The Wonderers

From glossy to gritty, epic landscapes to serene and dreamy scenes, lush and majestic otherworldly visions to graphic compositions in subtle, muted hues – as we experience the world through an ever-increasing sea of images, how are current trends in travel photography evolving? Antonia Wilson consults four experts

The travel industry is set to grow to be worth $4.7 billion next year, driven by our appetite for unique experiences, awe-inspiring natural sights, a sense of surprise, wonder and meaning. This ‘wanderlust’ is continuously fed by tantalising images from around the world, available at our fingertips.

Travel photography is no longer just about selling dream locations, but is often now crafted to elicit emotion. Photographers are experimenting with texture, colour palettes, scale, painterly techniques and graphically-led compositions, turning the familiar into the unpredictable, for us to experience the sublime through the luminosity of screens or on the pages of both mainstream and indie magazines.

We spoke to four experts in the industry about current trends and how changes in the hyper-visual landscape are driving our lust for wandering.

Jacqueline Bourke, senior manager of creative planning at Getty Images

I work on Getty Images’ global team of visual anthropologists. We have access to over 20 years of customer buying patterns in terms of visual communications. Combined with these insights, we review worldwide communications across advertising, cinema, art, social networks etc. and analyse the social, cultural, economic and technological trends that are influencing human behaviour in order to identify and shape visual trends.

Stilt fishermen in Sri Lanka (Matt Porteous/Getty Images).
Stilt fishermen in Sri Lanka (Matt Porteous/Getty Images).

A new image trend for 2015 that we are seeing around travel is something we are calling Wonderlust. Taken from the German word, ‘wanderlust’, it not only embraces iconic and immersive travel imagery but also celebrates the wonder of space, nature and spirituality. We’ve seen images key-worded with these themes increase in sales here by 30% over the past five years – and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Wonderlust refers to our enduring fascination with the boundless beauty and unpredictability of life’s mysteries. It speaks to the longing for wonder in every aspect of our lives – to see more, do more, feel more and ultimately to be more.

It goes without saying that in today’s technological world of hyper-connectivity, our sense of space and connection to geographical distances has undergone a revolution. We constantly lust after unique and wondrous travel experiences shared by our friends on Instagram or through planned travel trip searches on Pinterest. It is this visual language of first-person storytelling of our travel journeys that we share on social media that is inspiring our ‘where to travel’ decisions in a world of immediate, unfiltered travel reviews.

There is no doubt that smartphone photography and social media-inspired filters have influenced what our customers are buying. From the filtered, unusual crops and angles of mobile imagery with that ubiquitous lens flare, which is often added in quickly in post-production, digital manipulation has never been so popular. This trend also has roots in our multi-screen world where, as we become more digital, we long for things that feel tangible and real. Images that are up-close and visceral, with the emphasis on colour, macro-detailing and texture pull people in.

Travel photography is getting more exciting as it enters the realm of the virtual. Virtual tourism is on the increase as more and more brands within the travel industry are rising to the exciting challenge of transporting us more immediately to far-flung places that we may never get to physically travel to. So in terms of travel photography, supersensory imagery that appeals not only to the visual sense but to as many senses as possible is paramount. Quite simply, Wonderlust imagery has never had a greater moment.

Rich Stapleton, creative director and co-founder of Cereal magazine

I am responsible for the visual direction of Cereal and I also take many of the photos. We want it to feel modern in the imagery and voice, but classic in typography and layout so that the title can feel as though it is relevant for a longer period of time. People often use the words ‘clean’ and ‘sparse’ to describe us, and I would say those two words are apt. Rosa [Park, editor and co-founder] and I both believe that less is more.

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco rising out of the mist. (Justin Chung for the cover of Cereal, volume 10).
The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco rising out of the mist. (Justin Chung for the cover of Cereal, volume 10).

There is very little post after images come in from the photographers. We try to keep things as natural as possible, and the vast majority of our images are shot in daylight. Because we plan the look of all of the images in advance, we hardly ever require any image manipulation.

In the summer of 2014, I travelled to Morocco with Rosa. We had an idea that the cover shot for the next volume of the magazine was to be a sand dune. Despite warnings of intense heat, we concluded that we should explore the desert at the height of summer, to witness the scene as we had imagined. What I remember most was the stillness. How far removed we were from other tourists, other locals even. It made me appreciate how rare it can be in the modern day to experience such a sense of true remoteness.

It’s somewhat of a recurring theme in Cereal – an expansive natural landscape without much human occupation. I think we constantly search for this as an antidote to how busy urban life can be, and here in the sand dunes of the Saharan desert, I experienced it at its peak.

