Culture trip: The best ways to document your next holiday destination

The ultimate travel souvenir is a memory card full of beautiful images. Nothing beats being able to share your adventure and relive the amazing things you saw once you get home. Effective destination photography requires the visitor to dilute the on-duty "I am standing in front of ..." footage with more vivid and interesting images. To truly capture the location and the culture you need to learn to see what others do not notice. 

Imagine you are documenting your trip to relive later and take photos as if they were a diary snapshotting all the people and places you encounter. Capture the soul of the place you are in by taking pictures of locals at work, depicting how your travel companion moves to music played on the street or buying local food at the market. These are the stories that will reignite the feelings you had as you experienced your trip.

Top ideas for capturing beautiful travel photos

Shoot from an unexpected angle

Even the most popular and well known tourist attractions can yield interesting photos if you look at them from a different perspective. Look around, pay attention to the details, lay the camera on the ground and photograph the feet of passers-by, shoot from a high hill or from a low place. Reframing the location in fresh and interesting ways can make your photos unique and memorable.

Look for interesting reflections

The world around us is often mirrored in unexpected places, puddles, windows and shiny objects. Add a new dimension to your image by snapping the the road from in the rearview mirror. Photograph people in the reflections of shop windows and trees or mountains in the reflection of water.

Don’t let the weather hold you back

Clouds at sunset, the sky before a thunderstorm or after rain can all result in spectacular images. Photos taken on a clear sunny day often play havoc with your camera sensor and your subjects may be squinting. If the weather is fine, it’s better to photograph people at the border of the shade or wait for the “golden hour” before sunset when soft light helps to create very beautiful pictures.

Take artistic still life inspired photos

Take artistic still life photos of products at the market, bread in the bakery, fresh fruit or artisan cheeses to help convey the atmosphere of a new place.

Look for details

Sometimes an unusual doorway, a manhole or a wall of a house tells more about the city than a postcard style snapshot of famous attractions. 

Get up close and personal

Do not rely on the zoom of the smartphone or camera - if possible, get closer to the subject and focus in on the details.

Hello, World!

Shoot first, frame later

Make sure you capture moments as they happen and don’t fool yourself by thinking you’ll get to it later. On a trip, everything changes so quickly and you might not have an opportunity to photograph it again. Capture your subject quickly if necessary and even if you think you didn’t get the shot you may later be able to edit or crop it differently to find an interesting detail.

Create your own series

Some photographers create a compelling series of photographs documenting the same subject. Your specialty might be changing landscapes or you might get more creative and complement reality with paper-cut figures. Some creative photography series have become mainstream travel photos for example, when the photographer holds his companions hand.

Observe the interactions of people

People make the most fascinating photography subjects. Watch their interactions around you sitting at a cafe table or on a park bench, attending a city festival or sports tournament. Without intruding in their lives, try to catch the emotions of strangers in the lens. Nothing conveys the atmosphere of the city or event better than the people participating in it. 

For more tips on capturing compelling street scene photographs read: Life on the streets: The evolution of lifestyle photography and what we can learn from it today

The local people you meet in your travels can greatly enrich your experience in a new place. Whether they are new friends or strangers, when you photograph people try to capture them going about their daily lives. Try and be an unobtrusive observer to ensure candid photos and always respect local customs and privacy.

Taking spontaneous photos can often yield the most interesting results. A magic moment to photograph can happen at any time from the moment you leave home so let your camera always be ready. Let your instincts guide you to find interesting moments in everyday life.

Capture life in motion

Action photography is an area in which photography beats all other forms of art (except perhaps cinema). The camera’s ability to freeze dynamic movement is unparalleled. High shutter speeds make shooting movement accessible to everyone. You can set the camera shutter speed value in accordance with the speed of your subject and record people jumping, dancing and other fleeting movements.

When people are busy they often don’t even notice that they are being photographed. Shoot quickly and be sure to set a faster shutter speed so that the photo does not turn out blurry.

Take pictures of people at carnivals and festivals

To capture spirited photos head to local rituals, festivals and carnivals. Events brimming with jubilant people are a great place to try your hand at street photography. It can be a sports match, a religious event, or even an annual festival where you can take candid pictures of participants. To document and experience these occasions many photographers intentionally plan their trip on a date when there will be some kind of national holiday or sport event.

At parades and processions, participants move quickly, so be prepared to capture the action and not miss a candid opportunity. To ensure a sharp focus use a slow shutter speed, try experimenting with different shutter speeds of 1/100 second or less.

Festivals provide an excellent opportunity to create colourful and vibrant photographs. Participate and get involved to capture dynamic action and enjoy the moment.

Overall no matter what city or country you are in, photographing people can be a hugely enjoyable experience. Emotion and expression is key to conveying the atmosphere of your destination. Capturing locals or your travel companions in action, through candid shots and enjoying celebrations will help improve your visual storytelling and bring home better photographs than a postcard.