The perfect travel photo – and why we always take the same pictures

Maybe when you clicked on this blog post, you were hoping to find a guide on how to take the perfect travel photo on your trip. Unfortunately, we have to disappoint you – a guide with the perfect angles, the best filter for post-editing or a list of suitable spots we don’t have for you. This post is more about how you can take ‘better’ photos on your trip. Images convey strong messages and reinforce existing thought patterns in our minds. As travelers, we have a special responsibility when taking and using these images. Today we’ll tell you about the behavioral patterns of travelers when it comes to taking pictures. We will also show you how to take a ‘better’ travel photo and how to behave appropriately.

Picture by Peggy and Marco Lachmann-Anke on Pixabay

Always the same photo

What we photograph depends largely on the image we have of the destination in advance. Especially when traveling to countries of the global south by western travelers, the expectation of the travelers is often to see something ‘completely different’. How this ‘other’ should look like, we usually know pretty well already. Many travelers photograph almost exclusively what they already know from travel guides, media or advertising, or what friends and family have already taken vacation photos of.

We all know such motifs: wild cows, the Taj Mahal, the classic couple photo in front of the Eiffel Tower, market stalls, yogis or women in saris in India; mountains and people with caps, blankets or llamas in Bolivia; a tree in front of a sand dune in Namibia. The list is endless.  

Have you ever done a shot like this? Or caught yourself cropping a picture so that the image looks as ‘original‘ and ‘untouched’ as possible? Maybe when photographing a market stall or a car. Have you ever hidden the skyscrapers in the background to make it look as natural as possible? 

This reproduction of the same motifs over and over again becomes particularly clear in a Google search. Try it out: enter Uganda in the image search and then France. While Uganda is dominated by images of untouched nature, markets or villages, France is dominated by images of the Paris metropolitan region. This determines to a large extent, before we have ever been there, what we find there that is ‘typical’ for the region. 

Picture by meineresterampe on Pixabay

Change your mind!

Travel companies are caught between what travelers expect and how a region sells itself best and the realistic picture of the situation on the ground, which does not necessarily match expectations. Stories or images from the Global South that reflect science, management, innovation, or urbanity are therefore much less likely to be shared because they are more erroneously associated with the West. As travelers, we can try to break down these thought patterns to some extent with the stories we tell and the images we make. To do so, it is important to first recognize the prevailing patterns.   

Ask yourself these questions

Finally, we would like to give you a few tips on how you can contribute to breaking down clichés and thought patterns and what you should bear in mind when taking photographs. Of course, our list is not complete and should not be understood as a checklist; rather, it serves as a suggestion and a focus on the topic.  

  1. What do you tell about your trip? How do you present the country and what you experienced? Does it surprise your counterpart? We can tell about topics that perhaps no one at home expects in reports, because they do not correspond to the image of countries of the global south conveyed in schools and the media in Europe. 
  2. Are your stories always about how ‘different’ it is compared to where you live? 
  3. Focus on the diversity! How diverse were the encounters and things you saw among each other? 
  4. How about telling about an art exhibition, a concert, a modern art museum, or innovative methods and technologies?  
  5. Are local people able to have a voice and tell their own stories? Using people’s own words, their texts and pictures (with their permission, of course) directly instead of talking about them can be a way to avoid generalizations. 

Tips for your ‘better’ travel photo

  1. Always ask for the permission of the person being photographed.
  2. Know the name and background of the person you are portraying. Don’t just use people as symbols.
  3. Always ask yourself if this is the way you want to be photographed.
  4. Do not take photos of sensitive sites or areas, such as hospitals. 
Picture by socialbnb

Radi-Aid’s Social Media Guide has compiled even more tips for taking and sharing photos on social media while on vacation. Feel free to check it out here. If you are interested in this topic, we recommend the following source: Avoiding the Trap.

If you want to learn more about social travel, check out this blog post. In our newsletter you will find helpful tips for sustainable and social travel – get our free checklist.