Travel photography, is it about the travel or the photography?

I love travel photography. Not only do you get to travel and see interesting places and the people who live there, but you get to photograph those people and places while you are there.

Travel photography - San Francisco

Every city in the world has some sort of iconic location where you will always find photographers and see postcard images from, the trick is to figure out what those iconic locations are, and be there at just the right time of day to make beautiful images.

See more beautiful images from San Francisco by clicking on the more link below:

Travel photography - San Francisco

You can’t always count on mother nature to cooperate with your photographic expectations. You are also at the mercy of logistics with travel time to locations and limited time at each location. Sometimes you just have to wing-it and do the best you can given the conditions in front of you.

Travel photography - San Francisco

I spent a great deal of time during my younger days living very close to San Francisco but never took the time to visit some of the very well-known locations for photography. I think it was because in the back of my mind, I always knew I could just drive up there and see these things. Turns out after moving away I really missed not having visited some of these locations with my camera, so back to Cali I went.

Travel photography - San Francisco

In the years since I have moved away, many things have changed while some things have stayed the same. There are some new sights to see and some old favorites to visit once again with memories from my younger days.

Travel photography - San Francisco

Night photography and the dynamic range limitations of digital cameras today make me want to learn more about HDR or High Dynamic Range photography so that I can get night shots with good depth and detail in both the shadows and highlights.

Travel photography - San Francisco

What would travel photography be without at least one shot of a plate of food?

Travel photography - San Francisco

In some cases when the lighting is harsh outside from the mid-day sun and your opportunities to make nice images outside is more limited, you can always visit a museum and practice your indoor photography.

Travel photography - San Francisco

Poking around in San Francisco’s iconic City Hall and stumbling upon a wedding photographer’s session helped me create this image.

Travel photography - San Francisco

Dabbling in street photography can be a real challenge when you are shooting with a dSLR with a battery grip and a large mid-range zoom. Most would say that street photography is best left to smaller, more discreet setups, but I had to give it a try.

Travel photography - San Francisco

Maybe working the museum visit into your street photography is a good way to practice.

Travel photography - San Francisco

There are so many different aspects to each city it is often hard to pinpoint what part of the city you want to be in and at what time of day.

Travel photography - San Francisco

Street photography can be from far away or right up close where you engage your subjects and talk with them.

Travel photography - San Francisco

There are so many things just around the next corner to see and make nice images of it can be overwhelming to some people.

Travel photography - San Francisco

The challenge of trying to tell the story of all the people visiting the aquarium with the large tanks took me a little while to work through. What do you think of this shot?

Travel photography - San Francisco

Maybe some abstract stuff of the bridges will work for me?

Travel photography - San Francisco

San Francisco City Hall is a very high-tech building with all the earthquake retrofit and restoration work that went into it, still the outside is just not as cool as the inside.

Travel photography - San Francisco

The inside of City Hall makes you feel like your are in some old-world european city.

Travel photography - San Francisco

A shot like this abstract detail from the Japanese Tea Garden could have been taken anywhere, so while it is a nice shot I can’t say it tells me where I was when I took it.

Travel photography - San Francisco

I’m not sure how I feel about this shot of the Palace of Fine Arts taken during the day. I’m sure that if I was able to spend several hours waiting for just the right afternoon lighting this would look much better, but as I said sometimes you are at the mercy of logistics.

Travel photography - San Francisco

More Palace of Fine Arts, but the sky is all blown out from mid-day harsh light. This is just not the best time of day to make photos here.

Travel photography - San Francisco

Being caught at the famous Fog City Dinner without a tripod or a shutter release means you have to use a tree as a tripod and the self-timer to trigger the shutter and even then you are at the mercy of the dynamic range of your digital sensor.

Travel photography - San Francisco

Flowers. The flowers could be anywhere, but they are in Golden Gate Park, but I can’t tell from this image, so it’s a cool images but not my favorite.

Travel photography - San Francisco

Another one of those, could be from anywhere shots. This time the bamboo forest from the Japanese Tea Gardens.

Travel photography - San Francisco

This butterfly was massive, as big as your fist, but it could be anywhere so it doesn’t tell the story of the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.

I have a ton more images to process, some better than others. I really like travel photography, it has challenges that are different from other types of photography and always keeps you on your toes and pushing your skills as a photographer.


137 thoughts on “Travel photography, is it about the travel or the photography?

  1. Beautiful collection of images here! Definately gives me ideas for when I travel to Montreal this fall. Inspiring and maybe I will just dabble in some street photography… never have before. Thanks for the helpfull ideas. By the way my favourites are the bamboo (love how you framed up teh bamboo shoots in this pic), the street photography with the couple against the brick wall and the night image. Do you always suggest using a tripod at night? What if you don’t have the means of carrying one around with you? What do you suggest as an alternative?

