1. Sense of place
How does the photograph reveal the specific place you’re in, and not just any place with similar features?
Location, location, location… but a lot of locations look the same! When creating your travel journal, focus on images that provide a sense of unique place, something that shows people that this isn’t just any street, forest or town. These images could be famous landmarks, a cultural event, topography, or even weather patterns that are iconic of a certain location.
When you’re shooting, think about how your photograph really goes beyond “snapshot” and highlights a location’s specialness. Think about making a photograph about a place, rather than taking a picture of it. Give yourself time to meditate on the place you’re in, and let yourself get creative.
As you sort through images after getting home, ask yourself, “What about this shot really shows where I was?” Then, zero in on images that highlight the personality of a location. This doesn’t have to be universal among all viewers. As long as you feel like you nailed a sense of place with your shot, that’s all that really matters.
Who are you spending time with? Focus on both portraits and characters within their environment.
It’s really easy to get wrapped up in the usual travel images — signs, food, and of course our traveling companions. But who else are you spending time with on your journey?
For wildlife photographers, this is often the animals that spark the most excitement or interest when on safari. Birders might include a lifer species they encountered. Or perhaps you spent a lot of time among the tide pools and meeting the creatures there was a major highlight of your journey. These are the leading characters that deserve a spotlight in your journal.
For landscape photographers, this could be a certain location that they really connected with or spent a lot of time in. Yes – a landscape or topographical feature can certainly be a “character” in the story of your adventure!
Fill in the gaps of your photo travel journal with little things you notice or enjoy about a place.
It’s all in the details. This is true for travel journals too. We remember including the grand vistas and major events of our travels, but little things that trigger a crisp memory years later are really important to capture as well.
Often, the details come down to one small aspect of a place or moment that makes you pause, take a breath, smile. Maybe it is the texture of a bed of mussels as you explored the shoreline, or the reflection of light off the glossy frond of a fern when you paused during a hike. Maybe it’s the curve of a contorted shore pine, or the colors of a stack of crab pots on the docks.
You’ll know it’s a detail worth capturing if it is something that makes you stop and look a little deeper.
4. Leave room for the unexpected
Photograph those things that might not be part of the itinerary, or even the most scenic, but are still part of your story.
The best part of traveling is you never really know what you’re going to see! That’s why it’s important to allow flexibility and room in both your schedule and your journal to enjoy those unexpected moments. This could be a fleeting moment of amazing color among the clouds, or an hours-long surprise encounter with an unexpected wildlife species.
Whether beautiful or strange, fun or patience-testing, these random side-adventures often end up being one of the stories you tell the most frequently. Be ready for anything, scheduled or not, and never hesitate to haul out the camera. And when you get home, make room for it in your journal.
5. Include “elevated selfies”
Think about how you feel or what you’re doing at that moment, then create a photograph that encompasses these factors.
Sure you can set your camera up on a tripod (or worse, a selfie stick) and snap a selfie so you have yourself on record somewhere cool. Or, you can kick it up a notch and create a photograph that has a lot of “you” in it without actually being in it.
Some examples include the scene of your camp under the stars, complete with a warm fire and glowing tent. Or a pile of your favorite road trip snacks carefully stacked on the car’s middle console.
Or, in the example shown here, a pan-blur in monochrome that might not match anything else in the rest of your travel journal. But, seeing that eagle soaring you knew you had to capture it in this way. There is you – your style, your eye, your aesthetic – in that shot. So whether it matches or not, go ahead and include it.
This photo journal is all about you and your adventure, so don’t be shy about including these “selfie” images.
Enjoy the journey
Remember that the journey itself is the most important part, so focus on enjoying that. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself for recording it perfectly in photographs. Allow room for goofing off, creative experimentation, mess-ups, and misadventures. Those often make up the best memories and the best photographs.
One final note about crafting a travel photo journal: Your personal journal can be however many images you want it to be. But spare your loved-ones. Not everyone wants to go through hours (or even more than 4-5 minutes) checking out your photos, no matter how excited you are.
When curating your portfolio for acquaintances, try to keep it to 15-20 images total. I know, that seems like a monumentally impossible task. Just remember to use the categories above to help you select only your very best to show off, and you’ll make it through the editing process.
Below is an example of a jaunt down the Oregon coast in 12 images.