Capturing the essence of a place – Travel photography tips

Create destination cover shots

You can’t go to a fantastic place and come away with only one picture. Or can you? Naw, you can’t.

But it is fun to create that signature photo that seems to represent a place you’ve visited. Visually, the best way to think about this is to imagine you have been assigned to produce a destination cover photo for a book or magazine. That cover shot has to wow people. Or if not “wow” them, then grab their attention and make them want to pick it up.

Does this seem farfetched? It isn’t. Because nowadays many photographers use online photo services, such as AdoramaPIX, to produce a book or two that tells the tale of their travels. So producing that signature photo can pay off by giving you a fantastic cover for your own self-produced travel book.


What better way to show Puerto Escondido as a surf town than to capture a surfer on a nice way with the town as a background.

Start by shooting the obvious subjects for which a place is known. I went to Puerto Escondido, Mexico. It’s known for the Mexican pipeline. That refers to a wave formation that allows surfers to skim a wave beneath its curl and then shoot out into the open. In other words, Puerto Escondido is known for surfing and its beaches. I was fortunate to find out there’s a lot more, including an active early morning commercial fishing trade and a photogenic market. But it was the quintessential surf shot I wanted. Oaxaca City, Mexico is known for its artists and crafts people, particularly weavers. Peru is famous for Machu Pichu. Paris for the Eiffel Tower.

The risk of following this path is that you limit yourself to the obvious. If the obvious seems trite and clichéd, unleash your creative approaches to reveal what you think visually represents a place. This will become easier the longer you are in a location. Those first hours—and even the first few days—can be overwhelming, because everything different seems new and exciting. Natives in “exotic” (to you, not to them) outfits, roadside stands of vegetables and fruits, houses bursting with color or displaying unusual doors, vendors selling everything from mango-carved flowers on a stick to Day of the Dead skulls.

While the goal may be to get that one definitive “cover” shot, that one shot can require days of shooting using a variety of approaches before you actually capture one you think succeeds. Like any good photographer on assignment, you may want to conceptualize a it before you start shooting. But don’t let your conceptualized photo block you from capturing an unexpected opportunity that may arise.

And don’t become glued to the need for a grandiose and glorious visual. It could be something simple and succinct like a pair of sandals on the beach or a vendor holding out and offering you a trinket version of the Eiffel Tower.


This Paris street photographer doesn’t want to be photographed, which to me symbolizes the American perception of the French being ironic.

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