All indications for 2017 is that it’s going to be a big travel year on a global scale. With a few exceptions, most countries’ economies have stabilized from the Great Recession, global stock markets continue to beat all-time records, and the uncertainty of the U.S. Presidential election is over.
Photography and image capture technology also continue to evolve at a mind-bending pace. A basic iPhone or Android can do today what a $4000 Nikon, Canon, or Sony still or video camera could do less a few years ago. Gear relentlessly gets lighter, faster, smaller, and more rugged. Personal drones are changing our perspective of the world.
Gallery: The World’s Most Amazing Places For Travel Photography
This is all great news for travel photographers (amateur and professional) as well as the hundreds of millions of us out there who travel vicariously every day through the images and videos of others on mainstream social media sites like Instagram, SnapChat, Facebook, and Twitter as well as dozens of other image sharing upstart platforms. It means that our collective view of the world’s most visually-stunning, remote, and endangered places (and events) is only going to get more virtually accessible in the year to come.
2016’s World’s Best Destinations For Travel Photography were chosen based on a variety of criteria but ultimately for the quality of the natural light. This year’s top destinations are those places in the world where wilderness, culture, color, and history come together on a grand scale. If the goal of 2017 is for everyone to start thinking big again, these are great places to start and get you inspired.
Lofoten Islands, Norway. Courtesy of iStock
The Scoop: Norway has a tiny population relative to its landmass which makes it one of the world’s most scenic countries with glaciers, mountains, and the deepest fjords on the planet. It’s Viking, maritime culture dating back to the 9th century is also on display in the capital of Oslo as well as in historic cities like Bergen with their colorful old wooden houses. Don’t miss the Lofoten Islands in Norway’s far north Arctic Circle where you’ll find some of the best northern lights (aurora borealis) in the world in winter. In summer the sun barely sets and the “magic hour” lasts all night.
The Shot: Sitting on top of a 2000’ fjord with your legs dangling over the edge. There are dozens of places in Norway to find this shot. Wear a red jacket. Prepare to have your heart pumping through your chest. There are no guardrails.
Dubai skyline in an approaching storm. Courtesy of iStock
The Scoop: When many people think of travel photography they often think of capturing history in places like Rome or Machu Pichu. Cities like Dubai, however, are rewriting history every day, having now become global visual symbols of the new human narrative about urbanism and development. The scale of Dubai’s architecture, the paradox of humanity exploding in a desert without water, and the new emerging concept of the built environment from the ground up will continue to transform how we live and travel for decades to come.
The Shot: Downtown Dubai at dawn shot from up high in a hotel or office building with the morning fog rolling in. No shot captures the imposing architecture of the city in the desert expanse better.
Molten lava ocean entry at Kilauea, Hawaii. Courtesy of iStock
The Scoop: The Hawaiian islands (the four main islands are Hawaii, Oahu, Kauai, and Maui) are renowned for their serrated, vertiginous cliffs, waterfalls, tropical foliage (tons of orchids) and multi-colored volcanic sand beaches surrounded by the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. Big wave surfing, kiteboarding, and a historic watersports culture also makes Hawaii an adventure photography hotspot. Native Hawaiian culture remains a major travel draw as well in many communities with annual events, museums, and heritage sites.
The Shot: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. There are only a few places in the world where active lava flows directly into the ocean creating a constantly changing sculpture of light, water, color, and geology. Try using slow shutter speeds.
Covered bridge in Bennington, Vermont. Courtesy of iStock
The Scoop: Few regions represent America more historically than New England and few places capture New England more iconically than Vermont. Photographically it unfolds like something out of a Disney movie studio: a postcard mountain view around every bend in a country road, covered bridges, American flags waving in front of a small country store. The untapped secret of Vermont is that it’s visually stunning, and captures the essence of historic Americana, all year round.
The Shot: The classic Vermont fall foliage photograph is shot from a distance overlooking one of its historic towns like Stowe or Middlebury with a white steeple church in the foreground and the Green Mountains burning red behind.
