It's the experience rather than a description of the location that's wanted in travel photography. Copyright Angelo Cavalli.
Forget about the tan, holidays are more about experiences these days, and travel photo agencies are increasingly reflecting this in their imagery.
The recession has only strengthened the trend towards more sustainable travel, as tourists opt for different types of holidays with a whole new nomenclature, such as “voluntourism” (combining travel with voluntary work), “glamping” (glamorous camping) and “chadventure” (charity adventures).
Photographers need to communicate with markets in a climate where consumers want to spend less money, and spend it in the right ways. As a recent report by ABTA states, “holidaymakers increasingly want to make sure they are helping others through their adventures”.
In its Travel 2010 Priority Content Needs, Corbis asks contributing photographers for “updated content with the emphasis on the experience (not always the location), showing life through the eyes of a tourist, ‘real’ or genuine shots of people that are unposed, images that capture how people feel when travelling and experiencing new locations … families, friends and individuals in both specific/recognisable and generic locations”, and also “matures” (meaning anyone over 40).
Corbis, like Getty Images, has a team dedicated to researching how new trends are articulated as lifestyle statements, analysing adverts, newspaper articles, blog posts and the like to determine shifts in social attitudes.
The increasing proliferation of social-networking sites is also having an effect as they’re also used to monitor behaviour and, when used effectively, to market direct to consumers. This research is then disseminated to art directors, who process it and then brief photographers with trend concepts.
Unfortunately, trend reports are like crystal balls and tend to be as hit-and-miss as a Soviet five-year plan. The aim of the research is ultimately to find a link between the kind of pictures Western tourists are shooting for themselves and then posting on places like Flickr, and the more aspirational images that will entice them to buy holidays.
Authenticity and emotion
One answer is the kind of purposely out-of-focus shots that you’ve seen in the style press for many years, which combine the immediacy of the snapshot aesthetic with subtle styling to convey a sense of effortless glamour. Partly prompted by this demand for more “realistic” pictures, Getty launched an image collection entirely curated from Flickr last year, which it labels “unscripted, unposed and completely authentic”.
Tom Hind, head of content, and Jake Cunningham, senior editor, manage Getty’s creative team in Europe, and they browse thousands of images a day. “We’ve been banging on about authenticity for a long time,” says Hind, “but it’s interesting to see how far it’s come. It’s more about the emotion than everything being technically perfect, and one of the trends we’re seeing is more realistic travel [pictures, which make you feel] like you’re there with the people involved.
For example, the recent Eurostar campaign selling travel to Paris was all about really loose photography – people smiling in the middle of an expression, eyes closed, focus off. Technically it was interesting because it was so different from postcard-style shots, but emotionally it really engages you and you can imagine yourself there [with them].”
Cunningham agrees: “Growing degrees of authenticity are creeping into a lot of areas. We’re seeing large sales of imagery that previously would have been seen as too real for the stock sector.”
Getty still needs the more traditional pictures but, says Hind, “We’re looking for postcard shots with a twist – something refreshing with new ways of looking at lighting, new techniques, or coming at it from a different angle.”
Even Condé Nast Traveller, which despite its luxury focus has always included more loose-form photography among its picture spreads, attempts to balance high glamour with more attainable experiences. “Traveller is an aspirational magazine,” says photographic director Caroline Metcalfe, who is bombarded by portfolios each and every day. “We’re not National Geographic. We’re a high-end, luxury travel magazine. That’s what you’re buying into.
It’s treading a tricky line between being commercially successful and showing the real world. When we started out, we used a lot of reportage, now it’s more likely to be 10 hotels on the Cote d’Azur. Readers do want to feel like they’re there, but commercial pressures are enormous – sales, bookstands, advertising revenues – and the magazine has to appeal on many different levels. We have cover lines to sell popular destinations, but I do try to wrap around some real travel. For example, we could do the 20 best B&Bs in Britain, and then print 14 pages of Tamil Nadu in India. It’s about getting the right mix.”
