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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

What is travel photography?

Last night I was asked to think about something I had, surprisingly, not given a lot of consideration to before. Southside Camera Club here in Cairns asked me to judge their monthly photographic competition - and the theme was travel photography.

Now I've judged a few photographic competitions in my time, and won one, the Australian Society of Travel Writers' 2003 Travel Photograph of the Year. But I'd never actually judged one where the theme was travel.

So I'll be honest, when I was presented with the entries it actually took a fair bit of thinking about what constituted a travel picture. I ended up coming the following conclusions.

A travel photograph can be taken anywhere. What may be local for you would be a travel destination for somebody else. On this blog we have readers from all over the world, and no matter how boring you may think your home town is, and how much you long to travel to distant lands, you can fine-tune your travel photography skills by trying to look at your local area through new eyes. Imagine what a visitor from another country would want to see if they came to where you live.

So even though there were entries taken locally, and some from overseas, the location they were taken didn't matter. What did matter to me was that the location was suggested, or was even obvious, in the picture. In other words a picture of a single leaf wasn't going to do it unless that leaf was obviously from some part of the world - a cactus for deserts, a big tropical leaf for the rainforest or something along those lines.

We had a picture of a large her of elephants bathing in a river. Elephants in such a big group like that suggests travel (not too many of them in Cairns!) but what made it even better were the palm trees in the background. It was somewhere tropical - my mind immediately guessed Sri Lanka and it was right. Had it just been a photo of elephants I wouldn't have known where they were but the addition of other visual clues made it into a travel photograph.

There weren't many entries of people photos in last night's comp but people can be perfect travel photographs not necessarily for their faces alone but for their clothing. The women above are the perfect example. Put them in business suits and they could be in almost any city in the world but put them in their lovely colourful saris and it screams India.

So even though there were some wonderful photos in last night's competition I actually gave the most points to those pictures which actually showed me the spirit of a place and came to the conclusion that that is probably the most important element of a travel photo. Spirit of Place to borrow a phrase from my colleague Bob Krist.

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