The Enthusiast’s Guide to Travel published by Rocky Nook — in this excerpt, author Jordana Wright tells us to stay present and capture photographic memories.

Step back for a moment…

I want to take a step back and acknowledge that for many people, travel photography is less about documenting the world for technical perfection or others’ admiration, amusement, or education, and more about capturing the experiences of their personal journeys for themselves.

To be clear, photographing your travels to capture memories is an absolutely legitimate pursuit! Some of the earliest travel photographs in existence were taken to serve as a souvenir of the experience. Your ability to reflect back on time spent traveling and the many little details, stories, and interactions you experienced are reason enough to take a camera along when you travel. Even if you don’t concern yourself with inspiring other people through your images, you can still create wonderfully impactful images surrounding your adventures.

A tripod mounted camera captures a selfie of the author in front of a sunset.
The author in front of a memorable sunset in this tripod-mounted selfie.

I wouldn’t sell this photo on my website, but it means something special to me. Photography is a major focus for me when I travel, but photography is also my profession.

Carrying a camera

For me, traveling anywhere without a camera feels strange and uncomfortable. Even leaving my camera at the hotel when going out for a short walk or a meal makes me feel nervous. I worry that I’ll miss something incredible. I feel guilty that I’m not dedicated enough to the work. Over time and over my travels, I had gotten so used to experiencing things through the viewfinder, that I was making the camera a priority ahead of my own ability to observe and experience, which resulted in less impactful images.

A couple of years ago I came to realize that the camera is the least important part in the equation. I know this sounds counterintuitive in a book about photography, but it wasn’t until I began writing about my journeys that I realized the photogenic moment has occurred because of the places and the situations in which I have placed myself. I chose to go out walking in my first major Chicago snowfall for the experience.

Chicago, Illinois ISO 100; 1/60 sec.; f/4; 17mm
Chicago, Illinois
1/60 sec f/4.0 ISO 100 17mm

The fact that I walked away with a few stellar photographs is a happy side effect. With or without a camera the experience still happens and the story is still there. It is mine to experience and, should I so choose, to document and share with others.

Focus on the moment — focus on the experience

Now when I travel, I focus on my experience. I focus on the moment. I approach each day with an open desire to meet new people and experience new flavors. I bring the camera along, but not at the expense of my discoveries along the journey. I concern myself with awareness of my surroundings — the sounds, the smells, the feeling I get from a place, and the enjoyment I get from sharing those surroundings with my husband, friends, or family. I found that by tasking myself to be more present and more aware as I traveled, my images improved because my experiences improved.

Making better photos

Deeper awareness and understanding enhanced my visual storytelling and led to a more compelling and accurate essence of place in my images. Without a camera constantly separating me from the world, I could make better connections with locals, spend more time chatting, more time enjoying, and more time observing. When a truly photogenic moment came along, I could capture it more effectively because it had more meaning and more personal significance. There are a great many photographic “rules” and lessons in the world—not to mention in this book — but if I had to boil them all down to one concise message, this would be it: Travel to expand your horizons and to become a better version of yourself. Photograph those travels to capture the memories of how you felt when you were at your best.

Share Your Best Travel Memories!

Once you’ve captured your best image featuring a special memory from your travels, share it with the Enthusiast’s Guide community! Follow @EnthusiastsGuides and post your image to Instagram with the hashtag #EGTravel. Don’t forget that you can also search that same hashtag to view all the posts and be inspired by what others are shooting.

Travel photography requires dedication. This series of excerpts from “The Enthusiast’s Guide to Travel Photography” by Jordana Wright is published by Rocky Nook.

See all of the great photographic skills books from Rocky Nook.

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