Is Travel Photography Dead?

I just read Andrea Pistolesi’s post A Requiem for Travel Photography, (first brought to my attention on Tewfic El Sawy’s excellent Travel Photographer blog).

For those of you who may not recognize his name, Andrea is one of the busiest and most talented travel shooters around, with a string of publication credits that would choke a horse. If I had a quarter for every assignment I lost to Andrea over the years, I’d be very well off—this guy can shoot (and write, in English, even though he’s Italian!).

I highly recommend taking a read of the whole post, but to summarize, Andrea posits that travel photography as a profession is gone, primarily because most of the publications that made assignments are either gone or severely cutting back. But he ends with a very cogent and insightful observation:

“I keep thinking that the world has a lot of stories worth to be covered photographically. The real task is to modernize our scope, create new ways of distribution (using the new technologies, think of the iPad for example), reach the young reader.

For the Travel Photographer the time has come to drop the “Travel” label. Everybody has a camera in his pocket today. The photographer is somebody able to see in a personal, strong way, and pass the message on..

Wow, Andrea’s analysis really hits a home run (or, more culturally fitting, scores a big goooooaaaaaal). To find out what this might mean, hit the jump.

Nobody needs more shots of the neon-festooned hotels in Miami's South Beach, but a story about a cool character who lives and works there, like muscian Leo Casino, might find a market in the new media environment. Photo © Bob Krist

It’s finding the stories in our travels and a personal way of telling them, that may help us all survive in the new media market. And it sure jibes with my experience. A lot of travel photography I see (and have done myself on occasion) lately is trophy hunting more than story-telling.

Like the photo tours and cruises, where the leader takes the group to all the best spots so everybody gets “the shot.” Or going and nailing the skylines, the icons, etc. that have been done before (and yes, we try to do them better, but sometimes, in the older professional travel photography business paradigm, you just needed them).

I know that my last few months have been spent grappling with new media, trying to learn the new grammar of visual storytelling with moving pictures.

It’s all brought me back to wanting to tell stories, like the picture page spreads I did on local characters in Jersey City and Hoboken for The Dispatch back when I was a fledgling news shooter in the mid-70’s, rather than shooting single iconic photos that have been done before.

Problem is, there’s no clear market for these stories, local or exotic…. yet. But hopefully there will be, because the net is very niche, and because the billions of pictures of every place from the Taj Mahal to Monument Valley out there being licensed or sold outright for pennies, combined with the dearth of editorial outlets, really have doomed the old paradigm.

And I’m hoping, but not entirely sure, that the new paradigm might include a pay-to-play, decent-money-for-decent-content, business model.

So besides learning a new way of telling visual stories, I’m also going to try to go for a new paradigm in my own travels. Just like the Slow Food movement has taught us to slow down and really eat, I’m thinking of Slow Travel—-go fewer places, stay longer, and dig out the stories of the people who are in the place.

That doesn’t mean I won’t accept the run and gun assignments that have been a career staple (I say that knowing that although no photo editors read this blog,  I should cover my kiester just in case one stumbles upon this post… Yes, Mongo have camera, will shoot fast for food and mortgage money!).

So, like Andrea Pistolesi,  I’m hoping that professional travel photography (and photographers!) don’t need a requiem just yet……maybe just a major makeover!

This Post Has 21 Comments

  1. Couldn’t agree more with you Bob.

    I am starting in travel photography, and everything I have already sold, has a story behind, feelings, hopes, different realities.

    Now people doesn’t want the picture, they want to know what is in the layer under it. It is time for the “travel photography 2.0”, the reader is not a receiver anymore, it is active.

    Best Regards.

  2. Hi Bob,

    I’m with you on this one which is why I’ve been concentrating on becoming visually fluent with a few key geographic destinations (namely far north Queensland and Hokkaido, Japan) to build up a stock library that has more depth than the majors. I think the other thing we need to look at is how we can diversify this desire to tell stories into other markets as well. As you say, nobody has quite figured out who is going to pay for our travel picture stories so in the meantime we might have to take those skills and put them to work in other arenas. Can you use your on-location travel skills to tell environmental stories? Conservation stories. Just when we had ourselves branded as travel photographers it’s time to re-think it all over again!

