With winter coming to an end, many readers will be thinking about which photography destinations to visit on their next holiday or shorter trip. The problem is we are spoiled for choice, as it’s never been easier to get to photogenic places. Problem number two is that every other photographer, be they a pro or less-exalted social media snapper, will often be heading to the same photography destinations. Landscape pro Tom Mackie recently lamented having to queue for over an hour to enter a particularly ‘serene’ temple in Japan, only to find the place heaving with Instagrammers trying to get the same shot. To help you beat the hordes while still getting great pictures, we’ve asked some top travel photographers and AP readers to share their favourite photography destinations off the beaten track.
In terms of what gear to take, it depends on your favourite genres and how much room you have, but think about a relatively light camera body, a 50mm or 85mm ‘fast’ prime lens for portraits, a wideangle zoom to soak up impressive landscapes and architecture, and a 24-70mm workhorse zoom, along with a travel tripod and essential lters such as polarisers.
We can’t hope to cover everywhere in this article, and have focused on Europe, Scandinavia and Asia, so please tell us your favourite ‘less visited’ photo destinations too.
20 unusual photography destinations
Åland Islands, Finland
Norway’s Lofoten Islands and Iceland are now full of photographers, but there is plenty more of Scandinavia to enjoy, such as the Åland Islands. ‘This Baltic archipelago sprawls between southwest Finland and eastern Sweden,’ says award-winning travel pro, Tim Bird. ‘The islands are connected by bridges and ferries, making it easy to explore the rolling landscapes and shoot rugged shorelines, rustic meadows, medieval castles and stone churches and red-barn farms. As well as the coastal landscapes, wildlife photographers can see eagles, whooping swans and migrating birds in spring, white-tail deer, elk and seals.’
Camargue, Southern France
‘You don’t have to travel to the ends of the Earth to get somewhere truly remote,’ says regular AP contributor, Steve Davey. ‘The Camargue in Southern France is a vast wetland, where cowboys or ‘gardians’ on white horses raise black bulls, and flamingos fly up from Africa. Head to Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer for a sunset drink as flamingos fly overhead; head on a 4WD safari into the wetlands for the best wildlife opportunities and time your visit for May, where gypsies from all over Europe congregate for a pilgrimage.’ Steve is giving travel photography workshops at the Destinations Travel Show.
In Finland, remote doesn’t always mean ‘inaccessible’. ‘A good road reaches the village of Kilpisjärvi in the far north-west, way above the Arctic Circle in Lapland and near borders with Norway and Sweden,’ Tim Bird adds. ‘Finland doesn’t have many “proper” mountains, but the fells in this area rise to above 1,000 metres – great backgrounds for aurora scenes. My favourite time is autumn, when the Arctic vegetation is a palette of blazing reds and oranges.’
One of several Estonian Baltic islands restricted to the military in the Soviet era, Hiiumaa is now open to all, although it retains many relics of that era, together with a well-preserved natural environment. The island is a rich store of camera fodder, blessed with meadows carpeted in spring flowers and pine forests harbouring surprises such as rusting Soviet tanks, a crumbling Russian church, a forlorn military cemetery and derelict bunkers and lighthouses.
Blåvand Beach, Denmark
‘I was astonished when I discovered the dunes and beaches lining much of Denmark’s coastline,’ says Tim. ‘Much of it is remote and desolate. Other parts, such as the North Sea stretch from Blåvand to Henne, are more accessible. I found myself hooked on the dramatic seascapes and spent hours shooting the Mule Bunkers – Second World War shoreline gun emplacements converted into anti-war artworks – at Blåvand in morning and evening light.’
Another interesting area of Estonia, which is a refreshing alternative to more heavily visited Eastern European photography destinations. ‘This quirky part of the country is heavily populated with university students, underground breweries and “interesting” buildings,’ says AP reader Matthew Wackett (who also recommends the capital city of Riga).
‘The most charming of the former Eastern European states, much of Bulgaria is completely unspoilt,’ advises Steve Davey. ‘Sofia is one of the most pleasant European capital cities, with trams and cobbled streets. Head to the nearby Rila Monastery to photograph the ornate murals, and explore the countryside around Bankso to photograph traditional rural life.’
Forget all the negative headlines from the war with the Serbs, Kosovo is not only Europe’s newest country, but also hugely photogenic. As well as delightful mountain towns, the hilly landscape is replete with photogenic sights, and there are lots of fascinating ancient buildings. The locals are eager to welcome visitors too, and you’re unlikely to be constantly bumping up against photography tours. ‘The Su tradition there is also fascinating to document,’ says travel photographer Darragh Mason Field.
