One of the biggest challenges for me personally when visiting a location is to convey how the place feels and smells, not only how it looks. It’s a difficult thing to do with a 2 dimensional image and its one of the great challenges in travel photography, but it is also what makes photography all the more satisfying and adds to the travel experience itself.
The way I’ve found works for me is to take some time when arriving to decide for myself what I think of the place. Take in the sights, colours, smells and sounds and really get a feel for how life is lived there. This is a hard thing to do when you’ve just arrived and are feeling jet lagged and longing for the hotel room, but it is worthwhile taking some time to wander and take it all in before even attempting to photograph anything. Often when you first arrive you are finely tuned to the obvious differences in characteristics (think London bus or Sydney Harbour Bridge), these often turn out to be cliche and it is often the less obvious that provides the sense of place in the long run. For this reason it is often that the images that I take towards the end of a trip are often the ones I am happiest with.
I’m going to use an assignment I did in Morrocco as an example. Flying in to Marrakech, the first impression was of a hot, dusty, crowded desert post. Motorbikes zipped everywhere, even through the tiny narrow alleys and added to the chaotic atmosphere with their noise almost drowning out the cries of the stall holders in the spice market. This was the feeling that stayed with me the whole time and was added to by the bursts of colour to be seen throughout the walled city. I also got a sense of how people lived by walking the streets and the main meeting place Djemma el-Fna and taking in people at work and observing the call to prayer which plays a huge part in Muslim life. It was a combination of frenetic energy and ancient tradition. With this in mind, it was much easier to create a series of images that reflected these characteristics.
One of the pitfalls that I have learned to avoid is trying to do too much with one image. It is tempting to try to capture everything in a single “icon” image, but often this results in just another Eiffel Tower photo or picture of Big Ben. I have found it much more rewarding to think of your travel images as a collection rather than individual shots. This allows you to tell a much broader story.