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What to Photograph While Traveling

Lesson 13 from: Travel Photography: The Complete Guide

Ben Willmore

What to Photograph While Traveling

Lesson 13 from: Travel Photography: The Complete Guide

Ben Willmore

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Lesson Info

13. What to Photograph While Traveling


Class Trailer



Course Introduction


Camera Gear for Travel


What Camera Gear Should You Buy?


Gear Bags for Travel Photography


Location Research and Pre-Trip Planning


Importing and Naming Conventions in Lightroom


Processing Images with Presets in Lightroom


Lesson Info

What to Photograph While Traveling

Let's talk about subject matter. When I'm out in the field, what am I searching for? What am I thinking about that's somewhat related to composition, you could say, but composition will come later. There's a whole bunch of things that I'm thinking about when I'm out. First off, I'll think about, is there any cultural differences that I'm gonna run in to? I wanna share those with other people and so any time I run in to something that really feels different than what I'm used to seeing, that's gonna draw my attention. I'm not used to seeing kids standing on top of an ox or whatever that is. In this case, the way I encountered it was on a shuttle bus in between places and they were trying to get our attention to get us to stop. I'm not used to that in the U.S. where you see people just walking so that's one of the things that attracts my eye. I'm not used to a gas station looking like that. In this part of the world, people drive little mopeds around all over the place and all they need ...