Meteora, central Greece
‘Most tourists would venture to the islands once they enter Greece. But this mountainous area of Greece was amazing,’ says Larry Louie, a top Canadian travel photographer who’s won Travel Photographer of the Year and recently brought out a fascinating new book. ‘Just to see the architectural feat of building these beautiful monasteries at the base or on top of the outcroppings was unforgettable.’
Despite its charms, Marrakech is often heaving with tourists and can get too much, so a good alternative is the ancient city of Fez. While still popular with visitors in the summer, the old part of the city, with its souks and labyrinthine alleys snaking in between towering stone houses, is relatively peaceful and atmospheric before the traders start business. Half-a-day’s drive away is the blue hilltop town of Chefchaouen, which is uniquely photogenic and manageably busy.
With a number of species of lemurs and chameleons, Madagascar is accepted as a unique wildlife experience. The country also boasts stunning landscapes and a vibrant culture that blends Asian and African traditions. To avoid crowds, Steve Davey recommends heading to the town of Morondava for a sunset view of the Avenue de Baobabs, then on to the haunting rock formations of the Tsingy de Bemaraha.
‘For my documentary photographic work, this country has lots to offer,’ says Larry Louie. ‘Its people are some of the kindest and friendliest people around. And that is what travel is about, sharing ideas with people around the world.’ The capital, Dhaka, is a polluted mega city, but out in the regions you can see ancient mangrove forests, hill tribes and tea plantations – and according to the World Bank, Bangladesh is the least touristy country in the world.
Lo Manthang, Nepal
Looking for an alternative to the ever-popular Kathmandu? Larry Louie is a huge fan of this ancient city of Buddhism in the Mustang region. ‘It is situated at the border of northern Nepal and Tibet and the road trip took us through primal landscapes dotted with Buddhist stupas and prayer flags… it was such a magical trip.’
Ninh Binh, Vietnam
Ninh Binh is a small city in the Red River Delta of northern Vietnam. The town is functional, but the nearby national park is wonderfully picturesque, with dazzling green rice paddies, charming old temples and unique rock formations. You can easily get tours into more remote surrounding areas, or hire a scooter.
An alternative to the more well-known East African safaris, Namibia offers stunning desert scenery and fantastic wildlife opportunities. Steve Davey recommends spending the night at Okaukuejo waterhole in the Etosha National Park for the best chance to photograph black rhino in Africa; get up early to photograph sunrise at Deadvlei and head to the ghost town of Kolmanskop, which is being swallowed up by the desert sands.
Sa Dec, Vietnam
Tourism is becoming a massive industry in Vietnam, but beyond predictable photography destinations like Hoi An and Hanoi, there is still much to discover. The Mekong Delta, south of Ho Chi Minh City, is a fascinating area and the historic town of Sa Dec houses a large, authentic market, where you can get some great shots. It’s also where French novelist Marguerite Duras set her autobiographical novel The Lover and there’s an atmospheric museum in the actual house from the book.
Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India
If you want a change from the usual photographic honey pots in India, such as Varanasi and Agra. Tim Bird strongly recommends this town in the northwest of the Himalayan foothills, which rise dramatically from the Kangra valley. ‘The moody mountain landscapes are fabulous, especially if you trek above the Dalai Lama’s exile town of McLeod Ganj on the Triund trail. You can also see local tribal folk and interesting Buddhist temples.’
Yoho National Park, Canada
Named after a Cree expression meaning awe and wonder, Yoho lies on the western slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains but is quieter than nearby Banff. Yet it still offers stunning waterfalls and dizzying peaks to appeal to the most demanding landscape photographers, along with plenty of hiking opportunities.
Luang Prabang, Laos
Much of South East Asia is developing fast but Laos is still relatively unspoiled, according to Steve Davey. ‘Luang Prabang is the jewel in its crown. It is a city of temples, where monks head out at dawn. Get up before then to photograph the monks on their morning alms round and then head out to the Kuang Si Falls early to photograph before the crowds.’
As an ex-resident of Japan I have visited this hugely historic former capital many times. Although tourists flock to see the Daibutsu (great Buddha) there are dozens and dozens of much quieter smaller temples in this charming town, some with alluring Zen rock gardens and regular cultural events. The locals are well used to visitors and quite relaxed about being photographed and, even better, you can get there easily from Tokyo. A great Japanese culture fix, without the crowds and hassle of Kyoto.