  2. Good question, and as much as I like photography, and traveling, I still don’t know which one I like most, fiddling with the post production, taking the photograph or traveling itself….

  3. When I first read your title, I assumed your post would discuss the struggle photographers face between wanting to capture “the perfect shot”, and simply enjoying the experience of the trip.

    I’ve gone to live events and beautiful historic places (as an amateur photographer), and spent so much time fretting over getting that “artsy” shot… finding an interesting angle, the just-right shadow, that perfect blur, etc… that I missed the entire thrill of the moment, the opportunity to bond with my family, learn the place’s history, and most important of all – relax and have fun! That’s why I try to separate practice “photo shoots” from family vacations, personal travel, and recreation. Well, I said “try”….. πŸ˜‰

    And your photographs are gorgeous! I’m surprised you were able to shoot some of those… our local art museum doesn’t like walk-in photographers (maybe we’re going to rip-off their art? LOL)

    • I can never tell if I am there to experience the location, or be a photographer and look for interesting images to capture, and I struggle with it often, but my passion for photography wins out many times.

      FYI, most museum’s don’t have a problem with you photographing a standing collection, it’s the visiting art (art on loan from other museum’s) that they won’t allow you to photograph. Just thought that might be helpful.

    • The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton is a great book for travelers generally, and I particularly like his chapters dealing with the travelers’ obsession in capturing the moment to bring a little peice of their travels back home.

  4. Amazing pictures! I love to bring my camera with me whenever I travel, you never know what you will come across and I always find beauty in something new and different. I love your picture of the Fog City Diner. Thank you for sharing and once again, beautiful!

  5. As someone who has lived and worked in San Francisco for years, it has occurred to me that there is a world that lies underneath that has not been seen. In Vietnam, I glanced a bootlegged copy of Lonely Planet San Francisco. It occurred to me that many of the tourists in San Francisco had seen more in weeks than I had seen in my time in San Francisco. So I’ve gained a new appreciation.

    Photography included, the pink sky in your headline is not common – and it does take “the perfect day and time” to see it. You can also get a very interesting skyline shot of SF from Bay Farm Alameda (near the ferry) – especially on a clear day.

    Anyway, I just returned from a 3.5 month trip to South East Asia and I’ve still got the travel and photography bug in me. Check out my travel blog if you like. While my camera is not particularly high-end, I did manage to get a few decent shots.


  6. Great photos here! Travel photography may (emphasis here), provide a different way of seeing something that is familiar /mundane to locals but a visitor might find some characteristics about the object/scene that they want to capture.

    Or the reverse is true also: locals shooting their local sights with the intention of travel photography, will take additional steps to convey the same subject in different lighting conditions or certain situations over a longer time period. Then choose the best shot that captures the subject’s “essence”.

  7. Love the introspective approach to two popular topics – photography and travel. You are so right – they do go hand in glove. Your shots are amazing! I aspire to reach this level. My limitation is in setting it up – I am already on the next activity and often miss the better light! What can I say, it is all about the experience for me! Have started to slow down, see the picture. I love looking at the work of others – like yours – very inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

  8. I love San Francisco! I am from Reno, which is only a few hours away, but I am living in England. These pictures make me feel a little home sick. Great pictures and great advice. Thank you for sharing.

  9. I see scenes every day here in San Francisco however your work brings out the beauty of this city that we seem to forgot. Thank you for reminding us here in San Francisco of the beauty that surrouds us. Keep up the superb work, OUTSTANDING….

    De De Tillman
    Celebrity Blogger

  10. Beautiful shots! I truly enjoy capturing the trip when we travel. I always seem to find something when I am reviewing the pics afteward that I didn’t see before. I also try to think in different views so as to not miss that special perspective. I have to admit to being a bit shy of taking pics of people. It almost feels a bit invasive to their privacy with me. So if I do I get a lot of pics of people’s backs. Though in some ways that adds mystery…

    • You gotta force yourself to talk to people, most times they are very nice and can have great stories to tell, and that makes better pictures. I have difficulties with this sometimes, but once I force myself to face my fears and talk to people I’m always glad I did.

  11. It is always interesting to see someone’s take on the city I live in – particularly since this city is so photogenic. Great examples, great perspectives, compositions and exposures!

  12. Great pictures! I especially love the one of the man playing the saxophone. Your notes about each photo, and your thoughts about it were interesting, too. I always try to photograph people when I go on vacation so that I can show others the local “scene,” but it doesn’t always work out that well. πŸ™‚ Congratulations on being FP!

