Curating a Travel Portfolio
I love to travel. I love to take pictures. And i truly, truly love to combine these two passions. I also love to show my friends and family the results.
Most of us likely had to endure an evening of your best friend giving you the old “Tommy in front of the beach”, “Tommy in front of an old temple”, “Tommy in front of something great, which sadly i can’t see because of Tommy’s stupid big face”.
But then again a lot of people love seeing images from places around the world, they just have to be INTERESTING.
So how to accomplish that?!
There are few solid rules when it comes to travel photography, but a lot of useful tips I’ve learned over the years:
Show the whole story and the small parts that make it great.
1. Get the panoramic view of your location.
Search out rooftop bars, church towers, platforms, mountains or whatever vantage point you can find to get an image of the whole area you are visiting. This is not only always a great aspect of travelling but also gives your audience a point of reference, a sense for the surroundings.
2. Get the people.
This one is tricky, since you’ll have to know a little about local laws regarding photographing people. Many places will not allow you to take a portrait without permission. If however the laws are liberal, be kind, respectful and don’t spook people. Try to get shots of craftsman or local attire. If confronted with stricter rules look out for umbrellas hiding the face, interesting silhouettes or other ways to obscure identity. Pictures of locals give a personal feel to your portfolio and make a location more human, more accessible. Consider adding portraits as well as bigger compositions containing surroundings such as work places, streets or landscape. Please be aware that the people you’ll want to portrait are just living their lives, maybe having a hard day at work or are otherwise not just there for you. Be kind and respectful and think about how you’d react to yourself.
3. Get the food
Yeah it’s been done. Still - pictures of food offer colour, aesthetics, glimpse at the local culture and conjure smells and desires. A few well chosen food photographs can enrich a travel portfolio immensely. Go for top view symmetrical compositions or close ups with a small depth of field.
If your trip brings you to a town or city make sure to show the architecture. Not just the skyline of the city, not as a backdrop for people or yourself, but as the protagonist of your images.
This of course depends on where you are. So with landscape I mean greenery in any form. If you are hiking or on a road trip search out vantage points, do the basics: foreground, framing, etc… If you are in the city apply those to the botanical garden or park or maybe even do a day trip to see the city’s surroundings. The flora and character of a region is the basis for its development and the culture it spawned.
Whether you're in a city or in nature there will be animals. Life is as important to a balanced portfolio as architecture or still images. Lifeforms inspire a bigger reaction from the audience on average. Humans work best, but animals will almost always lead to some feedback no matter whether they are cute or exotic. A simple trick to get more relatable animal portraits is to get on the eye level of the portrayed subject.
This is not necessarily covered in landscape shots (though it might overlap). But flora is always interesting. You might want to be careful with the number of images you want to dedicate to this subject, as it can be tiring - but this might very much depend on skill and the flora you found travelling.
Flesh out your portfolio by showing the tiny little things. Close ups from the farmer’s market, architecture deconstructed into its lines and shadows, interesting lights and colours. This will enhance the way your viewers will experience the atmosphere of a place they might not have been to in person. While much of the rest will give them a point of reference, a way to orientate themselves, this will give them a more sensual, emotional way of reliving your trip through your lense and therefore your eyes.
In this day and age we have a very binary view on self portraits or selfies. Either you are posting at least the odd selfie every now and then or you might be one of the many people proclaiming them to be this generation’s vain downfall. However: including yourself in your travel portfolio gives your viewers a protagonist to join in their adventure, someone to relate to. Don’t join in on every shot of a place that deserves the limelight unobstructed, but throw in a handful of shots of you having a pretty drink, hiking or simply relaxing in a nice place. Be brave and make yourself the subject of those images, but show just a little of your surroundings to connect them to the rest of the images.
And on a side note. This might even be easier, if you do not travel alone. You can simply make your travel partner your model...
Now that you have these nine categories set (Be free to add your own) you should be aware that you do not want to bore your viewers. The work you show should be the best 10 - 20% of what you shot (very much depending on your style of shooting) but no more than 200 pictures, if you show them to friends or family on a tv or beamer and much, much less if you publish online. (These numbers stem from MY experience - don't take them too seriously) Be aware that the worst shot you’ll show will be the one defining the quality standard of your portfolio. If an image isn’t that interesting, don’t bother others with it. Not every shot will be material for the National Geographic, but every shot should add SOMETHING to the whole collection and to your viewers experience.
These tips are just that - tips. Travel photography is a vast field and not every rule is set in stone and not every place is the same and each destination will have its own demands. But if you keep these points in mind when taking pictures and curating them, you should end up with an enjoyable impression of your trip - not only for your viewers, but for yourself to help you keep the best memories alive!
The Big Why
Photography has experienced a renaissance of sorts in the recent years. It has become cheaper and more accessible and is now a daily form of self expression for millions of people.
But why do we love it so much? Why do I?
Let’s say I’m a the-glass-is-half-empty-kinda-girl. Though I am lucky to have a great life, with great friends and opportunities, I regularly have to consciously remind myself of what I have accomplished and of what was given to me. I suppose that’s a rather common feeling. Humans can be quite ungrateful for what they have. I have found I’m happier when I make the effort. There’s actually not that much I can complain about, compared to all the wonderful experiences I have.
Now what am I trying to say here? What’s that got to do with photography and self expression?
When I document my life, the places I visit, my surroundings, all the lucky moments, it becomes a great collection. It can be revisited, shared and curated and whenever I feel down, sick or unsatisfied I can go back, flip through my collection and re-experience what I once loved.
Even better: I can show people what I saw. I can share with them the beauty of a place or a moment. Be it an icelandic waterfall sparkling amidst green mosses or a bustling city full of neon lights and busy people.
I always loved travel and street photography - the way an image or a series of images can tell a story and convey feelings.
My pictures not only help me convey my feelings and experiences, I also found myself more conscious and mindful of my surroundings - even when my camera is not with me. The world becomes full of small little images, some gorgeous, some romantic, some dark and horrible. It’s not the point of an image to be pretty I suppose. And even though what I wrote so far might make it seem like I’m always hunting that sparkling waterfall that is not what I mean.
Collecting my experiences and feelings with the help of photography is very much including all the sad or fearful moments. And I stand by my claim. This does make me a happier person. While images from happy moments will make me happy again, images from darker times help me compartmentalize those feelings, analyze them or even see beauty in them.
Is that everyone’s reason? I don’t think so. Some do it to educate, some to warn and some to promote. Every reason is valid and every reason can produce inspiring collections of their own. Not every picture is a masterpiece and sometimes the ordinary can be grand to someone.
This is my very personal view of my photography and the reason why it has changed my life and my view of the world.