Photography 101: A Travel Photographer Needs to Master Many Genres

Stephen F. Dennstedt

To be an effective travel photographer requires mastery of many different photographic genres: you must be able to shoot portraits, landscapes, street photography and even wildlife. Personally, I think that’s what makes travel photography so much fun—you’re not limited to one genre only (others might find that aspect somewhat challenging).

Most aspiring photographers dream, or have dreamed, of being on photographic assignment with National Geographic in some exotic location. NatGeo used to have staff photographers back in the day, but not so much now—most NatGeo stuff is done by contracted freelancers. In fact the bulk of travel photography is done by freelancers which is good news for you.

But maybe you’re not interested in making money with your travel photography. I like to do both, I enjoy both the creative aspect of photography as well as the business side of things. If I can create beautiful original images and make a little money on the side to further that effort then so much the better. To each his own I say; I learned a long time ago that a person has to do what a person has to do to be happy and content in life.

Senor Cigar – Trinidad, Cuba

I now have the opportunity to do what I love everyday but that wasn’t always the case. Today I am a full-time photographer, writer and traveller. What I like about this lifestyle is its freedom—everyday I am free to pick & choose my activities and to hone my skills. This blog is filled with posts about what I do and how I do it so feel free to wander through the archives. As a photographer, writer and traveller I have the best of all worlds (at least for me). I travel to some really cool places and see and meet some really neat people.

Uru Indian Girl – Lake Titicaca, Peru

I met Señor Cigar during a month-long visit to Cuba in 2014 and photographed him in the beautiful little town of Trinidad. The Uru Indian Girl was photographed on a floating reed island in the middle of Lake Titicaca in Peru. As a travel photographer you want to be proficient in capturing people because you meet so many wonderful cultures during your travels. Whether the shot is semi-posed like Señor Cigar or completely candid like the Uru Indian Girl you want to bring those memories back with you.

Perito Moreno Glacier – Southern Patagonia, Argentina

You are going to see some amazing landscapes during your travels too. Non-photographers will often tell you to just enjoy the moment and forget about photographing it (photos never do the scene justice). I say: why not do both? If your photos don’t do the scene justice then maybe your skill set isn’t quite up to par. Instead of choosing not to photograph the scene, or settling on a cellphone snapshot, why not improve your craft to create some real memories for yourself and others. Ask yourself: do you want to be a picture taker (snapshots) or a photographer (art)? They’re not the same.

Valle de la Muerte – Atacama Desert of Northern Chile

There is nothing wrong with capturing your memories with a cellphone if that’s truly what you want to do. But if your interest is photography then a simple cellphone snapshot isn’t going to cut it. You know that, you don’t need me preaching at you. I carry large Pro-level DSLRs with me (and assorted lenses) but some of my fellow travellers and bloggers are getting great results with lighter (and less expensive) mirrorless cameras. Photography is a priority with me so I opt for bigger, sturdier and heavier stuff (but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea).

Male Cinereous Harrier – Southern Patagonia, Argentina

I think you are beginning to see the importance of being able to capture different photographic genres in your travel photography. If all you shoot is people, or landscapes, or wildlife, then you are limiting yourself. Because when you travel the world you’re going to see it all and MORE. You don’t want to miss a memory because you’re afraid to photograph it. The more you shoot the better you will get and the more memories you will bring back with you. Your camera will allow you to see the world around you with more of an artistic eye.

Orange-winged Amazon Parrot – Northern Amazon River Basin, Cuyabeno, Ecuador

If you have a knack for writing (even a simple blog) your photography will enhance that effort. I love sharing with people where I go and what I do. I think my words and pictures can help others see places they may never visit on their own. Not everyone has the ability to lead the life I do (I get that), so if they can travel vicariously through my words and pictures so much the better. My one piece of unsolicited advice is: if you want to be a travel photographer (for fun or profit) shoot all genres and don’t limit yourself. And above all have fun.


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