Why Travel Photography Offers More Than Just Pretty Pictures

Why Travel Photography Offers More Than Just Pretty Pictures

Sometimes, the benefit of photography goes well beyond the pretty pictures.

Like most of you, photography began as simply a hobby for me. I may work as a professional photographer now, but when I first started, the pursuit was little more than a temporary diversion from the drudgery of a day job and a relief from thinking about the hurdles of my film career. It was literally a hobby that I discovered by accident when a batch of vacation photos came back from the developers disastrously executed, and an impulse buy led to me suddenly finding myself with far more camera than I knew how to use. Almost immediately, I found myself going out every weekend with my newfound expensive toy to visit local festivals and events just to have an excuse to make my money back on my investment. Once I felt as though I had photographed the whole of Los Angeles twice over, I started looking for other subjects. After a couple of hours spent in line at the passport office and some money spent on plane tickets, I was off to Italy. Not that I knew anyone in Italy or even how to speak Italian. All I knew was that my camera was calling out for a new adventure, and it wanted to take me along for the ride.

Now, I should be clear. I am not a travel photographer. I am not a documentary photographer. I am only occasionally a street photographer, and that is only usually when I lack other things to do. So, this is not meant as an article demonstrating how to be the best travel photographer in the world. There are many others far more qualified to claim that distinction. Rather, this is an appreciation of how my camera allowed me to interact with the world in a way I had never considered. And, in the process, added more to my life than my portfolio.

When I look back at all the travel images I have taken in the ensuing years since my photographic pursuits grew from hobby to vocation, I very rarely find myself in love with the photos themselves. Again, that’s not my genre, so I’m hardly looking for work to add to my portfolio. But when I look back at those images, I see something almost just as valuable. I see a memory. I see a snapshot I took while strolling through The Louvre, and it reminds me of the two-week trip I took with my dad, traipsing around Paris. There’s that shot I took in Hong Kong at the base of Tian Tan Buddha when I was going through my over-reliance on filters phase. I remember hiking every one of the 268 steps to reach the top. I remember spilling my water on the train trip home only to look up as I was cleaning the floor to see a sign banning food and drink on the train. Apparently, for good reason. I look at those Italy photos, taken so fresh into my photo journey that I didn’t even properly know how to use my settings, and I can’t help but think back on the beautiful Italian woman I met on the plane and my hopes for a storybook romantic Roman holiday being dashed when her boyfriend picked her up upon arrival.

I realize that this article is going out on a photography website, but when I think about travel photography, it’s rarely the photography itself that I’m thinking about. It's the travel. It’s the chance to connect with other cultures and learn about the world firsthand. To see sights I’ve only ever read about in books. To create stories that will live on in my mind far beyond when the images themselves will have cycled off my social media feed.

There are tips I’ve learned along the way about how to be better at travel photography itself. But, the great gift photography has given me over the years is to give me an excuse to seek out experiences that have bettered me as a man. The camera itself is a passport into new worlds. A way to help me see beyond the lens. I may never be the most legendary travel photographer in the world, but photography has already given me so much. The process itself is well worth the journey.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Christopher Malcolm is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle, fitness, and advertising photographer, director, and cinematographer shooting for clients such as Nike, lululemon, ASICS, and Verizon.

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The Experiences, Memories and connections i gained from 11 months far surpassed any of the photos I took on that trip. god dammit now i want to travel again haha!

Love travelling, love learning new languages, get to know new cultures.

"...but when I think about travel photography, it’s rarely the photography itself that I’m thinking about. It's the travel." That has a Zen ring to it (archer, arrow, target stories, and the like). And that is why your photographs are so good!