with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

A Good Travel Photograph Makes You Want to Go There

I stumbled across an old Oregonian’s Travel Focus Photography Awards announcement recently. Over 10,000 photographs from all over the world, including Namibia, Peru, Cambodia, and the Antarctic, as well as the United States, are submitted annually.

One of the comments made by a judge in the competition caught my attention.

“When a travel photo makes you want to go there badly, I take that picture seriously.”
Terry Toedtemeier, judge and curator of photography at the Portland Art Museum

This is the truth. A good travel photograph should make you want to go there very badly. It should reach out through the 2 dimension flat image and grab you by the “wanna-goes”.

But what does that mean?

Some basic elements for a good travel photograph is one that:

  • Makes you want to visit.
  • Makes you feel like you are already there.
  • It feels accessible. You can go there and when you get there, it will look like that.
  • Gives you a sense of time, space, and location.
  • Makes you touch, smell, hear, see, and taste a place.

That’s a tall order.

I’m constantly educating my students in photography, blogging, and otherwise that creativity doesn’t require an exotic location. You don’t have to travel to get to beautiful spaces.

Growing up in Seattle, I met a lot of people who told me how they dreamed of living in such an exotic place, surrounded by mountains and water. To me, it was just “home,” a place to live with cool things to do around me, but nothing special. I dreamed of traveling to really exotic places one day.

When I reached those places, living in many so-called “exotic” places, in short order they became just a place to live with cool things to do around me, but really, nothing special.

What makes a place special is your unique vision and experience with the place. Once I got that, I started to look at everywhere I lived as special and unique, truly exotic.

Seattle Troll under the Aurora Bridge photograph by Lorelle VAnFossenAnd I took my camera on that thought process. Suddenly, the Arboretum in Seattle became a magical garden. The Pike Place Market became an exotic farmers market with local food and crafts from around the area and beyond. A walk through Pioneer Square became a trip back into history.

Spider web right outside our home in Everett, WashingtonAdventure was suddenly everywhere, from taking a walk around the neighborhood to stumble upon the great troll living under the Aurora Bridge to the magic of finding a spider’s web in the glowing light of predawn. I could get lost anywhere within a mile or so of my home.

As you create your own travel photographs, remember that your boring place you call home is exotic to others. However, you have one thing they don’t have: experience and familiarity. You already know where the good spots are. Visit them with your camera and photograph them as if they were exotic, inviting viewers to visit your neck of the woods through your eyes.

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