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Guide to Artistic Travel Photography

Hello everyone! My name is Lee and I am a cultural travel photographer. I would like to share my experience in taking artistic travel photos. No complicated theories here, just some practical approach I use. I hope it will be helpful to some of the readers who are in their early stage of developing their skills. Comments and discussion are welcomed.


1. Tell A Clear and Simple Story

A good photograph, at a glance, within seconds, the visual message should be immediately clear to the viewers. To achieve this goal, the story must be clear or easily understandable. A photograph, unlike a book, is a snap shot of a moment in time. So it is not capable of delivering too much of information. So we should keep the stories simple.


Here is a simple story. An old lady doing her morning ritual at the Ganges river. Her body language and concentration, the water pillar created, the circulating ripples around her, the morning light at the top left corner, combined to a serene and spiritual scene. There is nothing else in the scene that need to be related to her. So it cannot be a much simpler story. This is an example of a simple scene and a simple story.

Varanasi, India

Varanasi, India


Now, do not mistake a simple STORY with a simple SCENE. A simple story is not necessarily one with few elements. For example, here is a photo of a street in Dhaka. It was raining, the traffic was in absolute chaos, the power cables were all over the place much like spider cobweb. But, the STORY is simple. The elements in the photo contribute positively to make a strong image. There is no elements in the scene that takes away from the story or causes confusion. This is a simple story, one which is easily understandable.

Dhaka, Bangladesh

Dhaka, Bangladesh


Now let’s take a look at the photo below. There were quite something going on there: A fishing boat, an interesting tree, some ducks with the keeper, two fishermen with a fishing net. The main problem with this photo was lack of a main focus point or main subject. The subjects in the scene take away from one another. The story is complicated, and sparse.

Mandalay, Myanmar

Mandalay, Myanmar


So it is good to keep a story simple and clear. Good contents and good composition are keys to a simple and clear story. We will look at each in the following sections.


2. Have Good Subjects / Elements

Interesting subjects and elements within photographs, or simply “contents” are meats and bones of a photo. They are the reasons why we bother to raise our cameras and take photos. There should be something that interests us to begin with.


Below, we have a fisherman in Yangshuo. The subject was nice and interesting, there were some mountains at the back to give indication of the whereabouts. The other elements such as the oil lamp, the cormorants and the fishing net, all worked together to form a good and rich photo. In this case there is a good story and it is presented clearly, hence it is a good photo.

Yangshuo, China

Yangshuo, China


We can take a perfectly composed photo. But if there is a lack of contents, then the story may not look attractive. On the other hand, we can make mistakes in the composition and still get away with a decent photo if the content is good. For example, In the following photo, the composition is not perfect. On the right of the truck, there was a man crossing the street. But in this case, that does not affect much the photo, because the truck together with the man on top was a dominant figure in the photo.