    1. Paul: Well said and keenly observed….perhaps the new paradigm is to pick a place and become totally fluent in all the issues that affect it. Although, using that rubric, my new specialty would be sub-headed “best places to eat and drink in New Hope, PA.”…..Come to think of it, that doesn’t sound half bad as a specialty! Thanks, as always, for weighing in. BTW, I may be picking your brain soon on the best places to shoot in Hokkaido this winter. I’ve always wanted to do those darn snow monkeys in the hot springs, and I may have an excuse later this year! cheers, Bob

      1. Aha, here’s a geographic tip for you – the monkeys aren’t in Hokkaido! Everybody thinks they’re up there but they’re actually on the main island of Honshuu. I think the famous ones are just outside of Nagano if I remember rightly. Hokkaido has the whooper swans up in the north and the cranes over in the east. Plus the bears that eat you if you don’t have a bell on your backpack!

        1. Paul: See how valuable local knowledge is? If there are bears who can eat me, the friggin’ cranes can photograph each other. But if the monkeys are accessible, I’m all about it. Just one hint as to why I’m not known for my wildlife work….I value my comfort and my life too much! Thanks! Bob

        2. You’re most welcome Bob. Drop me an email when it gets closer to the time or skype me and let’s catch up for a chat. There may not be much in the way of monkeys up there but it’s probably the most beautiful of the islands in terms of raw nature. Nothing like what most people associate with Japan, and a great source of stories that go beyond what most people think of when they imagine Japan. I’ll send you some articles I’ve written about it over the years.

      2. Before you go there, do remember to drop us a line as to how the D90-replacement is performing, specially as to its low-light performance vis-a-vis the D700 which it has been rumored to match.

        If you have a D90-sized FX or the D700s with you, please include those too! =)

      3. Bob: The snow monkeys are near Nagano but both the monkeys and snow cranes can be done within a few days of each other. I spent some time in Hokkaido in February as well and here is a link to some of the pictures I got event hough it was my first time;
        I wrote a little blog piece on the snow monkeys earlier
        Please let me know when you are around Tokyo although if it is early February, I may be in Myanmar.

    2. Hi Bob, I have been researching and preparing a trip to Hokkaido, the red crowned cranes are in Kushiro Eastern HOkkaido, another 4 hours by train from Sapporo. I have been trying to figure an economical way to go and the best ecoomical wayis using the 7-day JR rail pass, during winter the cranes are hand fed by the locals due to lack of natural food. I am hoping to be able to go there about Feb15, 4-6 day stay with a stop in Sapporo for the Snow Festival.

      1. Patrick: Thanks for the info! Bob

  3. Bob,

    Along those lines there’s this is depressing piece on the end of photojournalism:

    I embrace the idea of alternative publishing platforms and multimedia, but I’m trying to figure out how to make my photography self sustaining in the new environment. Those of us who are “oldsters” and fortunate enough to have staff photography jobs realize those jobs aren’t going to be around forever and may not be around much longer.


    1. Jack: I did read that, but passed on posting about it because I’m trying not to beat myself up too much these days….other people are doing it for me! Hope you’re well. ciao, B

  4. Hi Bob,

    Getting a new ‘take’ on a place should take some time. Visitors set in the living room, family sets in kitchen.

    I still enjoy everything you do.


  5. I just have to pop in and say…
    I resemble this day’s duck
    especially since not working at the local paper anymore, and I’m having a blast teaching! But I’m sure not gonna say I dont miss the daily grind (except shooting in court – mean ppl xuck).
    Bob, you are way skilled at carpe diem. Hoping we can all stick with our “work” somehow.

    1. Melinda: You’re doing fine, not to worry. I resemble the duck every day, which is one of the reasons why I love that comic strip! Bob

  6. I think finding the story as opposed to the land mark is a more real feel. Real is what this generation wants. As an example, look at James Bond vs Jason Borne. Yes… James Bond can actually teach us something about the youth of today.

    The James Bond of the past had every fancy gadget there was. Very unreal.

    Now look at Jason Borne. He has amnesia, his get-a-way car is a taxi, and he actually bleeds. He is more real.

    And now, the latest James Bond films have even followed suit.

    Showing the iconic landmark in our work is nice, but it is idealized. Showing the people and stories of a place are more real.

    Although, I could be totally wrong, but I don’t think I am. The youth want truth. I hear kids everywhere saying “no posers”.

  7. I saw this coming a ways back. For most travel photo applications, good-enough photos will do, and there are plenty of beginners with 5ds to cover it. Not to mention the image quality of the new camera phones. What happened to stock has been happening to Travel for a while now…

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