Need some inspiration? Here’s where to take an unforgettable photography trip
Holidays and vacations aren’t for snoozing and sitting beside swimming pools, they’re for adventuring and filling-up memory cards. Here are some of the most exciting places to go with a camera – be it a DSLR, mirrorless, compact or smartphone – where you’ll see things you’ve never seen before and where endless incredible sights, wildlife and landscape compositions are possible.
A mixture of specific locations and more general, themed trips, here are 10 ideas for your bucket list:
1 A road trip around Namibia
Namibia in southwestern Africa is virtually empty. With a population of just 2.5 million and over twice the size of the UK, this is a country to explore on four wheels and with plenty of lenses. The landscapes are numerous; the world’s tallest sand dunes in Sossusvlei and the fossilized trees of the Dead Vlei white clay pan, the Quiver Trees of Keetmanshoop, the orange Kalahari desert and the ruins of the ex-diamond mining town Kolmanskop that has sand dunes encroaching into rooms.
Don’t miss Etosha National Park, a few hours north of the capital Windhoek, where you can take safari vans or just drive yourself. Expect to see lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, giraffe, wildebeest, cheetah, hyena, mountain and plains zebra, springbok, kudu, gemsbok and eland.
2 Shoot the Northern Lights
If you’ve never captured aurora then it’s time to head north – and soon. The northern lights are caused by charged particles from the Sun clashing with Earth’s magnetic field. Sometimes displays are fast, bright and overhead. Other times they’re in the distance and move slowly. It’s all about perspective and luck because as well as a geomagnetic storm you also need clear skies. In places like northern Scandinavia, Iceland, Alaska and Canada that’s far from certain between September and March. So go for a week, stay somewhere dark, use weather apps and be mobile.
Although aurora can be seen at any time, they’re most frequent and more intense during the sun’s solar maximum, a point in its 11-year cycle. The next one is 2025, so auroral activity is, on average, heightened between 2022 and 2028.
3 Ankgor Wat, Cambodia
The centuries-old temple complex of Angkor Wat is a must-see. The crowded cliche is experiencing sunrise at the main temple, but that’s best swerved for the many other temples that can be visited alone. Ta Prohm – the ‘Tomb Raider Temple’ and covered in jungle – is quiet before breakfast while other locations, such as Phnom Bakheng, Bayon Temple and Preah Khan are completely empty.
In the wider Angkor Wat Archaeological Park there are dozens of other temples to visit, including Banteay Srei and Beng Mealea. Just south of Siem Reap, the closest town to Angkor Wat, are photogenic floating villages on the Tonle Sap lake.
4 Rajasthan, India
There’s a reason that most first-timers to India go to Rajasthan, but don’t let this colorful region’s popularity put you off. The most famous location is Agra – primarily for its world-famous Taj Mahal – but elsewhere is the ‘pink city’ Jaipur (don’t miss its Palace of the Winds, its many elephants, and the out-of-town Sun Temple) and the ‘blue city’ Jodphur. Another great location for a long lens is Ranthambore National Park, where it’s relatively easy to spot Bengal tigers from safari jeeps.
Pushkar Camel Fair (or Kartik Mela) near Ajmer, Rajasthan is held over a few days each November, is a riot of colour that goes way beyond the trading of the humped ungulates. It attracts over 200,000 visitors and includes camel races, a ‘longest moustache’ competition and a tug of war.
5 Explore Iceland
Iceland is like one huge national park. From huge waterfalls, dramatic volcanoes and icebergs to birdlife, whales and the northern lights, it’s a playground for landscape photographers like no other. The popular ‘golden circle’ of Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Field and Gullfoss waterfall is where most go on their first visit, but don’t miss the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, the ice caves at Vatnajokull (viable only in the depths of winter), the incredble south-facing Skogafposs waterfall (cue aurora reflecting in front of it at night) and Kirkjufell mountain in the west. However, you can just drive around the ring road and see what’s around – you’re sure to find your own unique vistas at every turn.
Author tip: Since Iceland is at 65º North it’s worth appreciating the times of sunrise and sunset. During late June it doesn’t get dark while in late the sun barely rises. January is great for light, with slow post-breakfast sunrises, but daylight is limited. Late September and late March give 10 hours of daylight and theoretically more powerful auroras around the equinoxes.