    • Brittany, I am a Canon shooter and right now my 7D is my “everything” camera. As far as lens go, they are all Canon, everything from 10-22, 24-70, and 70-200 is what I lugged around on my trip.

      • Thanks for the info! I have a 60D myself but am actually looking into doing a class or two near the city. I majored in film, photo, broadcast, etc. but I need a good touch up and seeing really technically good, sharp photos like this inspire me to take classes sooner than later! I don’t have many lenses yet but have one good solid lens. What do you suggest as a good first or second lens?

      • I’m not sure how to answer your lens question, depending on your budget, I’ve been told the 24-105 f4 is a good walk-around lens. Unless you really understand aperture and what you are trying to do with your camera, you could go with a “fast” lens like a 50 f1.4, or f1.8, or mid-range zoom like the 24-70 f2.8 or . . .

        If all those numbers just confused you it might be time to do a bit of research and maybe rent different lens to see what suits your needs.

  13. Interesting collection of photos. I liked the ones particularly of the buildings, as I find those the most interesting and attractive.

  14. Beautiful pictures. I don’t understand how you took the night pictures. When I try with my Canon SLR Rebel, the night pictures come out like “crap”.
    You are way too modest when you describe these SF pics. They are great!

  15. I went to SF once, years ago and didn’t enjoy the trip (mainly because my family is crazy and made it no fun). Therefore, I had no real urge to want to re-visit. BUT, these photos are so gorgeous that I want to book a trip out there as soon as possible. Love the contrast and high quality!


  16. Nice to read a post that’s just on travel photography. That’s pretty much the only time I take photos anymore. And even though the photos of flowers and bamboo don’t tell you exactly where you are, they provide a nice rest from the more site-specific ones that is necessary in a good travel photo album.

  17. I love travelling and taking pictures of the landscape around me. It definitely makes me happy and nostalgic when I look back on my photos. Oh, and I think the aquarium one turned out cool, I love the boy pointing at the fish.

  18. yes! it is about travel.
    and yes – it is about photography.
    a wonderful post.
    congratulations on being freshly pressed – without which i would never have seen this gem.
    so thanks for sharing.

  19. Great job. You cited the ‘could be anywhere’ limitation of several beautiful photos you posted. I guess that goes with the dilemma between taking “artsy photos” and photos that truly represent the place. I often encounter that problem as well but, for now, I make good use of captions and narratives to make sure the location of the photo is clear. Unless a tight criteria such as ‘truly representative photos’ has to be met, I think appropriate captions and descriptions will do. Thanks for sharing these magnificent photos.

  20. Wonderful! While many of your subjects are heavily photographed and familiar to those who never seen them in person, you found a way to make the most familiar things look like I was seeing them for the first time. I think it is especially true of the first picture. Fantastic!

  21. Loved this… I walked the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday to find there was construction going on and giant plastic wrap preventing me from taking pictures. I guess I’ll just have to go back on a better day πŸ˜‰

  22. I think it’s about capturing the experience (and emotions) of travelling through photography πŸ™‚ And you do that incredibly well.

  23. sitting down to write a post about Paris, i saw your photo of the bay bridge staring at me…a native californian – bay area born and breed – this brought a big smile to my face. thanks for the momentary glimpse of home!!!

  24. Very nice pictures.I especially love the one of the man playing the saxophone. Your notes about each photo, and your thoughts about it were interesting, too. I always try to photograph people when I go on vacation so that I can show others the local β€œscene,” but it doesn’t always work out that well. πŸ™‚ Congratulations on being FP!

  25. Very nice pictures.Great post and congrats on being freshly pressed!! I think that it goes both ways–a great subject will reveal itself with even a tiny bit of ability. But on the flip side, a great piece of talent can find beauty anywhere.Amazing photos!!

  26. For me when I do (or rather DID, its been a few years since I did any) travel photography. Its not about the photography and its not about the travel. Its about the harmony between them both.
    I recall a trip to Paris I took, and upon arriving there I found that my camera had just died so was face with a trip to a stunning city with no camera to capture the sights. I didnt really enjoy that trip because of that disaster. Sounds silly to some people I guess. I made sure that I returned to Paris that same year with a camera and I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and all the photos that I took.
    For me travel photography will always have a special place in my heart because there I am taking stills (or video) of places that I (usually) havent been to before. Its a wonderful first time experience.
    I miss it. I miss the photogaphy and the travel. But sadly my finaces dont allow me to do as much as I used to (that and a partner who hasnt even got a passport yet)

  27. nice images man beautifully done
    what can i say man i live in india n struggggling to get my first dslr
    u guys are lucky keep it up super like

  28. Great post and amazing photos!!! I’ve also enjoy Travel Photography even though i’m some kind of a beginner but let me tell you my feelings about it. I think that when you are at the place it’s about photography – you are seeking for the best moments to take while enjoying the travel. However when you go back home and look at the photos…you realize it was actually about travel:) Because then you see how great it was when you were there:)

  29. Wow you are amazing!! I visited SF for the first time last year and fell in love with it. You’re making me want to go back! I would also love to take wedding (or single) pictures in City Hall…how beautiful.

