Trends in Travel Photography: Observations from an Out of Touch Photographer

I’ve been keenly observing my surroundings since arriving back in the “western world”.  After leaving Europe for Africa nearly 18 months ago, I’ve seen a lot of changes in general.  Leaving for Africa for 18 months, then returning, is like going through a time gap.  In general, the changes I’ve been observing most keenly are those that relate to photography.

You might remember last time I was in Europe I found myself dumbfounded by the amount of people that were shooting DSLRs who shouldn’t have been.  The rise of the cheap entry-level DSLRs was obvious, and it seemed that everyone and their 4-year old in a stroller was shooting them.  I had expected, that over the 18 months I had been away, that the rise would only have continued.  To my surprise, I noticed a number of different things in regards to the trends in photography.

Now remember, this is not based on some sort of grand research I’ve conducted in regards to the trends in photography.  I haven’t looked at sales reports, but merely have been watching what other people are shooting, and how they are shooting them.  These are the observations from an out of touch travel photographer.

Prague, Karlov Most Bridge

Prague was an awesome place to photograph, but also a great place to tourist watch. Many of these observations come from there.

The Rise of Smartphone Competitors

The last time I was in Europe I would guess that 9.5/10 smartphones taking pictures were iPhones.  This time around I’d guess that’s somewhere around 7/10.  And well it seems to me that the Americans are still really using iPhones to take pictures, members of most of the other nationalities are choosing the competitors like Samsung. HTC, and Nokia.  Not only are there more competitors out there to iPhone, but more people shooting smartphones in general.

In regards to whether the photography quality of smartphones? As you all know, I’m a huge fan of my Nokia Lumia 1020, and I’ve constantly told people if you want to take good pictures, but don’t want to “learn photography”, then don’t bother buying a DSLR, just get a good smartphone like the Lumia 1020.  It seems that lots of people have also come to that conclusion.

On a related note, I think apps like instagram have really helped push things in the direction of smartphones.  Forget the bullshit that says the average tourist takes photos to store memories.  Well that may be the case, many tourists take photos to brag about where they’ve been, and apps like instagram have enabled the “photography for bragging” element.  Especially the 16-30 age demographic doesn’t want to shoot a point and shoot or DSLR because they can’t upload their photos to instagram.  Well, unless they have a wifi enabled device.

Smartphone photographer

The Point and Shoot is Dying

Obviously, I think this relates a lot with the rise of smartphones.  The average consumer that shoots a point and shoot camera doesn’t want to control features like ISO and shutter speed, they want to shoot them on auto.  Most smartphones are the ultimate “auto”.  There is nothing confusing about them, you just hit the button.  For most tourists, that’s all they want.

If I’m a photo manufacturer I’m worried most about this sector.  You’ll always have your DSLR shooters, but you have to wonder if you’ll lose all your amateur sales to the phone manufacturers.  Canon and Nikon aren’t in the business of making phones, and the only reason I’d ever buy a point and shoot as a consumer right now is if I were on vacation, lost my smartphone and couldn’t afford to buy a new one.  Perhaps the future is some sort of collaboration between camera manufactures and smartphone makers?  But would smartphone makers ever share a part of the pie?  We’ve seen Carl Zeiss lenses on the Lumia 1020, will we someday see Canon lenses on Samsung Galaxies?

More “real” DSRLs and a Decline in entry-level DSLRs

As I mentioned in the intro, I saw heaps of entry-level DSLRs last time I was in Europe, and it drove me insane to see people shooting them on auto and firing the flash at buildings in the middle of the day.  And well there is still lots of that going on right now, it is far less than before.  Moreover, I’m seeing far more big DSLRs.  I’m assuming that there was a split over the past year in which people said either: ok, I’m getting the hang of this photography thing, it’s time to upgrade OR, I hate lugging this thing around and my smartphone takes good pictures I’ll just use my phone.

I fell like the trend probably went something like this:

  1. 2010: I really wish I could afford a fancy camera so I could take better pictures.
  2. 2012: I can now afford a DSLR and my pictures will magically get better because I have one.
  3. 2013: I didn’t have time to learn how to use the DSLR, and the photos aren’t THAT much better than my smartphone.
  4. 2014: I think I have that old DSLR somewhere, I should sell it on Craigslist.
how not to hold a camera

“THAT’S NOT HOW YOU HOLD A CAMERA, NOOB!!!” – Angry photography observer (AKA me)

The Lack of Mirror-less Cameras

This was actually the biggest surprise to me.  I thought that mirror-less cameras would take off.  I was away when all the big models were released, and in my head I just imagined that everyone would be shooting them when I got back.  But, I don’t think I’ve seen any sort of substantial increase in their use, not in Europe anyways.  I imagined that the mirror-less cameras would be the perfect compromise consumers were looking for: high-quality images, good quality glass, and not too massive to pack around. But well personally, I love the quality of products like the Fuji x100s, at a price tag of about $1,300, I imagine most people would just buy a DSLR like the 70D.

Also, with the flop of the Canon M, you have to wonder if people trust mirror-less yet?  Do consumers see the small package and think “there’s no way the quality can be as good as the big ones.”  Are the consumers wrongly putting mirror-less cameras in the same category as the point and shoots?  Maybe the manufacturer is ahead of the consumer in this case.

The Rise of Tripods

As a photographer, this trend really made me happy.  I am seeing a lot of good travel tripods so far in Europe.  And not only am I seeing them being used by people with DSLRs but also people shooting point and shoots and smartphones.  I’m not sure where this trend started or why, but as someone who loves seeing the industry evolve, I’m so stoked to see so many people actually taking it seriously.  The photography knowledge of people I’ve met out shooting this time ’round is miles higher than before.