for fuel is one of those little bottles there. There are no traditional gas stations and so that's what it is. I wish I would've cleaned that up a little bit, and that's my wife Karen walking behind there, so it's not my favorite shot. Should've spent a little more time and waited for Karen to get out of the frame, but I can always crop her out. Again, cultural differences that I'm not used to. You know how when you see a car in the U.S., you see certain things on dashboards? I don't see those, you know? So I'm searching those out and also looking for them in common places. So it's not always, here's a temple, and of course at a temple, there's a monk, you know? I'm looking for, here's an everyday car and what is there that says something unique about this location? Food that they might be doing. I think those might be grasshoppers. You know, that kind of stuff. I don't see that around here, so I'm searchin' it out. I've never seen that many telephone lines or whatever they are. Not the best composition, but. In this location, when you show up, if you want to get a ride in the equivalent to a taxi, that's what you get in. That's in, I'm trying to think, is that Malacca? Might be. And that kind of thing. That's one thing that I'm searching out subject matter wise. Even caskets. Look at that bike seat. (audience laughing) That's an Apple store out there. That's not a real Apple store. (laughs) In China and other places, you can buy a lot of things that look like they're doing that. So what are some of the things that I end up looking for? Well, I search out repetition. Repeated elements, there's something about them that just draws my eye and my mind. Here, I'm in Moscow. Some cannons that are out there and just sort of repeated circles pulls my eye in. See those repeated triangles. That's in Iceland. This one isn't adjusted, but just a bunch of bicycles. But you see the repeated shapes of the handlebars and such. See what I mean about repeats? The fact that there was five of those towers and they all look the same pulled my eye there instantly. But you see all those repeated red things. Even repeats that don't quite look the same, but whatever it is, there's something about repetition. I have a question. With these repetition photos, are you going around and sort of taking images at different angles from where those items are repeating in order to see what you like the best or? How do you approach that? Here's one at a different angle than this. So if I'm not sure, 'cause what happens is with that little bitty viewfinder and the little bitty screen in the back, you can never really be sure if what you got was truly successful, so it's better to capture more than you need than thinking, oh, click, I got it. So I do try to kinda work the scene, go around it quite a bit, but a good amount of the time it's just one shot where I'm like, no, that's pretty obvious that that's it. But in this case, I did it in multiple angles 'cause I wasn't certain. 'Cause the other thing that I like is diagonals and so here I was able to get more of those diagonals and see the repetition? Even though those are just, that's just trash sitting there. Repeated shapes, sunglasses repeating all over the place. So that's another thing I'm searching out, repetition of shapes. What else? Then I know that whenever I'm going to a location I also try to capture, if at all possible, the name of the location where I can show it without saying it and I can show it without typing it in, but find it somewhere in the location because then if you're ever gonna show a slideshow or something, wouldn't it be nice to just have an introduction and the introduction is a picture from that place that gives you the name of the place. And so not all of these are processed, so like that person in the lower left would be cropped out and all that. That one's not a great shot, but I'm always doing these and if I actually try to make them an acceptable photo, then it can be really nice for doing a slideshow or any kind of presentation or book. That's how I introduce a topic on occasion. So I'm looking for the location name in various areas, also reference information related to the location because I'm not gonna remember all the details and so in Iceland, that's how they spell the name of a road or a town. You gonna remember that? If you write it down on a sheet of paper, are you sure that that sheet of paper is gonna end up in the same place as your digital photo? No, but if I take a picture of it, it will. And so I'm always taking pictures of, look at that name. Pronounce it, no thanks. So, take a picture of an object, I'll take a picture of the little plaque that describes it. Or a picture of an animal, if there's any kind of information nearby, sometimes they're in brochures, sometimes they're in signs, but if I ended up with a shot of one of those birds, and I did end up with one of this Saffron Finch that I really liked that you'll probably see later on, I wouldn't know it's a Saffron Finch unless I took that shot. And so I'm always looking for those. But getting back to just general mindset of what I'm searching out. Let's take a look, just what I would call interesting finds. That's in Sydney, Australia. It's near the entrance to a restaurant. If you could see down below, you'd see tables set up out there and all that, but those are all bird cages and it was just a challenge for me to create as clean of a background as I could, so I was walking up and down this alleyway looking from all different angles trying to figure out how can I get the cleanest and ended up with that one and this one, and as far as the cleanest I could figure out, but that was what I would call an interesting find. I'm always looking to capture those kind of interesting moments. How often do you see that many air conditioners? In Hong Kong you will. It seems like every little unit has its own. I have a question. Yes. I have a question. I really appreciate repetition photos or rare objects or things that are commonly out of their element and I do have them in clusters of collections like that. I have restroom photos from Europe and how many euros you have to pay, so I have a blogpost about how much you pay and what you get for it, right? Yeah. And I just find it interesting, but sometimes the quantity of photos is overwhelming. You know, when you come back from a trip and you have 10,000 photos and you're sorting it out and you're going through different albums. How do you share these photos? Is it by, let's say it's family members, you have a certain album. Is it by photographers? How do you share or how do you quantify? How many, how much is too much? You don't want to bore someone with a slideshow of your trip, your personal trip. Well usually when it comes to slideshows, if it's for personal people, friends and all that, it really depends on how engaged they are in whatever it was I was doing. If they've been excited for six months that they knew I've been gonna be leaving for this trip and they'd been talking about it all the time, I got back, and now they're asking me about it, I'm gonna give them a lot of pictures to see because they're completely engaged. They want to see it. They're asking me, show me what you did. But then sometimes it's the other way around. Are these photos processed? Oh yeah. I'd only show them processed pictures. I don't show the images that come just out of my camera. I almost never show a picture. Unless you're in a class of mine, you don't see my pictures that aren't processed. That would be like taking a photo that's not focused. It's just like, are you gonna show somebody that? No, I wanna give them somethin' presentable, for me personally. So if they're asking me and if they're excited about it, I'm gonna show them a lot of pictures. But if on the other hand, I'm kinda saying, do you wanna see this? You know, I'm doing it. Then I wanna get it down to only the absolute best, and those fewer images can often be better 'cause it's so easy to overwhelm and people's attentions are so short these days that I'll try to give them a short amount. Oftentimes I'm sharing things and it's on my iPhone and I'm handing them it and there might be a bunch of images in a particular gallery. I haven't set it up just for those persons, so what I'll end up doing is I'll hand them the phone with whatever image it is I want them to see and I'll say, you know, you can swipe by to see them, but