How to Make a Photography Journal of Your Travels

One of the best parts about getting home after a trip is going through the photos. It’s wonderful to relive the memories through your images, and of course show friends what you saw and experienced during your adventure. Creating a photo journal – whether digital or printed into an album – is the perfect way to summarize the visual story of your travels. 

The hardest part about this project is selecting which shots to show. If you’re like me, you probably arrive home with hundreds, if not thousands of images. How do you make selections and tell the story of your trip? 

Luckily, there is a guideline you can follow to help you sort, pare down, organize, and arrange your photos into a travel journal. This is helpful for ensuring that you include all the images that tell a complete story, and also for filtering out the images that might be a good memory trigger but not necessarily something to show off to friends and family.

This is also a great list to have in mind while you’re traveling. By remembering these categories, you’ll pay closer attention to your surroundings and activities, and capture shots you might not have otherwise thought to take!

Here are five essential categories for a travel journal to keep in mind for photographing while on the road, and as you sort your images after getting home. 

Yaquina Bay Bridge, Newport Oregon
Yaquina Bay Bridge at sunrise in Newport Oregon (composite panoramic image)

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. 

Rocky shorelines of the coast
Classic rocky shorelines of the Oregon coast
Fern-filled understory of a conifer forest
Fern-filled understory of our Pacific northwest conifer forests
Marshes of our estuarine ecosystems
The wildlife-filled marshes of our estuarine ecosystems

2. Characters

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!

Well-loved locations can count as characters you meet in your journey.
Well-loved locations can count as characters that you meet in your journey.
black oystercatcher, newport, oregon
Black oystercatchers are a favorite among wildlife watchers on the Oregon coast. 
Western skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) also commonly called swamp lanturn, Beaver Creek State Park, Oregon
People, animals, or even plants that define a place are all characters in your story.

3. Details

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. 

giant green sea anemone, yaquina head outstanding natural area
Giant green sea anemone waving its tentacles in the water of a receding tide.
ochre sea star, seal rock, oregon
Details don’t always have to be close-ups. They can also be selectively focused for impact.
Details can also mean patterns, light, textures, colors, and so on.
Details can also mean patterns, light, textures, and colors.

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. 

American dipper (Cinclus mexicanus), adult in central coast of Oregon
Spending time with a new species means watching all kinds of cool behaviors unfold…like a songbird dunking its head underwater. 
American dipper, Cinclus mexicanus, adult, Newport, Oregon.
Two American dippers engaged in a bit of a territorial dispute was not something I expected to see that morning!
American dipper, Cinclus mexicanus, adult, Newport, Oregon.
The opportunity to watch American dippers feeding for several hours is definitely an unexpected part of a road trip that I would make room for in my travel journal!
bald eagle in flight
Juvenile bald eagle in flight over water. 

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. 

Landscape at low tide of Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, Newport, Oregon

Purple shore crab, Hemigrapsus nudus, Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, Newport, Oregon

Tracks of a shorebird feeding in the mudflat. Newport, Oregon

Ochre sea star, Pisaster ochraceus, eating a California mussel, Mytilus californianus, on a tide pool rock. Intertidal zone, Newport, Oregon

Western gull (Larus occidentalis), yaquina head newport oregon

The sea lemon nudibranch, Dorididae, photographed at the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area intertidal zone. Newport, Oregon

Ready to book your adventure now?