  30. To answer the question “Is Travel Photography about Travel or Photography” I’d lean more to answer it’s about travel. Photography is broad and it could be anything. To me, travel photography would give me a feeling of “being there”. The photo should be able to enhance my other senses; make me feel like I’m drinking in this cafe, make me feel like the sun is basking on my skin, make me feel like I can smell the flowers in the garden, or even make me feel like I have met the person in your portrait.
    Your photos are amazing and I do feel that some of them did take me (back) to San Francisco =)
    Thank you!

  31. As for your question: I have always felt like my camera was an appendage and I am not sure what I would do without it. With that said I have often forced myself into situations and left my camera behind on purpose…now this has never stopped me from snapping a few shots with my phone but I is a totally different feeling. Like I’m not trying to savor this place late…I am enjoying and living within this space right now. And in a way only for right now.

  32. Hi Doug:

    I’m a photographer myself, but at the early stages of the trade. Still learning the tricks of the trade. I loved each and every one of your pictures. They’re interesting, sharp, and full of bright colors. Thank you so much for sharing. I have much to learn ahead of me. Am glad I saw your pictures to wake me up and start taking better pictures.



  33. Although I don’t travel much, I take a lot of pictures in my town. While taking pictures, people come up to me and start talking. I see things I wouldn’t normally see and eat things I normally wouldn’t eat. So it’s about the whole experience.

  34. San Francisco is one of my favorite cities to travel to and photograph. The Palace of Fine Arts is one of my favorite subjects there, and the Wharf. I’ve found it’s one of the best places to play around with HDR photography – since there’s lots of fog you never know what you’re going to get. Beautiful photos, they’re making me nostalgic! Thank you so much for sharing them!

  35. An inspiring post for me. I love travel photography, but I am not very good at it. Keep trying.

    For me, the photography is as important as the travel, but for my wife it is mainly the travel.

  36. Travel photography is the best! It always brings a good feeling when you’re able to re-live the experience while looking back at the pictures you’ve taken. I’m only twenty-one years old and I regret not taking pictures like these when I went traveled, so I’m going to make sure from now on to bring my camera and force myself to take pictures!

    I love your shot underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. The fog gives it a good touch and l reminds me of my trips to the bay! I miss home so much and I can’t wait to go back….

  37. I love the commentary with your shots. Some great pointers. I spent the late 60’s, early 70’s in San Francisco. Even lived for a time at Haight and Waller, one block up from Ashbury. And I don’t have one dang photo from those days. Lot’s of memories, though!

  38. Some great images. It certainly takes a large helping of patience and a dash of luck to pull off some shots. Good equipment is essential. I’m very jealous of you Palace of Fine Arts night scene. They were repairing it when I was there 😦

  39. Congratulations on being freshly pressed! Those photos were impressive! I just recently moved to the Bay Area, if you don’t mind me asking, how do you get to the spot where you took the shot of Golden Gate Bridge, your second photo in this post? Thanks!

    • I”m thinking Fort Point is where I was when I took that shot, the top floor of Fort Point can get you some interesting angles under the bridge.

  40. Truly beautiful photography! Are these all taken around San Francisco? We are moving to California and have yet to explore San Fran, but it’s on our list. We may have to stop at some of these destinations! City Hall is gorgeous! Congrats on getting freshly pressed!

  41. Haha… I agree about it being awkward to use a DSLR for street photography. It sure is easier with a smaller camera but I think that the end result of the DSLR picture is definitely worth looking like a creeper for…

  42. These shots are gorgeous! I’m a current resident of SF, and it’s wonderful seeing the beauty of this city through your photos. πŸ™‚

  43. Hello there! Great post! Great photos!
    I am a photography enthusiast and this post of yours inspired me to go out there and wait for the right time to take a shot.
    Thank you for inspiring young photography enthusiasts!

  44. Love the closeup of what i assume is the goldengate. except the colour is wrong somewhere. Actually I love them all. The diner shot was brilliant as well. I haven’t mastered night shots. I guess there is only so much you can do with a point and click canon:)

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