HDR and Travel – A Perfect Match

Article Written by Jim Nix

I am a big fan of both traveling and HDR photography and have found them to be a really good match.  That’s probably obvious to everyone reading this.  I mean, who doesn’t want to go somewhere and fire some brackets at something new?  But I think there is a bit more to it than that.  It runs deeper.

It seems I learn something new on every trip and always come back feeling like I have advanced my HDR photography skills (and usually I bring home loads of new images to process and share, white bouncy castle which is pretty awesome too).  Here are some thoughts on why I think HDR and travel make a perfect match.  What do you think?  Feel free to leave comments and feedback – thanks!

  • Dealing with ambiguity and change

First and foremost, you never know what you are going to get whenever you arrive in your destination.  Weather could be a factor, as could accessibility of a site or anything else.  You have to learn to deal with change and the unknown, and move on.  You learn to adapt on the fly, and that’s an important skill in photography.  You can’t control things, so you learn to shoot whatever you get.  There’s an old expression “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit” and that is applicable here.  But all of this also helps you in processing your HDR photos.  If you get something other than what you expected, you may have to learn how to process something you have never processed before.  It’s a way to stretch your shooting and processing skills.  You can adapt whether behind the camera or the keyboard.

One quite obvious benefit of travel is that you are immersing yourself in new situations.  Things are different in different places, and adapting your shooting to accommodate these changes is a critical skill as a photographer.  Maybe the light is different, or the scenes are unique, or you have to shoot subjects you don’t normally shoot.  Maybe the scene requires a bracket of 7-9 exposures, instead of your normal 3-5 exposures.  Maybe you have to shoot handheld because tripods are not allowed (which is a stupid rule – just sayin’).  All of those things mean you are doing new things, which means you are learning, which means you are growing, which means that it’s a good thing.

  • Wake up!

            Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.  ~Seneca

Sometimes being in the same place for a long time causes you to end up losing some of your inspiration.  Your creative flow gets stuck.  New sights help to rejuvenate you and fire up your creative juices.  I think that is because when we are in a well-known routine, we go into auto-pilot and sometimes that can cause our “sleeping mind” (the creative part of ourselves) to stay asleep.  We can accomplish things without really thinking about them.  Getting out there and seeing something new can wake you up, and fast.  I think that is because all of a sudden, things are different, so you have to pay attention and not just go into auto-pilot.  Your synapses wake up and start firing again!  You get excited, and creative, and rejuvenated!   You’re inspired! That’s good.  And you know what?  You probably feel better, too.  You also get to shoot a lot of new, interesting and inspiring stuff you can’t find at home, so that’s always cool too!  So hit the road, Jack!

  •  Bring a scene to life

Usually when you return from a trip, the first thing you want to do is share pictures with your family and friends (or website readers), so that you can tell them what you did, what you saw, and what you experienced.  When you shoot HDR on your adventures, it really does bring a scene to life and more accurately displays what you saw.  We all know the benefits of HDR photography already.  Think of it in terms of your viewers though – whether they are family, friends, or someone visiting your website.  These people can almost sense what it was like to be there with you.  It inspires them to seek the new.  Plus, nobody wants a “blah” vacation picture.  Use HDR to make it memorable!

One little personal bit of advice here – don’t rush to process every photo as soon as you get home.  I know, I know – it is very tempting.  But my opinion is that I like to process a few right away, but I like to let the rest simmer for a little while.  This gives me two benefits: the first is that my processing skills improve over time (hopefully!) so photos that I process later may be much better than ones I process immediately, and the second benefit is that if I process them all right away, I tend to process them all the same way.  It might help to break free from that routine and come back to them with a set of fresh eyes in a few weeks or months.  You might end up with something entirely new and exciting!

  • Cement your memories

I always feel like I remember things better when I can see a picture.  That’s probably true for all of us.  What I also think is that the more detailed and vivid the picture is, the more memorable things are for me.  In other words, when I look at an HDR picture, I seem to remember more about the scene and what was going on than I do with a regular photo.  Maybe that sounds dumb to some of you, but it’s true.  The more detailed and vivid the photo is, the more tangible and real the memory is – for me.  I think it is because I tend to be a visual person, and if you are into HDR then you may be as well.  The picture just “sticks” better in my mind if it is more vivid and beautiful, and that makes the memory more vivid as well.  As I said above, HDR helps to bring a scene to life so make sure to preserve those memories via that magic we call HDR.

  • Dealing with pressure

When traveling, I think most of us have to deal with certain limits and restrictions on how much we can get done, photographically speaking.  It could be anything – fading light after sunset, too much light after sunrise, pending family commitments (meeting for dinner!), pending work commitments (meeting a customer!), time pressures (this church is closing in 5 minutes!), or travel requirements (I can’t miss my flight!) – but usually what I find is that there is a whole lot more that I want to shoot than I actually have time for.  So in some sense it becomes a game: how much can I squeeze in?  What this really means is that you have to learn to go into high-speed, quick-decision mode and figure out what makes the most sense.  It’s virtually impossible to get everything done, sadly.  So, hit everything you can within the time you have.  I deal with this on every single trip I take.  But that’s ok actually, because I think it teaches us critical decision-making and judgment skills that can translate to better photo choices in the long run (though sometimes, you learn the “hard way”).  You learn to pick your shots quickly, set up and fire quickly, and move on.  It’s a heightened awareness state where you become a robot and focus on “getting it done”.  Non-photographic thoughts and pressures fade temporarily, and you are in a pure photographic production zone.  It’s awesome!  The reason I think this is a good thing is that it teaches you how to handle this pressure so that it doesn’t cripple your decision-making in the future.


Well that’s it folks – my thoughts on why HDR and Travel are such a great match.  Let me know your thoughts!  Thanks for stopping by!

Jim Nix is a photographer, traveler, HDR enthusiast, explorer, iPhone shooter, and tea drinker based in Austin, TX. He shares his photos and travel experiences on his blog at http://www.nomadicpursuits.com/

Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/NomadicPursuits

  • Abishek

    yes, yes, and yes, man I can totally agree with this. Been a long time since I travelled, but although it can be stressful i really love exploring new areas.

    • Jim Nix

      thanks Abishek glad you feel the same way!