Great Barrier Reef
Great Barrier Reef aerial. Courtesy of iStock
The Scoop: As recently as a decade ago underwater photography was the exclusive realm of specialized photographers who could invest thousands of dollars in watertight cameras and underwater housings. Today even the most casual amateur travel photographer can put his iPhone in a watertight case and photograph an endangered sea turtle in Tahiti. An entirely new world has now been opened up to millions of travel photographers. And there is no underwater frontier on the planet like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
The Shot: The reef from the air. The only true way to capture the scale of the Great Barrier Reef is from space. The second best way is from your drone. Look for the most unique and abstract geometric patterns of reef and water.
Old town Dubrovnik, Croatia. Courtesy of iStock
The Scoop: If you drive along the coastal cliffs of Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast today it seems unfathomable that the region was part of one of the ugliest wars in modern history barely twenty years ago. Croatia encompasses more than a thousand Mediterranean islands along the Adriatic Sea across from Italy, including iconic cities like Dubrovnik which still retain their massive 16th-century walls and Gothic and Renaissance-era buildings. Croatia’s Mediterranean resort vibe and economy are also back.
The Shot: Old town Dubrovnik or one of Croatia’s historic cities at twilight. There’s something historically gratifying about seeing these towns vibrant at night again where two decades ago there was artillery fire in the sky.
Rice fields in China. Courtesy of iStock
The Scoop: China, like America, is too big and diverse to include in any list like this as a country. But if you drill in closer clear regional geographic distinctions emerge. The “Golden Triangle”, which includes Bejing and Shanghai, is typically most travelers’ first spot to visit and photograph. China’s Great Wall usually comes in second. The provinces of southeastern China have been long overlooked. The movie Avatar was inspired by the karst forests of Zhangjiajie. The landscapes around the city of Guilin frequently rank among the world’s most beautiful places.
The Shot: The rice fields of Longji and Yuanyang. Either close-up or from a wide angle scenic perspective the scale and geometry of the fields with the way light mixes with water is like nothing else on earth.
Endangered Orangutans in the forest of Borneo Indonesia. Courtesy of iStock
The Scoop: This is for those who want to get really “out there”. Borneo is the world’s third largest island, politically divided between Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei, and one of the most remote places in the world. Borneo is home to the most diverse rainforest on the planet along with many of its rarest and most endangered species like orangutans and clouded leopards. The Sultan of Brunei, one of the world’s richest men, opens his 1788 room palace, officially the largest residence of a current head of state in the world, for three days every year.
The Shot: The orangutan. This may be one of the only chances in your life to photograph a critically endangered species that may not exist a decade from now.
Southern Brazil (including Rio)
The tram to Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio Di Janeiro. Courtesy of iStock
The Scoop: Brazil and Rio di Janiero, in particular, got all of the love in 2016 between the World Cup and the Summer Olympics. Which is precisely why now is the best time to travel to Brazil in years. The crowds are gone, prices are down. In Rio alone, Copacabana beach, Carnival festival, the tram ride to the Christ The Redeemer status atop Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain), the Lapa and Santa Teresa neighborhoods street art bohemian culture, and the Olympic venues alone make this city a must-visit. Iguazu Falls, the Pantanal wetlands, and the historic Colonial towns of Olinda, Tiradentes, and Salvador are all also nearby must-sees.
The Shot: Sugarloaf Mountain and Rio’s Christ The Redeemer statue at sunrise or sunset
A hot blue geothermal spring in the heart of Iceland. Courtesy of iStock
The Scoop: Iceland has been hot on the adventure travel circuit for a few years now due to its hiking, hot springs, northern lights, and clean native island living (not to mention a recent visit by a few British Royals). Iceland is an abstract photographer’s dream due to its raw, geologic landscape. The nation’s vibrant nightlife and the tourism draw of its capital of Reykjavik offer a perfect balance to the wide open spaces inland from the coast. The island’s combination of volcanoes and glaciers exists in few other places on earth.
The Shot: The classic twilight shot of Iceland’s ice blue colored hot springs with the sun going down captures the rare combination of this island’s fire and ice.