Photographer, world wanderer, and Infinite Satori blogger Stephanie Dandan shares tips and inspirational advice for capturing moments during your travels.
When we travel, we’re reminded that everything is connected by a beautifully intricate, invisible thread. We are filled with wanderlust — exploring a foreign country or city, an exotic island, or mountains in the mist. Wherever we are, we indulge in the novelty of each moment.
Each place has its own charm, energy, and ambience that will leave its trace in your soul. A travel photographer’s job is to capture this while it’s still there, available to all of your senses.
Stephanie Dandan is a photographer, travel writer, and founder of Infinite Satori. For her project called The Wanderers, she’s exploring Asia, photographing travelers and nomads for a book and online community.
When you return home or move to a different country, time passes, and those photographs from your wanderings have the power to mentally teleport you to another time. Photography has the power to make people feel like they are right there with you, to inspire them to explore this beautiful world.
Here, I’ll share travel photography tips: how to immerse yourself in each experience, and to make the most of each moment.
Focus on small details.
The magic of travel photography lies in the dance of the environment. Capture small details found in the rhythm of each place.
Simple moments can produce riveting photographs. Keep your senses open to recognize the beauty in each moment. Fall in love with everything around you. Notice subtle beauty: hair blowing in the wind, children playing and laughing, leaves falling around a person, the golden light peeking through the silhouettes of passersby. The magic of travel photography lies in the dance of the environment. Capture small details found in the rhythm of each place.
Observe everything around you.
Further reading: For more on observing versus participating in photography and photojournalism, read Ming Thein’s perspective on PetaPixel.
There is an intricate connection and energy found within each place, each person, each moment. There are things hidden between the lines, waiting to be seen. Observation is imperative in photography. Be aware of your surroundings, the idiosyncrasies of people, their conversations and gestures, and light and colors.
Explore a variety of landscapes.
When you connect to a moment, it will come alive in your photograph.
Look for the right composition — the perfect symmetry for your subject. This doesn’t mean everything must be perfectly centered. Be creative with your angles and apply the rule of thirds — but you can break it, too. All of this depends on your subject (as well as the objects framing it and the lines leading to it).
Visuals are one thing. But when you look at raindrops hitting the surface of the sea, the onrush of traffic, the night skyline of a city, the last of the day’s golden light in the horizon, or limestone cliffs in the distance, how do these sights make you feel? When you connect to a moment, it will come alive in your photograph.
Shoot through first-person perspective.
Tip: Stick your hand out when you’re giving someone a flower or a gift, and capture these moments from your angle. Or, take a photo of the back of someone’s head, overlooking a valley, a waterfall, the ocean, or any type of landscape. The viewer will feel as if they are right there, immersed in these surroundings.
Let your viewer see through your eyes. For example, when using a wide-angle lens, look down at your feet and frame the shot wide to capture a cliff and the sea. Stick your hand out when you’re giving someone a flower or a gift, and capture these moments from your angle. Or, take a photo of the back of someone’s head, overlooking a valley, a waterfall, the ocean, or any type of landscape. The viewer will feel as if they are right there.
Connect with the people you photograph.
Further reading: Revisit NomadRuss’ ten tips on photographing people.
When you see someone you’d like to photograph, connect with them. Smile. Ask questions. Make them laugh. Don’t just take the picture and walk away. Show them the photographs you’ve taken. Ask what makes them tick, what makes them feel alive, what their favorite part of the day was, or what they are most grateful for. Sometimes you’ll get a sad story, or sometimes a happy one. Be empathetic. If you don’t speak the same language, pay attention to mannerisms and gestures.
When shooting a portrait, be aware of sudden movements and expressions. Capture the person in their element. Photographing someone with the right expression, at the right moment, in the right position, and at the right place creates the perfect photograph, so be ready.
Don’t be afraid to get lost.
Explore a city. Walk down alleyways. Follow your intuition. When I walked around Chiang Mai in Thailand, I got lost while taking pictures. I found a temple and was enamored by the intricate artwork on the door. A kindhearted woman welcomed me in to meditate. After, we bonded through broken English, and she invited me to a monk ceremony for Loi Krathong, or the Festival of Lights. She bought lanterns, which we released together with the rest of the community.
Take the road less traveled, and you’ll be surprised by what you find.
Follow the light.
Further reading: Learn more about light in our series by Wenjie Zhang:
Tip: Experiment with shadows and use them to “paint” a person’s portrait: the shadow of the lace from a curtain, the grid of a screen, the leaves of a tree, and so on. Don’t be afraid to try new things — always experiment with light.
Train your eyes to spot different kinds of lighting. In the shot above, I asked my subjects to sit in front of the bamboo-made walls as light peeked through the tiny gaps. Shooting into the sun often produces ethereal photographs, especially during the couple hours after sunrise and before sunset (the golden hour). Play with natural and artificial light, shadows, and silhouettes.
Experiment with shadows and use them to “paint” a person’s portrait: the shadow of the lace from a curtain, the grid of a screen, the leaves of a tree, and so on. Don’t be afraid to try new things — always experiment with light.
Be open to serendipity.
Serendipity (noun): luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for.
Serendipity and photography go hand in hand. I took the shot above at Loi Krathong; I missed the opportunity to participate in the Yi Peng ceremony, where they release many lanterns simultaneously. That night, I got lost in the crowd and followed the parade to the Ping River, where it turned out crowds of people were releasing lanterns. Chiang Mai’s night sky flickered with lights, and I watched lanterns float away, thinking of how perfectly placed everything was — and how grateful I was to have that opportunity.
There is always a story.
Every person has a story to tell.
Every person has a story to tell. Unravel their stories through observation and interaction. Take the time to connect with people and learn about their lives, hopes, and dreams. From a beautiful stranger, to a random passerby, to an old man having a smoke — these are people with stories. You’d be surprised by what they have to say, which could be in the form of words or photographs.
Be in the moment.
More inspiration: It’s a challenge to stay in the moment and always be ready. Enjoy more thoughts on photographing now from National Geographic photographer Jay Dickman.
When you live in the moment, your thoughts won’t distract you. When I worry about the outcome of a photo, the shot doesn’t come out the way I hope. Just shoot and let everything go: you’ll be surprised by what the universe brings you.
Stephanie Dandan is a photographer, travel writer, blogger for the Huffington Post, and founder of the travel and self-development blog, Infinite Satori. She is setting out on a solo journey, traveling throughout Asia to photograph wanderers and nomads to tell their stories and create a book and online community called The Wanderers. The Wanderers’ mission is to illuminate and inspire others through stories, lessons, and epiphanies from the road.