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Iceland. Photo by Paul Sullivan

We recently posed a question on our Facebook Fan Page: What’s the one skill every travel photographer needs to develop?

IT’S A DECEPTIVELY difficult question, since so many skills can be applied to so many situations. For example, the opportunity to take the image above, snapped during a recent trip to Iceland, came up very suddenly. I was driving with friends from the Westfjords region back to Reykjavik when the aurora borealis appeared in the sky – boom!

We were driving on a highway and had to find a place to pull over. At first I didn’t think I would be able to get a good shot since the lights were shimmering away beautifully on the other side of the road – the foreground would have been lots of nasty highway.

Then they began to appear above the farmhouse in front of us. I also thought this wasn’t such a great angle either, especially with the trucks and telegraph wires seemingly in the way. It was freezing cold outside (as it normally is when the lights appear) and I was tired after driving for several hours. We had also nearly crashed earlier on the drive after hitting some ice on the road, and a big part of me wanted to stay warm in the car and watch through the window!

But I dragged my camera and tripod out of the car and began sizing up the scene. As I did so, the lights formed a kind of halo around the truck, which suddenly seemed to create a quite nice thematic counterpoint – heavy and industrial compared to the celestial majesty of the lights – and the naked trees and farmhouse all looked suddenly quite interesting.

The main skills required for this particular shot? Overcoming laziness, fatigue or cold when an opportunity arises; making sure you always have the right equipment with you (no tripod would have meant no photo in this case); being patient, i.e. waiting for a better angle to emerge even when you don’t think there is one.

Some of these skills were already mentioned among the interesting array of replies we received on the post. We’ve listed some of our favorites below. Feel free to join in the discussion over at the page, or leave your opinion in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

*Alkis EnEspaña: “Fantasy!”

*Stephanie Diehl: “Composition”

*Isabel Clift: “No sunset shots!”

*JoAnna Haugen: “Creativity and the ability to see things in a way that tell a story in a single moment.”

*Kyle Anderson: “How to capture and convey the emotion of their environment they find themselves traveling within.”

*David Shults: “Open eyes, you just never know what you might spot.”

*Lola Akinmade: “Sharpened instincts”

*Jill Hamiltonbergowitz: “Angles!”

*Cary Dean: “Empathy”

*Alex Blackwelder” “It’s more of a characteristic, but I’d say respect.”

*Tasha Gurly: “The ability to immerse yourself in whatever you’re doing, wherever you are, without fear.”

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About The Author

Paul Sullivan

Paul Sullivan is a freelance writer, author, editor and photographer covering music, travel and culture. His writing and photography work has been published in The Guardian, Sunday Times Travel, National Geographic UK, Matador Network, Wax Poetics, XLR8R and more, and he has scribed/snapped several guidebooks for Time Out, HG2, Rough Guide, Cool Camping and others. He currently lives in Berlin, where he runs the sustainable travel portal Slow Travel Berlin. Check out his photography website, follow him on Twitter or join hisFacebook photography page.

  • Ren Robles

    Patience/tenacity… because you won’t always get the photo you want on the first shot.

  • eileen

    That is stunning.

    Patience perhaps might not be a bad addition to the arsenal?

  • Julie

    In addition to all these great tips, I’d add the ability to build community and an audience. It’s true for travel writers, as well. We all need to be able to get outside of ourselves, as our work has some very solitary moments, and be able to build supportive networks of colleagues, readers, and friends.

  • joshua johnson

    I resonate with ~ *Alex Blackwelder” “It’s more of a characteristic, but I’d say respect.” in the case of the travel photographer. Respecting the people and places as not merely novelties and flickr bragging rights but as sovereign entities.

  • TimR

    I’d add a love for what you’re shooting. With that, a lot of the other things take care of themselves.

  • Michael Lynch

    “Intuition”: You’ve got it. Super shot !

  • maya

    that’s an otherworldly picture! and i’d say “open eyes”, too.


    Visualization. Can you visualize how you want your photos to look? Are you able to see them in your mind and then transport them to the finish product? Don’t over think your photos. Find your light and go for it.

  • mattnnz

    Take a camera everywhere if you like what you see take a shot. These days with a digital cameras it costs nothing play around.

  • Jonny

    other people may have said the same thing differently: soft eyes.
    if you focus on one subject, shot, or point of focus too intently you miss the forest for the trees. or you miss the most beautiful tree in the forest for a mediocre one.

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