Many diverse elements go into making up the character of a particular location or destination, whether it is your home town or a far flung exotic city. According to photographer Shahriar Ekbatani, it is the travel photographer’s occupation to cover these fundamentals in order to present that character to the viewer.
There are many distinct “parts” that make a setting what it is, but these usually boil down to people, landscape, and culture.
As Shahriar Ekbatani says, every mountain range, city, or coastal area has its own unique feel and look. This might be created by architecture restricted to that part of the world, such as steep cliffs and rough seas like those so characteristic of the northern coasts of Ireland and Scotland. What does it look like in the morning or at night? The locality might take on several personalities through the day so it is vital to try to imprison as many of these as you can to give a wider picture.
Probably the most significant factor in the character of a location is the individuals who live there. The way they dress and look, the way they carry themselves, the customs they observe and the lifestyle they live. Is there a definite piece of clothing that defines them? For instance, if they are known to be joyful and cheery people, show them as such. If they are known to be as hard working, try to include some shots of employees.
This can include subjects such as drink and food. Local dishes give an instantaneous insight into the way of life lived by people of that region. Freshly caught seafood may be a subject of the area, or it may be well-known for a particular drink or dessert. Culture can also be shown in the events and festivals held in the particular region. This might be a yearly procession where locals dress in the conventional costumes of their ancestors, or a huge street get-together that captures the vibrancy and energy of a population.
To put these elements in photographic terms, I like to think of the process as zooming in on a subject. Starting with the landscape element described above, you essentially form an overview, or wide angle view of the subject, capturing surroundings. Distinctive buildings and landmarks give a feel and sometimes instant recognition to the location. Zoom in to form a collective portrait of the people, their way of life and daily activities. It is a good idea to use both posed portraits and candid shots to show personalities as well as customs and way of life.
Travel photography is in a sense a very extensive specialization, possibly not a specialty at all. A travel photographer needs to be a portrait photographer, landscape photographer, nature photographer and still life photographer often all in the space of a particular shooting session. Learn to cover all these fundamentals within the wider subject and you are well on your way to becoming a more proficient photographer.