Metcalfe notes that more photographers are spending extended time abroad, shooting stories in countries where the cost of living is lower. But they often get their pitch wrong. “A lot of photographers say to me, ‘I’m going here, what do you want?’.
But it doesn’t work that way. If they say to me, ‘I’m going to spend a year in Asia’, and I know their portfolio, that’s good since our budgets are small so we then don’t have the cost of their travel. Photographers are also decamping out of London to places like Cornwall, as with digital they don’t have to be tied down by labs. It doesn’t alter what budgets we offer if they fly out from the south of France or from London.”
She says what you shoot for travel magazines shouldn’t be dictated by trend reports but your own passions. “There is a lot of debate about what makes a seller, but it’s definitely not pictures of empty swimming pools full of syringes and fag ends.
Photographers should stick with what their heart is in, and not be swayed by trends. Find your own identity. If I like it, you’re my guy. It gives the magazine an interesting and different visual pace to include different styles.”
Fraser Hall, photo editor at Robert Harding World Imagery, says he’s looking for strong images that stand out from the crowd. “We get asked for anything and everything,” he says, “but I look for images that are graphic, simple and not too cluttered that will sell the place.
There is a demand for a wider field – a more adventure feel, a more ecological feel. Costa Rica is a growing market, along with people on cruise ships and older-market destinations.
There is also a demand for mobile phones in images, and images that put the viewer into the place.” But he says that trend reporting can be plain wrong, often quite simply because of unforeseen circumstances. “A couple of years ago Beirut was touted as the next hot destination. But civil unrest meant demand has fizzled out.”
An editor from one of the more successful smaller travel photo libraries agrees. “I’ve worked for Getty and Corbis and they shoot to purpose, while our stuff is shot on the road,” he explains, while wishing to remain anonymous.
“They often think there is a trend happening when it’s not. Some of it will happen, most of it’s not going to and never will. Where we succeed is in images of specific places, like a bar in Rome for example.
The shots aren’t stylised or necessarily even all that good, they’re just interior shots, but they sell well. We are interested in sweeping aspirational shots, but the competition for those types of images is huge. However, the market place is huge, and there’s a need for a huge variety of shots.”
Chris Coe founded the Travel Photographer of the Year awards in 2003 and runs his own courses aimed at shooters trying to break into the travel market. He is quite blunt about the stock photography industry: “Getty and Corbis drive the trends. If they’re saying that’s the way it’s going, that’s the way it’s going. They’re in such a dominant place, they’re not following a trend, they are the trend.
“It’s easy for Getty to come out and say this is what they want. But it’s a very different thing for photographers to translate what they want into images because they’re not going to want gritty stuff. They’re going to want that plus an aspirational element to it.”
But, he says, the travel industry is mindful to champion more green credentials. “There is a thirst in the industry to counter anti-environmental claims levied at it, so they’re always looking for greener, fair-trade and community experiences, adding something back in on the trip.”
Coe sees a lack of investment in imagery as one of the biggest problems facing the travel industry. “The more dynamic companies would tend to look for photography, but most are buying stock rather than commissioning at the moment and maybe that’s a reflection of the current economic climate.
The travel industry is really diverse, and no matter what they say, there’ll be a large section of the industry that doesn’t invest in images, or invests in the more clichéd, standard images they’re been using for years.”
Coe’s approach with the TPOTY awards is to have different categories that cover all types of photography within the travel sector, everything from street reportage and social documentary through to the more advertising-friendly iconic imagery of serene locations.
“To be really successful as a travel photographer, you can’t rest on your laurels and look at one area, you have to cross different markets. For the awards, we try to find someone that works with different light, with different subjects and can still say something interesting and give a sense of place with their pictures.
"Portfolios should also tell a story, but photographers often struggle to tell a story that flows. With travel images, you should look at them and think, ‘I want to go there, I want to do that’.”
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