This is a question i personally find extremely interesting and have spent a good many years discussing and deliberating with colleagues, friends and camera clubs. Why do i spend so much time on this topic, well it is because my passion is travel photography, that is what i do and what i love, but when it comes to teaching and leading photo tours i find peoples interpretation of travel photography varies dramatically and i am curious to find out why.
In this article i share the feedback to the said question and discuss why there is ambiguity on what would seem a very straight forward question.
An initial response when i pose the conundrum generally takes the form of something along the lines of “an image captured during a trip away from the photographers home, showcasing a landscape, experience or culture of a specific location”.
This seems very reasonable, but also very general and to me opens up a whole host of further questions that need to be explored and discussed.
The location the image was taken is always number one on the debating front. Asking for a travel image definition to an audience in the UK, almost every response will include the words foreign, holiday, overseas. Does this imply a UK resident can not capture travel images in their home country? There seems to be a misconception, that great travel images for a UK audience are highly saturated colour shots of far flung places capturing unfamiliar settings to the viewer. Maybe we can conclude from this that the viewer wants to be indulged into a whole new experience by travel images and that scenes which may feel familiar do not fall into the travel category.
After location it is the content that causes the next heated debate. A beautiful cascade of the Himalayas during the morning sunrise is surely a great travel shot? or is it a perfect landscape image, where do you file it? landscape or travel or both. What would the image need to include to categorise it a travel image? One would argue it was taken in Nepal and the audience viewing it are from the UK, therefore it is most definitely Travel. I am not so sure the landscape photographers would agree.
I have touched upon location and content and just want to highlight one more topic that always pops up during the debate, the issue of colour or black and white format for travel images. This is such a hot topic, but seems to get extreme responses. In the first case there are some who immediately, without hesitation would say b&W is absolutely fine for travel images, as it captures great tones, feeling and expression, whereas at the other end of the scale it is a no go idea, with a view to travel images must take people to a new, interesting place full of intrigue, that can only be shown in full colour.
The arguments to each follow a very distinct path, the anti-black-white fraternity believe without colour the images are falling into the street/documentary pigeon hole where the feel of the location or scene are more important than the content. The pro-black-white camp argue a good travel image need not be distracted by the colour, the main aim of a travel image is to provide the viewer with a sense of a location.
After many years of asking the question and participating in numerous debates, i have made my own conclusions, which will certainly not be the definitive answer and may add fuel to more heated debate, but that is the fascination of any art, it is subjective.
My controversial view, that i know will ring alarm bells, is that travel photography can not be categorised by one image. For me, travel images should give the viewer an appreciation and understanding of the location in question, wherever that location maybe, whether it be local to the viewer or remote. One image can not fulfil this brief, it can certainly provide one angle of the location, by means of a landscape image or maybe a street scene, but this will not capture what the place is about or how it feels. In these cases a single image will fall into the relevant landscape or street photography category, but should not be classified as a travel image. Personally a good travel photographer need not be the best Landscape, Street, Documentary photographer, but should have the vision to able to produce a portfolio of work, weather this be three or twenty images, which combined will give the viewer enough information for their imagination to build a picture of how that locations looks, feels and works.
So what is travel photography, the short answer is that there is no short answer. It is what you want it to be, and thats fine, don’t let anyone, including me tell you otherwise. However you define the topic it will not change the fact it is, in my opinion, the greatest vocation ever.