What does it take to get awesome travel photos?

Making Sacrifices

Do you want to become an effective photographer? Good. Just keep in mind that there are sacrifices to make to get awesome travel photos… like getting up at ungodly hours to catch that sunrise or staying outside when everybody else is already sitting at dinner. As travel photographer Ken Kaminesky says:

“Take it from me, you’ll never regret going the extra mile to get that next cool travel photo. Chances are you’ll not just have a great new images to be proud of but pushing yourself to see and experience more can lead to some really nice memories and life experiences. These are just a few of the reasons to love photography.”

Some of my best images where taken during business trips, after a long day’s work. That’s probably why I have so many blue-hour, urban landscapes in my portfolio.

Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Frankfurt, Germany. Taken after a long day of meetings in the city, inside one of the buildings on the other side of the river Main.

When I travel to meet clients, we often stay inside an office for a whole day, discussing business and projects. At the end of the day, I want nothing more than go back to my hotel, take a shower, relax, go out to dinner, then come back and relax some more. But I always make a point to bring my camera with me, go out and take photos. Dinner can wait.

National Stadium, Beijing, China.

Beijing, China. The “Bird’s Nest”. I remember it was very late and very cold when I got this.

When I took the image below, I had just finished a long and very stressful business call. Despite this, I still wanted to get something out of a pretty horrible day. I don’t regret having climbed the hill of San Miniato al Monte in Florence after sunset to get this iconic panorama.

Awesome travel photo of Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo

Night-time view of Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo

Physical Prowess

A more interesting story is the one told by the late, great Galen Rowell of how he skipped dinner one evening and ran one mile in order to align a rainbow with the Dalai Lama’s Potala Palace in Lhasa and captured one of his greatest images. You can see it here.

This is how Rowell recounts that day:

“When I shared my idea for a photo and asked if anyone wanted to join me and run across the fields to line the rainbow up with the palace, no one else came. They didn’t see what I envisioned from past experience with outdoor optical phenomena. After running to where a different rainbow matched my imagined image, I made one of the great photos of my life.”

That is not only a great image, but is also particularly meaningful. It displays a rainbow–a symbol of peace–apparently emanating from the former residence of the Dalai Lama, at the heart of a land torn between two different nationalities and occupied by one of them.

Mental Prowess

Going the extra mile is not always accomplished by physical prowess. Sometimes it takes mental prowess to overcome the challenges. Here is a shot of puffin that Jay took on Grimsey Island in Iceland. To get this shot, Jay crawled on his belly in fresh puffin urine and feces to get the shot that he wanted. And it took several attempts to get the shots he was after.

  • Sniper crawl through puffin feces and urine, Grimsey Island, Iceland

  • Grimsey Island, Icelanad

Sometimes going the extra mile requires wandering into an icky swamp, dodging poison oak, and avoiding snakes and alligators just to get one shot. However, when the skies are about to put on a fantastic show, who’s complaining? Here is how Jay and Varina wandered into a swamp for the perfect shot.

They could have decided to go to dinner and not risk being drenched in rain. But they stayed out and, almost literally, walked the extra mile to go where they needed to go in order to get the image they had in mind.

I know that many of you are not full-time photographers. For some, it is a hobby. For others, it is a part-time business which means you must juggle the requirements of a “real” job, your passion for photography, a family, and who knows what else?

What extra mile are you prepared to run today?

Varina trying to capture some awesome travel photos in Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Standing in Freezing cold water to get that perfect shot, Punch Bowl Falls, Oregon

If you want to capture awesome travel photos, you must put in the required work. Set your alarm clock to way before dawn tomorrow and go somewhere you can take a good sunrise picture, no matter where. Don’t wait until you are in an awesome location. There is beauty everywhere, especially at sunrise.

About Author Ugo Cei

Ugo Cei is a fine-art travel and landscape photographer from Italy. If you were to ask him what he does, he would say that he is an educator who helps photography enthusiasts sharpen their skills, so that they can take amazing pictures.

He does this in various ways. First of all, by providing a wealth of free content here on Visual Wilderness and on his own website.

He leads photography tours and workshops to some cool destinations, including Scotland, Venice, Cappadocia, Oman, Greece, Tanzania, and others.

He co-hosts and publishes a weekly podcast about travel photography, The Traveling Image Makers. Every week, they pick the brains of famous and not-so-famous travel photographers to learn what it means to travel for the love of photography and photograph for the love of travel.