The Latest Trend in Creating Memories with Travel Photography

February 13, 2020

Selfie stick, step aside. The new trend in creating unforgettable travel pics is the personal travel photographer, who documents your trip and delivers gorgeous, high-quality photos—without you having to snap a shot. Societal norms are rapidly shifting around hiring a travel photographer; it’s now considered akin to hiring a photographer for a wedding. Fueling the trend: the growing recognition that the travel photos a pro takes are a different order of magnitude than the ones you can snap on the fly with your phone. Admit it: You probably struggle with photo fatigue, whether it’s rooted in roping in a stranger to take a group shot, contorting for a collective selfie, or resigning yourself to be the designated documenter. While those strategies may be good enough for a Facebook post or Instagram feed, the benefit of hiring a professional means you’re guaranteed to end up with genuine, timeless keepers—photos you will actually want to blow up, frame, and treasure.

If this sounds more savvy than splurgy, Flytographer (basically Airbnb for travel photographers) will connect you with a professional, fully vetted photographer in over 275 cities worldwide. Or explore a more immersive experience with a private photographer who shadows your family all day to capture an intimate—and unforgettable—day-in-the-life. Inspirato talked to both Flytographer and Casie Zalud, an independent documentary family photographer, to explain why good vacation shots are worth every penny.

According to Flytographer founder Nicole Smith, a former Microsoft executive, the personal photographer movement coincides with the rise of people recognizing the value of experiences over “stuff.”

The Latest Trend in Creating Memories with Travel Photography

“Our clients have found the most memorable mementos are professional-quality vacation photos,” Smith said. (Enjoy the relief of calling off the search for the perfect souvenir.) She discovered this firsthand, when the idea for Flytographer arose after a trip she took with her best friend to Paris six years ago. “The photos we had taken of ourselves and the ones we had asked strangers to snap were disappointing,” she said, “so we asked a friend living in the city to take some shots. We ended up with stunning images that captured the spirit of the trip.” She founded the company in 2013—as a side project. Since then, burgeoning demand has spurred aggressive growth, and the company keeps upscaling. Flytographer offers packages that range from 30 minutes to two hours: Prices start at $250 and go up to $650, with customers receiving a complete set of digital images within five days of the meeting. “Most people opt for 60 to 90 minutes,” she said, “because it does take a little time to warm up to the camera.”

The success of companies such as Flytographer suggest that our best defense against visual overload may be discrimination. “With Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram, we’ve become a much more visual world, and in particular, there’s been an explosion of visual storytelling,” Smith said. Our devices bombard us with images in our feeds, posts, texts, and emails.

And we are active participants in the scrum: One estimate from InfoTrends Worldwide is that we each take roughly 10 photos a day. The antidote? Seeking out professional photographers who can take extraordinary shots of what makes travel so special.

If you opt for a private photographer such as Zalud, another perk of the experience is that she will capture the moments traditionally not thought of as camera-ready. A documentary photographer, Zalud aspires to bring the unscripted intimacy of real life into the frame—the private, fleeting exchanges that define your family’s unique constellation. Zalud “stays with your family and photographs everything from the littles having Cheerios in their PJs to sleigh ride dinners, ice skating, swimming, the wee one’s first days on skis, and anything else you plan.” To put the family at ease, Zalud puts in extra effort to establish rapport. She comes over for dinner with her clients the night before the shoot, befriends the kids, and familiarizes herself with the family dynamic. She aims for the vulnerable underbelly of family life, not just the cookie-cutter highlights.

Zalud speaks of her favorite photos she’s caught: a very tall father carrying his son in his ski harness as if he were a suitcase, a boy’s first triumphant cycling ascent of a steep hill, a mother falling into a river as the rest of the family fishes.

“I offer this because it’s what I myself crave—someone who can capture my family from the inside.” Her full-day rate, which starts at $2,100, includes an online slideshow—a digitally edited selection of the day’s highlights set to music.

Whatever option you choose, your travel milestones will include everyone in the picture. And that means a collective sigh of relief for all involved (especially the moms). “Vacation photos allow the entire family to slow down and be more present,” Zalud said.

People still harbor negative preconceptions about hiring a personal photographer, chalking it up to millennial narcissism, Smith said. “But it’s so much more than that. It’s for all the big life moments, from friend getaways, solo trips, proposals, honeymoons, to golden anniversaries and family reunions.” It’s less “Insta” gratification and more about what hangs for decades on your private walls. One bonus of booking a flytographer is they double as an informal local tour guide, sharing a treasury of tips on the best things to eat, see, and do, along with the places to avoid. A perk of working with a documentary family photographer, on the other hand, is the chance to capture the less obvious, quirkier nuances of family life. With both models, many clients stay in touch with the photographers and become friends.

The Latest Trend in Creating Memories with Travel Photography 2

So next time you take a trip, consider giving yourself and your dear ones the royal treatment: photos that will be your most treasured family heirlooms—and legacy. The right photos help us not remember but relive the magic of a place, the trajectory of our lives, and the beauty of our fellow travelers.

Flytographer’s tips to get the most out of your travel shoot:

Optimize the Light. Flytographer comes close to insisting the shoots take place during the “golden hours” of dawn or twilight—the two times a day when the light is the most flattering. Morning is particularly conducive to good shots, said Smith, because most of the time there’s nobody else there (less potential for photo bombs). “Plus, one of my favorite parts of travel is getting to see a city ‘rustle’ awake,” she said.

Coordinate Your Look. While you don’t have to go matchy-matchy, you don’t want the distraction of rampant pattern conflict either. Make sure your outfits fit well and have a consistent tone, both in terms of style and color choice. Formal outfits should be paired with formal—or let a casual look set the entire tone. For colors, complementary tones work best. Play off each other’s choices through accenting your outfit with the primary color of your partner’s or the group’s. To make the clothing easy on the eye, contrast prints and patterns with solids, so the faces become the focal point.

Put Your Best Foot Forward. There’s no detail too small when it comes to portraits, but unfortunately many people overlook their shoes. Scuffed shoes really do lower the vibe, so put some thought into your footwear—the shoes make the outfit. High heels are not always a good choice, not just because of the comfort factor but because they can be awkward on cobblestones, sand, or grass.

Adapt to Your Environment. Explore picking up on cues from your environment. Dress for the weather, for example, wearing earthy tones during autumn’s foliage or bright colors that will pop against snow. If you are in a rainy city with a preponderance of gray, you might want to have bold touches of color that will provide texture and contrast.

Go light. Try not to carry anything with you that you wouldn’t want in the photos. Backpacks, tote bags, and even purses can disrupt the lines of the body and add unnecessary bulk. That goes for pockets too—wallets, phones, and keys create unsightly bulges that your eye will be drawn to in the photo.