If you are like me, travel is one of your favorite things. I must have been born under the sign of ‘travel’ because I was born at the World’s Fair and took my first flight at 2 weeks.

I have studied, lived, and worked in many countries and learned a few languages along the way. So, travel has always been woven throughout my life. And photography has been right in there as my way of processing the countries and cultures I was experiencing.

Some people prefer to write about their travels, but as a visual person, photography is the means of expression I prefer to capture my travels.

The Beginning of the Photography Journey

I got my first camera in high school for a class I was taking, and continued in college.

I studied photography in Florence, Italy, and did an MFA (Masters of Fine Art) at Columbia College Chicago where I also taught.

One summer, I was fortunate to work at the Rencontres d’Arles in France – an annual summer photography festival in Arles, France, where I met and learned from lots of photographers.

While running my own wedding photography business, I developed my documentary photography skills. I learned a lot about creating a visual story by shooting weddings.

Photographing in a documentary style requires that you really hone your observational skills. That’s useful, too, when traveling.

Two people walking down a white sand beach with blue skies in Tahiti - photo by Larissa Rolley, photography course creator at Wanderful
Tahiti. Photo Credit Larissa Rolley

Travel Adventures Lead to Photo Memories

Every place we travel to has its own look, culture, history, people, feelings, landscapes, and stories. And I am captivated by this. Seeing new sights and customs, and exploring new places and different ways of life widens my perspective and expands my personality.

As a traveler, you know that travel opens the senses through new foods, sounds, smells, and sights. It awakens our imagination as we realize just how much we have unwittingly limited ourselves.

I travel for work and for fun.

I divide my time between Chicago and Tahiti. When I am in the US, I work with French and Italians, shooting events, creating trips, and leading photo tours. While in Tahiti, I love to do portraits and photograph hibiscus flowers.

If you like world music, check out Surabhi Ensemble! I have documented some of their Global Peace Tours. And here is the video of the tour to Vietnam, Spain, Portugal, and Senegal.

Group of people with long shadows playing music standing in the sand. Surabhi Ensemble in Senegal - photo by Larissa Rolley, photography course creator at Wanderful
Surabhi Ensemble in Senegal. Photo credit Larissa Rolley

What is travel photography?

Travel photography is a lot of things and there is not just one definition of it.

I’ve thought a lot about how to accurately explain what is travel photography.

Is it about taking photos of how you are getting from where you are to where you’re going, like the airplane or car?

Is it about the views you see along the way, maybe a beautiful field of flowers, train tracks, or some large mountain off in the distance?

Is it about those iconic postcard shots?

Could it be about the people you encounter and how they live?

Is it also about showing what you are learning of the world and how your heart and eyes are opening?

For me, it is all of these things.

A light dusting of snow on rooftops in a French village - photo by Larissa Rolley, photography course creator at Wanderful
Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, France. Photo Credit Larissa Rolley

Travel photography can be whatever you want it to be.

I pose these questions for you to think about what travel photography means to you. Because it can be so loosely and individually defined, it encompasses a wide variety of subjects and techniques.

It might require you to take great landscapes, portraits, architecture, food, or photojournalistic images. It all depends on you and how you choose to define it for yourself.

Your success will come from coming up with creative images, by inspiring yourself from the different styles of photography available (documentary, street, etc.) and by shooting a lot.

Practice, practice, practice.

Remember, you can shoot “travel photography” right in your own town, wherever it is in the world. What is every day for you, is a foreign place for someone who lives thousands of miles away.

Skateboarder practicing jumps in front of large glass windows in a modern city building - photo by Larissa Rolley, photography course creator at Wanderful
Chicago. Photo credit Larissa Rolley

Tips for Your Travel Photos

In preparing for a trip, I often learn more about the destination to get a better idea of the history, architectural styles, food, festivals, and other personal interests.

I may plan to stay near a location of interest to me, so I can easily get there early in the morning to photograph.

I did this in Panama City, staying near the fish market because that is something I love to go to and see the boats come in!

To make good use of my time, I might plan a highlights tour in a new place to get quickly familiar. I arranged a half-day tour in Hanoi to learn how to get around, discover some places I might want to go back to for some iconic shots, and be able to ask the guide any questions I had.

I frequently stay longer in some places and revisit others. That allows me to meet people, spend time with them, and visit more locations without feeling rushed.

As I learn more and take in more things about the culture that spark my curiosity, I develop photo projects.

For example, I learned that sharks have an important place in Polynesian myths of creation. Today, the shark is honored and often represents the protective spirit of a family ancestor that reincarnated. This led to me shooting this mythic image where powerful male Gods hold magical abilities to connect with nature, allowing them to play with animals under a magnificent, mystic Polynesian sky.

A man playing with a dolphin at the water's surface in Tahiti with a sunset cloudy sky - photo by Larissa Rolley, photography course creator at Wanderful
Tahiti. Photo credit Larissa Rolley

When traveling, I don’t like to over-plan either.

I like to leave space for the unexpected and spontaneity, for getting lost, for saying ‘yes’ to opportunities. I leave time for meeting incredible people, seeing incredible things, experiencing beautiful and real moments, and capturing something that maybe no one has captured before.

On a recent trip to Senegal, one day magically unfolded with an invitation to a baptism and spending the day with all the women.

You can read more here on the magic of saying ‘YES’ in Senegal.

Woman smiling at the camera in Senegal in bright dress - photo by Larissa Rolley, photography course creator at Wanderful
Senegal. Photo credit Larissa Rolley

The Reality of Being a Good Photographer

This way of traveling and creating photos, learning how to deal with different light situations, and handling the unexpected, will give you insightful images of your travels. It is this that will make you a good photographer.

Of course, you need a camera or phone to create the photos.

You probably really don’t need a better camera, as it is not the camera that determines how good a photograph is. It is you! It is how you show what captures your attention and how you see the world!

But there is nothing worse than being on a trip and feeling frustrated because of the camera or ending up with uninspiring images that don’t do justice to what you were experiencing.

My advice is to take the camera or phone that you have now and spend a bit of time with it. Learn how to use the options your camera provides you.

Spend time looking at a few photographs you like, and try to figure out why you like them and how the photographer created them.

Instead of buying an expensive camera, your money is better spent investing in becoming a better photographer through books and courses. And, of course, it’s better spent in your travel experiences.

I encourage you to make a commitment to yourself to start now. Practice a little bit every day or every week and learn something about your camera, composition, or technique. And try it out!

I can assure you that, on your next trip, you will be creating more captivating images of your magical travel experiences to share with your family and friends.

With everything that I have shared with you here, you can see that I really intertwine photography and travel. It is natural for me to approach photography with the mind of a traveler.

I encourage you to consider this, too, so that no matter what city you are traveling to, even if you are going to do stuff around your own town, that it will help you create stunning images that are meaningful to you.

Looking for travel inspiration? Wanderful is a global community for travel-loving women. Connect with us!

All images courtesy of the author.