Travel photography is a genre of photography that may involve the documentation of an area's landscape, people, cultures, customs and history. The Photographic Society of America defines a travel photo as an image that expresses the feeling of a time and place, portrays a land, its people, or a culture in its natural state, and has no geographical limitations.
Travel photography as a genre is one of the most open in terms of the subjects it covers. Many travel photographers specialize in a particular aspect of photography such as travel portraits, landscape or documentary photography as well as shooting all aspects of travel. Much of today's Travel Photography style is derived from early work in Magazines such as National Geographic magazine from photographers such as Steve McCurry. This genre of photography entails shooting a wide variety of subjects under varied available conditions, e.g. low light photography indoors, available ambient light photography for exteriors of buildings and monuments, shooting on the streets where sometimes conditions may be hostile, capturing moments which rarely recur, capturing the magic of light while shooting landscapes, etc.
As travel has become more accessible, more and more, the genre is opening up to amateurs and professionals alike. Amateur Travel photography is often shared through sites like Flickr, 500px and 1x. Travel photography, unlike other genres like fashion, product, or food photography, is still an underestimated and relatively less monetized genre, though the challenges faced by travel photographers are lot greater than some of the genres where the light and other shooting conditions may be controllable. Traditionally travel photographers earned money through Stock photography, magazine assignments and commercial projects. Nowadays, the stock photography market has collapsed and more and more photographers are using more innovative methods of earning a living such as through blogging, public speaking, commercial projects and teaching.
Consumers of Travel Photography
Besides the travel publications like National Geographic Traveler, Conde Nast Traveler, etc., the demand for this genre exists in industries like Travel, Photo Education, etc. Many travel photographers are today leading photo-tours through companies such as Intrepid Exposures, utilising their knowledge of unique travel locations, experience of working as professional photographers and using this to help travel enthusiasts take great travel images during their trips. Many others are doubling up as educators in the field of ambient light photography. Some of them are doing assignments which intrinsically use their strengths, e.g. shooting exteriors or interiors of buildings for architects and interior designers. Photographers like Steve McCurry are often commissioned to shoot commercial advertising work using their skills from travel and documentary photography to produce powerful advertising images.
The oldest surviving image produced by a camera was made around 1826 when Joseph Nicephore Niepce photographed a street scene at Saint Loup de Varennes,in France. Arguably, this is also the oldest surviving travel photo. The photograph, taken in daylight, required an eight-hour exposure.
In Paris in 1839, Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre introduced the photographic process now known as the daguerreotype. The process was complicated, requiring lots of equipment and handling of chemicals, but was embraced quickly. Each daguerreotype was unique and recorded scenes with excellent detail. It also allowed people to travel with cameras.The first owners photographed their local area: Notre Dame Cathedral, the River Seine and the Pont Neuf; subjects that are considered a ‘must take’ by today’s tourists. The appeal of photography was as obvious to travellers in the middle of the 19th century as it is today. Daguerre himself suggested that his camera could easily be taken along on a journey. He was right, but it wasn’t quite that simple. The travelling photographer also had to carry a portable darkroom tent and enough chemicals to stock a small laboratory.
Around the same time, William Henry Fox Talbot, Daguerre’s English contemporary, invented the calotype (better known today as a negative).This made multiple copies of an image possible, but without the detail achieved in a daguerreotype.
In 1851, Frederick Scott Archer invented the wet collodion plate, which became the standard photographic process until 1880. This new process,which reduced exposure times to a mere two seconds, matched the detail possible with a daguerreotype and the calotype’s ability to be reproduced,and overcame the long exposure times required by both. It didn’t, however,ease the burden for the travel photographer. Each glass plate had to be prepared in the field and processed immediately while still damp.
A standard outfit in the 1850s included a camera,tripod,glass plates and plate holders; a tent-like portable darkroom; chemicals for coating, sensitising, developing and fixing the plates; and dishes, tanks and water containers. Even so, photographers carted their equipment around the world. The Great Wall, feluccas on the Nile, temples on the Ganges at Varanasi, high passes in the Himalaya and the Grand Canyon had all been photographed in great detail by 1860.
Many of the travel photographs taken in the mid-1800s were recorded during scientific and exploratory trips, but they also served to create public interest in distant lands. Although cumbersome in the field, the collodion process produced good-quality images that were easily reproduced.
As tourism increased, so did the demand for pictures as souvenirs, and photographers began shooting for commercial reasons. According to Fabian and Adam, the first postcard was introduced by the Austrian postal service in 1869. In 1910, France printed 123 million postcards and the world’s mail systems processed around seven billion in the same year. The images, once painstakingly produced by hand, were now being churned out by printing presses, and the purists were bemoaning the loss of the craft.
The insatiable desire for postcards led critic Walter Benjamin to declare that photography had lost its ‘aura’. Others suggested that the sheer quantity of photographs being printed and released onto the market was causing a loss of interest in the medium.
The bulk, weight and messiness of the photographic process restricted the gathering of images in the early years to a small group of people who were part adventurer, part scientist, part camera technician and part artist. Noting the needs of the travelling photographer, the Michelin guidebooks of the day included an icon to indicate that a hotel had a chamber noir, ie a darkroom, available for developing film.
But by the end of the 19th century tourists could take their own pictures.In 1888, George Eastman, the founder of Kodak, invented a camera using a roll of film. He launched the first point-and-shoot with the now famous slogan: ‘You press the button, we do the rest.’ The camera came loaded with a 100-exposure film and a memorandum book that had to be filled into keep count of the photos. When the film was finished the camera was posted back to the factory. The camera was returned with the prints and loaded with a fresh roll of film. In the first year Eastman sold 13,000 cameras.
Further refinements saw the introduction of the Kodak Brownie camera in 1900, which made the photographic process accessible to millions of people around the world.