6 Southwest Bolivia
Everyone’s heard of the Salar de Uyuni – the largest salt flat on Earth and visible from space – but any journey to it from the south should be taken slowly by landscape photographers. Between the iconic town of San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile and the Salar de Uyuni in southwest Bolivia is the green Laguna Verde, the vast flamingo-filled Laguna Colorada (bring your longest lens!) and the red hills of the gorgeous Salvador Dalí Desert. Bring a tripod, plenty of lenses and warm clothes – it’s very cold at night.
Author tip: If you want to visit the Salar de Uyuni is pays to understand how it changes during the year. During the rainy summer season (December to April) it’s often flooded and transformed into the world’s largest mirror – prevailing winds allowing – while in the dry winter season (May to September) it’s bone-dry and covered in hexagon shapes.
7 The Canary Islands
Why take your camera gear to a holiday island? About 45 minutes drive from the sun-kissed beaches of Tenerife is Teide National Park and its centerpiece, the 3,718 meters high Mount Teide volcano. You can take a cable car up to the peak on days without too much wind or hike the incredible volcanic landscapes below. However, the real attraction of this high-altitude area is astrophotography. A good place to head is to La Ruleta Vista Point (opposite the Parador de Cañadas del Teide hotel) and hike past the Sendero Roques de García, where compositions that can include the Milky Way are boundless.
Another great place for astrophotography is La Palma, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and the westernmost of the Canary Islands. It’s famous for its Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory volcanic ridge, which is home to dozens of world-class telescopes.
8 Ancient Egyptian temples and tombs
A new more liberal attitude to photography in Egypt means it’s now easier than ever to go capture some of the world’s oldest and most impressive temples, tombs, and, of course, pyramids. The latter is seen close to Cairo, but it’s Luxor you should head to if you want to capture ancient Egypt at its most beguiling. The east bank of the town hosts the incredible columns of Karnak – the religious HQ of ancient Egypt over many centuries – while on the west bank is the Valley of the Kings, whose temples it’s now possible to take photos in albeit only with a smartphone. The best and most colourful is the tomb of Seti I.
If you have the time and/or funds it’s worth considering a visit to Abu Simbel in southern Egypt. About four hours by bus from Aswan (or 25 minutes by plane), these two huge temples – and the mountain they were cut from – was physically moved by UNESCO engineers in the 1960s.
9 Capture a total solar eclipse
There’s nothing quite like a total solar eclipse. They’re visible roughly every 18 months somewhere on Earth as a New Moon blocks the Sun, but they’re so much more than the sun of their celestial parts. As the Sun’s light is blocked the mesmerizing solar corona is revealed, an ethereal white halo with structure and pinkish solar flares exploding around the Moon’s limb. Can it be photographed? Sure, but you’ll need a long lens, a tripod, a tracker … and precision timing. After all, totality can last as little as a few seconds.
The next total solar eclipse will occur on April 20, 2023, in Australia, Timor Leste, and West Papua and last just over a minute. The following eclipse is easier to get to, with Mexico, the central US, and maritime Canada all experiencing totality on April 8, 2024 for up to four-and-a-half minutes.
10 Central Honshu, Japan
Tokyo is hard to beat for street photography – everyone knows that – but the heartland of Japan’s main island Honshu is where to go on a dedicated photography trip. The first stop has to be Kyoto, the cultural capital of Japan and home to well over a thousand temples as well as the cherry blossom-strewn (in spring) Philosopher’s Walk. The other location to visit is Nara, an old capital that hosts Tōdai-ji temple, temples dating to the 8th century and free-roaming deer in the parks … some of which enter shops and restaurants!
One slightly out-of-the-way place that’s as spectacular a location as any other in Japan is Mount Kōya, a mountaintop town of red-colored Shingon Buddhism temples. It’s possible to stay in very comfortable rooms in smaller temples, most of which stage traditional fire ceremonies each morning. Mount Kōya also features the vast Okunoin cemetery, which includes some incredible shrines, tombs and graves within a forest.
- AuthorJamie Carter
Jamie Carter is a journalist and author focusing on stargazing and astronomy, astrophotography, and travel for Forbes Science, BBC Sky At Night magazine, Sky & Telescope, Travel+Leisure, and The Telegraph.View all articles