I notice that a lot of photographers – especially in the area of the industry that Cereal inhabits – are drawn to misty, expansive landscapes. A sunny day is not a good day for shooting, many are hoping for grey skies and fog for softer lighting, myself included. As for subject matter, areas like Iceland and the Pacific Northwest seem to be very popular photography destinations.

People reacting against the classic beach holiday are now hiking through the Scottish Highlands and visiting fjords in Norway and as a result, the photos you see are drastically different. I think our generation and my peers are constantly seeking an experience they feel is unique, though what that actually is, is always in flux.

Hayley Ward, art director of Lonely Planet Traveller magazine

I’m involved with all areas of the visual appearance of the magazine and oversee a small team of designers. I do take pictures, but only for pleasure not publication. Instead I look forward to telling the story by editing the hundreds of amazing images delivered after our assignments.

A cow finds aspot to rest outsidea shop in the holy city of Varanasi, India (Matt Munro/Lonely Planet Traveller)
A cow finds aspot to rest outsidea shop in the holy city of Varanasi, India (Matt Munro/Lonely Planet Traveller).

It feels like there are two styles within magazine publishing that are popular now. Consumer-based magazines such as Lonely Planet Traveller, CondeNastTraveller and Sunday Times Travel favour vibrant, colourful photography. Magazines like Cereal and Ernest, which have launched over the last couple of years, prefer a more minimal, clean style of photography where colours are a lot softer and pale, with simple layouts and not much text.

At Lonely Planet Traveller, post-production is minimal – we like a more natural-looking image. The cover image usually has the most colour enhancement done so that it’s eye-catching and cover lines read clearly. A natural look rather than digital manipulation is popular now in the industry, and has always been important, as many travel photographers want to portray realism and authenticity in their images.

The internet, new flights and the popularity of destinations off the beaten track have made different types of holiday become more accessible for everyone. Many people now want adventurous authentic travel and to experience local cultures is important to them. There’s also more disposable income and growing demand for more upmarket, affordable accommodation.

This has resulted in a lot more travel photography being published in books and magazines, bringing these types of travel experiences to wider and new audiences. There are a lot of great photographers promoting themselves on apps such as Instagram, and websites such as 500px. From a picture editor/commissioner point of view these sites are a great way of finding potential new photographers in different locations around the world.

Chris Coe, travel photographer and founder and director of the Travel Photographer of the Year Awards

I came up with the idea of the awards back in 2002 in a moment of frustration, and it launched in 2003. This was pre digital cameras – there weren’t many photography competitions back then and even fewer travel photography ones.

Bicycle on the ice on Baikal Lake, Ogoy Island, Russia (Jakub Rybicki: TPOTY 2014 winner of Best Single Image in an Earth, Air, Fire, Water portfolio).

Bicycle on the ice on Baikal Lake, Ogoy Island, Russia (Jakub Rybicki: TPOTY 2014 winner of Best Single Image in an Earth, Air, Fire, Water portfolio).

Travel photography is a diverse collection of genres and travel photographers need to show this diversity in their approach. The category themes of TPOTY encourage different styles with some more suited to a polished conceptual or advertising style while others attract the grittier, harsher side of travel which often gets overlooked or glossed over.

Traditional photography for guidebooks and brochures has largely died but the online world has a huge thirst for imagery. With picture postcard images being two a penny, photographers need to think out of the box and develop a vision and a unique perspective that Joe Bloggs can aspire to experience, or even photograph themselves.

I’m going to be slightly controversial here, but I don’t think social media is helping to make us better photographers. There are obvious benefits but much of the new technology creates confusion amongst people learning photography and the way we use it encourages us to hurry.

Travel photography perhaps grabs more attention [on social media] as many of us aspire to travel and experience less familiar cultures and places. The aspirational element is very important. Not many photographers aspire to see and photograph products or a skyscraper, but most aspire to adventure and to capture something less often seen or even a unique moment. Photography combined with wanderlust is a very popular draw both for photographers and viewers alike. It transports us out of our everyday and often mundane lives.

There’s much more emphasis now on adventure and experience within a holiday and this encourages photographic storytelling, a skill which too many photographers don’t pay enough attention to. Authenticity is perhaps harder to find with an organised trip but a bespoke experience, and a little more time, will get you to the many unspoilt places. I love seeing new places every year in the awards entries and, for me, there are still a lot of wonderful places, people and experiences out there to find.

Trekker watching storm clouds move into a valley (Picturegarden/Getty Images)
Trekker watching storm clouds move into a valley (Picturegarden/Getty Images)

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