Do we Need to Travel to Take Better Photographs?

Do we Need to Travel to Take Better Photographs?

Imagine a spectacular, rugged landscape. Pine forests that stretch for hundreds of miles, vivid lakes and countless waterfalls. This is central Norway; bear country. While I am packing my camera bag for a two week photography trip honeymoon to Iceland, I relive a memory that answered the question if we really need to travel for better photographs.

Back to central Norway and the Boreal forest. As I was hiking there with my wife, we didn’t know where to look. Even in bright daylight the light is different. The sky is more blue, like when you look up from an airplane; a deep and dark sort of blue. Among these evergreen pines and shriveled, ancient birches, squirrels and foxes are a common occurrence. It was a good distance from the nearest town as well, but we weren’t the only ones there. Hiking this woodland too, was a local man and his family.

Mind you, that my wife and I are Dutch. So we don’t go hill walking much. So we’re panting, completely out of breath, and this man coming up to us is whistling a tune. His kids are positively running up the mountain and we’re deeply ashamed of not being in shape at all. We meet the family and started a conversation. Casual at first, more interesting later.

I’m hiding my deep breaths, but I think the sweat on my forehead gave it away: We aren’t locals. So naturally the conversation turned to where we are from. The man, I think his name’s Erik, could not believe that the tallest “mountain” in the Dutch countryside is a mere 322 meters tall. Erik told me he’s a photographer too and would love to visit the Netherlands some time. Mills, tulips, and De Zaanse Schans; things I have seen too many times myself.

Erik wasn’t sure about the beauty of his own country though. All those mountains were more of a nuisance than a particular good subject to photograph. The winding road that connects his work to his home is tedious at best, he said. To be honest, I think Erik wondered why I had a camera with me at all. Now, there’s something profound in the way we both admired each other’s countryside, but got blind to our own.

Somehow we tend to forget beauty. Somehow we are always looking for more. More excitement and new lands to discover. And here, in an unlikely place, we met somebody who is looking forward to seeing our backyard for the first time.

Travel photography is a good way to get out and take some pictures of new and interesting scenery. But knowing your own countryside like the back of your hand has its merits. The lie of the land, at what hour the sun rises and sets, how tides interact with the landscape, and which species of flowers are the first to bloom in a particular season.

There should be beauty in your own backyard as well. Chances are that you have just forgotten about it.

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13 Comments

Living in bavaria, germany, it took me years to appreciate what's just a walk or a short drive away from me. Years of thinking "boy, if i were to visit norway, iceland or canada, i could take great landscape pictures, too". Luckily, i started shooting landscapes in the alps a year before my first trip to canada... could have been quite a bad awakening if i hadn't 😅

Don't get me wrong, i'm still dreaming of iceland, a second (and third, and fourth) trip to norway and i'll certainly head for canada again next year... but photographing my own countryside is much more intimate to me.

Btw. i like your pictures composition, but they're way too dark for my personal taste. I suppose, that's your style, but my first thought was "did ettr for the raw file and accidentally uploaded the unprocessed out-of-camera jpg". No offense.

Daniel Laan's picture

Thanks for your insight and opinion on the images, Johannes. Yes - dark is my style, thanks.
The Alps really are spectacular and luckily you've come to appreciate your surroundings. That's a feeling to cherish.

Andreas Heide's picture

Living in Bavaria too, yes we have the Alps with the dreaming little Lakes, Fields with cows and big Woods. But for my opinion, when i see what for many awesome Landscapes are in the US, Iceland and some Islands, i think Bavaria/Germay compared to this is boring. In Iceland or the US-Westcoast, you can go out from your Home front door, drive an half hour and stay in some of the great Landscapes of the world. Or drive a half hour at the other direction and you have great Beachlocations. Yes i think the US Photographers have it much easier to take their Pictures in much areas of Photography. For me travelling for Photography are absolutely necessary.

Korey Napier's picture

I took this just 4 miles away from my house. I've lived in the same area my whole life and it can definitely be hard to appreciate the beauty right in front of you sometimes.

Anonymous's picture

Yes. Living in Australia does make it a little harder to visit Europe being so far away. But it is certainly worth it. Opening up one's eyes to new cultures, history, architecture, people and of course. I feel a little sheltered in Australia. Must see more.

Nomad Photographers's picture

Yes, we should put more money towards traveling that photo gear ! And lol for the photography trip, a wait a second, honeymoon :D

Andrew Butler's picture

I was initially going to say the answer to the question is no, but in truth travel gives you a change of scene that invariably helps you to appreciate what's on your own doorstep, at least that's how it works for me.

Tryggvi Már Gunnarsson's picture

Have a great honeymoon in Iceland! Just outside Reykjavik there is some magnificient landscape on the Reykjanes peninsula, very often overlooked by people rushing to the "famous" locations like Kirkjufell, Skógafoss etc. But there is no need to go too far :)

Frank Solle's picture

I live on an island in Lake Michigan - everything I shoot is local. Even though we have some diverse landscapes/ecosystems, remaining local forces you to stretch your creativity.
And, yes, your photos are dark, but they are strong and full of emotion. I, for one, like them quite a bit.

Anonymous's picture

There is a great saying,

"if you can't make a great photograph in your neighborhood, you can't make a great photograph in any other location."

I'm not sure who originated the saying, otherwise I'd give credit.

Living in the south island of New Zealand then moving to the north island made me feel the same way. The south is lush and full of landscapes and the north seems empty in comparison.

There is beauty all around, I seldom travel too far from home and when I do get to travel to exotic destinations I enjoy every moment of it. Way too many photographers have a misconception that there is nothing worthwhile close to home to capture, its nonsense and many of us can prove that to them over and over and over.

If you can't take excellent images where you live what makes you think you will do so by traveling a thousand or so miles away? Same crappy photos, just a different location. You will get the 'gee whiz' images but few that are anything more than 'I was here'.
Get good before you go and see if you can move past the stereotypical boring travel pictures and get excellence.