’t look like a great time to take photos. Use common sense and don’t be discouraged if someone says no.
Note: I’m not going to encourage snapping photos on the fly without asking, but this can sometimes garner a better, more candid approach. Use your discretion.
The places you rest your weary head.
Much to the dismay of everyone who spoke to me that had watched Hostel, we mostly stayed in hostels while in Iceland. Those dark, damp places pictured in movies?
Not in the slightest.
Well, at least where we stayed.
I took a ton of photos of some of the quirkier hostels and Airbnb’s we stayed in (three cheers for a $30/night camper van parked in someone’s driveway) to disprove any nay-sayers. Plus, it’s fun to look back and see what you put up with in the moment.
The people who host you & the friends you make along the way.
Again, huuuuge baby.
But I’ve recently made an effort to photograph some of the people I meet along the way, including the man who kidnapped us for a 4 hour tour of the Faroe islands. Or my very first-ever hostel dorm mate who taught me how to do a flaming shot of Sambuca (thanks again Chris for not murdering me.) Human kindness is everywhere, and these can certainly be easier photos to take as you’ve gotten to know the person a little better.
Chances are, numbers and information will be lost along the way, but at least you’ll have great, physical memories to look back at.
“Shitty” travel moments.
Sometimes, there are some things that happen to me that are simply too ridiculous to comprehend.
Torrential downpours, getting stranded for two hours in a cold bus station, or accommodations that were not at all like the photos. Of course it sucks in the moment, but I find myself pulling out my camera to document these moments as a way to de-stress and make light of the situation.
Attempting to take a photo in front of the Gulfoss waterfall in Iceland as driving rain and wind whipped our faces raw? Why not, it tells a story.
To me, it was worth getting my camera a little wet.
Plus, it’ll seem ten times funnier once you’re out of the situation with pictures to prove it.
Textures, colors, and patterns of the land.
If you’re anything like me, you’re all about the little details. I wanted my family to be able to understand what I meant when I said the bark of the massive Redwood trees in California were soft and porous, unlike our trees in Connecticut.
Sometimes, a shade of blue has no words to accurately depict its depth.
Colors and patterns that simply cannot be described need to be documented. These are great little detail-fillers for any story, photo album, or even just as a quick reference. I’m a huge fan of different textures beneath my feet, so there’s always a ton of these types of photos littering my photo stream. It’ll feel silly in the moment trying to take a close-up of bark, or of your toes in the sand, but I always appreciate seeing the lands these two feet have stepped on.
Signs, maps, menus & anything written.
Great for referring to prices, places, or colorful paper money you may not end up bringing back home with you. This is perfect for anyone who loves sprinkling facts into their stories (aka, “can you believe that hamburger was $25 in Reykjavík?!”) I always forget to take a quick snap or jot down how much things are and with my shoddy memory, many details are lost.
Note: This is also great for when you exchange your money and don’t exactly want to bring home a $100 worth of paper money “souvenirs.”
Planes, trains, and broken-down automobiles.
Ah, all the things that contribute to a story later on.
The Volkswagen in Norway that kept breaking down and needed its battery charged constantly on a 3 hour car ride? Check. The tiny plane that simply could not seem to fit more than a dozen people max, including the pilot? Important. Oh, the things we put up with sometimes all in the name of travel.
Anything that catches your eye.
This one’s a given. Things are obviously different outside your hometown and deserve to be captured in whatever way you find fun and interesting. I wish I had photographed the multitude of kitties I kept coming across on Maui, same with the multi-colored sheep in the Faroe Islands.
Travel is a wonderful, scary, oftentimes ridiculous thing. Every moment you’re able to pick up your suitcase and take to the skies deserves a photo to tell its story.
Ultimately, use whatever means necessary to capture your thoughts, feelings, and events witnessed before your eyes. Don’t be afraid to take a few extra photos of a strange plant or chaotic street scene on your way to a crumbling church, those old stones will still be there when you’re finished. Don’t be ashamed to be “that person” and ask to have your photo taken in front of something you’ve waited all your life to see. Ask your new travel friends for a photo, document your food, and please don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with a local in exchange for a picture.
And finally, pictures of.. You!
If you’ve read this post, you’re well-aware of the fact I find it extremely important to be in your travel photos.
They serve as nice little breaks between beautiful sunsets and the snow-capped mountain photos you dump onto Facebook. Plus, for better or worse, they allow you to remember what exactly you were feeling at that very moment.
I have photos taken during times I was mid-panic attack or on the verge of tears without anyone realizing, and those allow me to see how far I’ve come. Some of my favorites are from the rare, solo expeditions before sunrise around a new city when all is quiet. I get to look back at the triumphant expression on my face just from simply being awake at that awful hour. They remind me of what I am capable of, and how much I enjoy exploring this vast planet.
Now it’s your turn! What are your favorite things to photograph while traveling? What do you find yourself wishing you clicked the shutter for? Do you have any travel photography tips of your own? Let me know in the comments.