The Hipster’s Guide to Travel Photography

Mart Virkus • 12 Mar, 2019

Taking Instagram travel photos is not complicated. Basically, it’s the art of taking photos of famous places without taking photos of famous places.

Nobody wants to see another picture of the Eiffel Tower. Here’s a quick guide to taking pictures that don’t just show how much you travel, but also how awesome you are at doing it. Ideally, this is accomplished with a vintage camera, but today we’re focussing on Instagram – the people’s tool for artsy photography. Below are some rules to keep in mind when snapping away on your iPhone.

1. Filter absolutely everything

Instagram effects are there for a reason – use them profusely. Even if you’ve got a proper camera for HD shots, import the pictures to your phone and go crazy. Blur it, frame it and tilt it until it’s just right. Upload using the “nofilter” hashtag:


Such natural beauty #nofilter

Any filter is good, except “Kelvin”. Never use “Kelvin”.

2. Be in the frame

Assuming you’re sporting your best (yet horribly impractical) travel attire, you have to put yourself in the photos. Remember – people don’t want to see a church, they want to see your cherry red Converse All Stars parked in front of the church. Without your dazzlingly bold and fresh fashion sense, the church is meaningless. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.

Also, remember to act casual. Failing to act casual can mean the difference between this:


And this:


Leave waving to the grandmothers. For your trend-conscious friends, tagging them will suffice.

3. Make sure you include friends

Travelling alone is a risky concept. It can make you look strong and determined (Christian Bale in Batman Begins), though you might also come across as a little creepy (Tom Hanks in Cast Away). Including friends in your pictures assures your followers that you are a sociable, likeable and all-round awesome person.

As with portraits, keep your cool and go for nonchalance. The idea is to show that you have friends, not that you’re just happy to have any at all. Alternatively, you can make it look like every minute of your trip is a party:

"We're on a beach in a foreign country - let's jump around for no apparent reason!"

“Hey, we’re on a beach in a foreign country – may the festivities commence!”

4. The art of the selfie

Selfies can be dangerous – too many of them and you’ll look like a no lifer. Too few, and you’ll look like you’ve only just discovered the Internet. Selfies work a treat when you need to emphasise a perilous situation – you were so far off the beaten path that there was no one there to take your photo. You don’t even have to go anywhere particularly dangerous or isolated, just make it look like you did:

You'll never know this photo was taken literally inches from a EU-funded, health and safety approved boardwalk.

This photo was taken literally inches from an EU-funded, health and safety approved boardwalk.

That shot has “bear hunter” written all over it. Also, make sure you screw up the angles to make the scene look more hectic. And never do anything Bear Grylls would do, that’s not cool.

5. Avoid famous landmarks

After establishing yourself as the protagonist of the incredible non-stop adventure that is your life, it is time to pay some attention to your surroundings. Skilled hipsters travel without seeing anything famous, ever. But if you are going to take a picture of something touristy/famous/generic, make sure you completely disregard conventional photo aesthetics. Capture as little of the landmark as possible:

This could literally be any church, but look at those hues! Very nouveau.

This could literally be any church, but look at those hues! How very nouveau.

Is this Russia? Or Berlin? Who cares? Not this awesome dude right here!

Is this Russia? Or Berlin? Who cares?! Not this awesome dude right here! #ontheroad #kerouac

Alternatively, you can play with contrast:

Mother Russia is so over Soviet architecture

Mother Russia is so over Soviet architecture

Keeping focus away from obvious landmarks will make your travelling habits look more obscure than the contents of your first generation vintage iPod.

6. Pick unconventional scenes

Visiting the Louvre or Big Ben will not earn you cool points. Instead, turn to the dark side of urban life and try to capture the non-touristy parts. In order to find the strangest scenery, try to figure out where the local hipsters live. They are commonly found around run down (yet curiously expensive) neighbourhoods, train yards, abandoned factories etc. If you can, grow a mustache in order to build rapport with them. Imitate hipster mating calls by shouting out words like “aioli” and “vinyl” frequently. They will come.

Hipsters seen here nesting in their natural habitat, an abandoned locomotive.

Hipsters nesting in their natural habitat, the abandoned locomotive.

Crucially, upon discovering an unorthodox attraction, be sure to dismiss local hipsters and emphasise how the “real” people showed you around:

I'm totes blending in with the cool locals of this war-torn country, who are now dead.

“I’m totes blending in with the cool locals of this war-torn country, who are now dead.” #thuglife #wutang

Also, ruins – always do ruins. Make sure to use hashtags like “dilapidated” and “life”. Black and white filters are pretty much mandatory. Completely ignore the fact that ruins look the same everywhere.

7. Introspection is a virtue

Always try to get a photo that captures your pains of reflecting on the meaning of it all. Pick a wide vista like the seaside or a cliff, and look dreamily into the distance. This is to show that your quest carries deeper meaning, serving to stimulate personal growth towards a previously unattainable spiritual domain. This will also help you get laid.

Basically, do this:

"If you fall, get back up" #yolo

“I’m falling for life.” #nofilter #yolo

8. Avoid clichés (unless you’re being ironic)

Pictures of your feet or lunch (or worse – feet and lunch) lie in the dangerous nether regions of cliché territory, so tread carefully. A food photo might work if it’s a Happy Meal eaten at an unorthodox location, ideally coupled with words of anti-corporate wisdom. Just make sure it’s obnoxiously ironic:


“Money can buy you a Happy Meal, but it can’t buy happiness.” #freerange #nowar

P.S. Never, ever, do the Pisa tower lean – ironically or otherwise.

Mart Virkus
A former Tour Guide with an anthropology degree from Tallinn University. Possesses valuable insight into the finer points of the Estonian life. Hipster.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Write a comment

Popular posts
Like A Local Guide 4 Jan, 2020
Like A Local Guide 2 Jan, 2019
Martin Liivand 31 May, 2016
Like A Local Guide 4 Jan, 2016