then I'll just kinda warn them. I'll say, by the way, there's like 60 pictures in that folder, so don't feel bad about going by real fast. But if you're really into it, feel free to go slow too. It's a courtesy to them because otherwise it's kind of like when you go to a gallery or a museum, especially certain galleries, you go in and you look at something on the wall and there's these 19 other things next to it that you have no interest in, but just because the artist might be over there or something, you kind of go and look then you walk to the next one and you kinda go and look and so on because you just feel like there's gonna be something about disrespecting them but not even looking and walking way back over to that one other picture you want, but giving them the simple thing of hey, there's a bunch of pictures in there, feel free to go by really fast until something, gets it so they don't get to the point where they're like, oh god, how soon can I hand this back? And that's another question. How do you typically share these images? On your laptop or is it on your phone? All sorts of that, I can show you on my watch. I got yoga shots on here of my wife. I can get them up. I mean literally that quick there's a yoga shot. So it's whatever is with me. The current way though-- The most common way is probably on my iPhone just because I run in to so many peoples in so many places and it's always on me. Other people see it on my website 'cause they happen to visit there. It varies tremendously. My wife usually puts together a video of each trip that we do to share with family and friends where she might upload it to YouTube or Vimeo or one of the other sites and therefore it can be just a slideshow with transitions and things and some music, which can make it a little more entertaining than just plain pictures, and she often will also create a book. Usually she does it through a company called Blurb where it's a print book that can sit on the table and that just stays in the living room. There's a bunch of different subjects. If somebody's interested, they can go pick it up and look at it, but it varies a lot. So other ideas, when I'm out, what am I searching for when I'm out? Shapes, just shapes. I'm not trying to take pictures of things. Sure, I get pictures of things in the end, but I'm trying to create an interesting or compelling image and oftentimes that just happens to do with shapes. So in this case, I cropped this building I got at an angle where you couldn't really identify it so much in order to turn it in to shapes. What I like about this picture is do you see the circle in the L kind of shape? To me, it's about shapes and then the Vespa, or whatever brand that is. See the shape? It's not about what it is. This is at a cemetery. But it's the graphic quality of the shape. So I'm always thinking about and searching out shapes. And one thing that I find really draws the eye is of course, bold colors, and so anywhere there's a bold color, I'm looking at is there anything I can incorporate with this. And so here are some examples of just bold colors that caught my eye and what I ended up doing with them. Here I just tried to crop in and make it a graphic. That's a sculpture that moves in the wind. Just the color of the apples pulled me in. These buildings would be boring if they weren't different colors, but the colors and repetition is what made it so it was an interesting image to me. Those are neon, argon mercury, actually. The things in the alley. So anyway, the bold colors are always gonna draw my eye, and then finally, abstract things where you can't completely tell what it is. What is that? Or that? Or that? What it is is a boat and that's simply reflection. So I'm not looking for things to shoot. I'm looking for images to capture and that image could be the reflection of a boat and some water. Sometimes they get really abstract. This is riding in taxi. I'm shooting out the window with a long shutter speed. Those are just streetlights and various other things going by. The shadows make that more abstract, just the shadows. Here's the guy, there's the shot. It's just the reflection. And then I find that it's very useful for me at least to have some ideas of series that I can have, 'cause sometimes I'm out and I just don't feel like I got it goin'. I just feel like I'm not engaged with what's happening. I'm just walkin' around wishing I could get these photos and it's just not happenin' today. Well, if I have, in the back of my head, some ideas there that I'm always trying to capture, it gives me some focus on what to look for, and let me show you some examples. First, here's a series that I do with my wife, and she's a yogi, and so they're yoga poses and I try to find interesting backgrounds to go with them, and so it's a matter of in my brain then, I know of all sorts of different yoga poses she can do, and I'm like, well, what around here would go good with that? So this is the same building I had earlier when I said it looked just for shapes, different angle. The boldness of that color is what pulled me in, and I was like, well, what could we do there? Another red door. This is at the Kochi Castle, I think, in Japan. This is one of the busiest intersections in Tokyo, so I blur the people behind her to make it interesting. That pose she's in right there is called upward dog, so we saw a picture of this dog in a brochure somewhere for a museum and so we specifically drove there to take that picture. I saw that wall and I'm like, oh, look at this pose. This pose looks like she's diving in, doesn't it? See that shape? Well, how can I do something to go with that shape? So you get the idea that this series, how can I break up this regular pattern with something that's not the same shape? Well, throw something else into it. There, do you notice that if you drew a line down here it would end near here. If you drew a line down here, it would end near here. If you drew a line down here, those lines are trying to send you towards her. There's a statue in the distance, I don't know if you can see it or not, but, this is not high res. But the head of the statue is right about, right there. Do you see the head? So I positioned her precisely to try to cover up the statue. Okay, there, I found repeating pods elevated on sticks. Let's make her look like a pod on a stick. So, does that make sense for a series? So that's a recent series that's kinda continuing. One other kind of thing. My wife has a series she calls Cats of the World, so she searches out cats, and then how can I include that cat with something that makes it feel like it's unique to that location? And so she always searches out cats. This one could've been anywhere, except for look at the writing on the bowl. So anyway, one of her series is Cats of the World and so she's constantly looking for them. If she didn't have that series, she wouldn't take 90% of these photos, but it becomes an interesting series when you put it together over time. Other ones, also my wife does phone booths of the world because, 20 years from now, are there gonna be any phone booths? Well, here are phone booths. Oh, it's looks like I didn't create previews of these. So these will be low res for now. Yeah, this is a phone booth in Burma. The phone's just sittin' on a table, it's a house phone and there's usually a person there to take money if you wanna use it, like that. So other things I do, selfies, people doing selfies of themselves. I'm constantly looking for that. I don't know if you can see the person. They're down here at the bottom. But I'm looking for that. I have a series of people sleeping. I'm always lookin' for it. I wouldn't get them unless I was looking for them. So the more I think about things like those series, the more I know what to shoot even when I'm not feelin' like I'm engaged with the thing, I got somethin' else in the back of my head. I've got vintage vehicles, I do all sorts of things. But anyway, hopefully it gives you some sense for my shooting mindset when I'm out. What I'm looking for, how I think about various topics.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Lightroom Presets Quickstart Guide
Lightroom Preset Sampler
Pre-Trip Planning
Actions Sampler Guide
Travel Photography Handbook
Actions Sampler
Lightroom Keywords
Big Set of Lightroom Presets
Practice Images
Travel Photogtaphy Mobile Guide
Gear List
Lightroom Tips and Keyboard Shortcuts

Ratings and Reviews


This was simply an amazing experience! Without a doubt the best investment of time and money I have experienced in quite awhile. Ben's complete command of the subject, the practical tips, suggestions and reference information was outstanding. I have enjoyed point and shoot photography for some time and recently decided to invest in some decent DSLR equipment (Canon EOS D70). I have a trip to Cape Town and Johannesburg South Africa rapidly approaching and thought it might be a good idea to take some classes and make an effort to get up the learning curve ASAP to take advantage of this travel opportunity. "Discovering" Creativelive and Ben Willmore's class was literally an answer to prayer! There is nothing like sitting at the foot of wisdom, taking notes, and having numerous "ah-ha" moments! This was great....looking forward to more classes. Thanks for the high quality effort!

a Creativelive Student

Genius! Ben is a brilliant master teacher - focused, clear and holds back no information. The best! This course has condensed the equivalent of 10 courses into one. He is a perfectionist in his approach and knows how to present the material. He is the leader in photoshop and photography "par excellence". Highly recommend any of his courses. Save your time and start with the best - everyone loves Ben!!!!

Nichole Sams

I feel the title of this class, Travel Photography, is much to limiting for what you are really going to get. As a wedding photographer, who dreams of traveling, I attending the class live in Seattle, and was hoping to get some inspiration for on location shoots. What I got, however, was a WHOLE LOT MORE. I would recommend this class to anyone with a camera and Lightroom. What I learned about how lightroom works and how to integrate it with photoshop is invaluable. I actually think they should charge WAY more for this course. The bonuses with purchase from the keywords (we are talking every key word you could possibly imagine) and the presets (holycow everything you would ever need) are worth exponentially more than the course price itself. Ben is a gentle easy going teacher and nice to listen to. His ease of teaching pretty complex ideas was truly wonderful. If you are reading this you must buy this course, it is well worth it!

Student Work