Tripod photographer

Every time I see someone using a tripod with a point and shoot or a smartphone I just want to go up and thank them for being awesome.

Tablets aren’t for Kids

When iPads came out, I imagined the market was likely for young kids wanting to play games and watch movies.  Instead, the biggest market I see using them now are 40-65 year olds.  You see these people everywhere, holding up their iPad and it’s case to take a photo of a cathedral, river, or squirrel.  I was quite surprised to see this trend at first, but then it started to make a lot of sense for a couple reasons.  For one, older people have poorer eyesight and probably appreciate being able to see the photo on their big screen, and have an easier time with the buttons than on a smartphone.  Moreover, the younger people would be far more worried about “looking silly” while taking pictures on one.  The kids might be using the tablets for games and such, but they’re certainly not taking pictures on them.

tablet photographer

My new goal in Europe is to start photobombing anyone taking photos on an iPad or tablet

Other Trends?

I’m curious to hear from the others out there.  What trends are you seeing in the world of photography today?  Let me know in the comments below.



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Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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21 Comments

  1. It has been a long time since I have read something on your site. I like the header and design a lot compared to your old one.

    Interesting to get the perspective of someone watching this kind of thing. I definitely see a lot more “big cameras” DSLRs. And a lot of people with tablets and smartphones. I still see a quite a few point and shoots too though. I get quite annoyed somehow by the tablet shooters. Maybe they actually do take decent pictures, and maybe I am just overly judgmental, but they all look doofy holding this massive thing above their heads and trying to find the shutter button while keeping it steady.

    I have a smartphone, but it takes lousy pictures. I really didn’t buy for the camera, so not a big surprise there I guess. My other problem with it is that the shutter button is on the touch screen, so I have a real hard time taking pictures with it one handed.

    I actually own a mirrorless(PL2). I really like it, but even it with an extra lens is pretty bulky. I am really considering looking into a point and shoot that has a little bit of ISO/Aperture adjustments in a much smaller package. I am not aiming to be a professional photographer, nor an instagram wizard. I just want to take decent pictures to use on a blog and remember my trip. I just have the control issues enough to not want to use a smartphone.

    Post a Reply
    • Andrew, nice of you to chip in! And thanks for the comment.
      As for your personal dilemma, check out the Lumia 1020 I mentioned. That thing takes amazing photos at very high resolution. As a bonus, the phone functions of it are amazing as well.

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  2. I think the lack of Mirror-less camera is more at a continent level. I personally have a Panasonic DMC camera; its light, easy to use and does amazing shots. While I was in Africa and lost my camera charger, I ask different groups of tourists ( mainly from the states) and their reply was: how is having a Panasonic/Mirror- less?
    To be honest I had people using their IPAD to take photos? Not only the 40-60 years old people. I would say the average people tend to use it.

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  3. I see rise of the Hazard Photography. Its not surprise if you think how many people use phone to take a “good” shot.

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    • By hazard photography do you mean, people so annoying with their phones taking pictures that they become a hazard to your clean criminal record because you want to kill them for getting in your shot? haha

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  4. When I was in Europe a few weeks ago, my observations were a mix of both. Lots of DSLRs around (including at Schonbrunn, that lawn was full of ’em!), but also a surprising number of people with the gigantic tablets.

    In a way I sort of appreciate the rise of the DSLR, though, because it makes me feel like I blend in a bit more when half the people nearby have one as well.

    One thing that perhaps surprised me more was back at the hostels, actually. I saw a handful of people editing in Lightroom and other ‘proper’ programs instead of just straight uploading or using Windows Photo Viewer and the link. I definitely didn’t see that one coming.

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    • Ohh, good points Stephen.
      Agree on the bit about feeling more comfortable with your gear. However, years ago when I was out shooting people would get out of my way because of the big gear, now they just stand in front of me like I would an iPhone user haha.
      I also agree on the lightroom bit, lots of people using lightroom at the hostels.

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      • You know, I’m actually able to take that sometimes and say “right, I need to find a more unique angle” but of course sometimes it also just turns into finding a beer or coffee.

        I never seem to use the smartphone, though, unless I’ve deliberately left my DSLR at home (which only really means out partying).

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        • truth. I definitely did that to some of my shots in Berlin. It drives Tiffany crazy, the people in her shot, but I always keep saying “use them, rather than getting annoyed by them” I usually works.

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  5. I found this article very interesting as I use both. I use my “real” camera and tripod for the formal travel photos and my phone for the candids. I wonder what we will be saying about these trends eighteen months from now?

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    • I’m in the same boat John, I use my Lumia for stuff I can post to Social Media right away and stuff from my DSLR that I want to edit and process a bit.

      Post a Reply
  6. Interesting about the tablets. I don’t own one, but was asked to use an iPad on a press trip a few months back. TBH it was a pain since I was already juggling DSLR and phone for social media, but became fascinated by the totally different perspective it gave. Thinking of getting a mini now though

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    • I think if you’re going to go with a tablet, you’d just ditch the phone for SM though, eh? I shoot 2 phones (one for the mag and one for myself), then the DSLR too… it takes me 15 minutes just to shoot one place, haha.

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  7. While traveling in South Africa earlier this year I was surprised how many DSLRs I saw being used. Made me a lot less nervous to carry mine around. But I still carry an old waterproof P&S for some places. Next year, I’m taking the tripod.

    During summers at Grand Canyon I see it all but with a high percentage of smartphone camera use and some iPads.

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    • Yeah, the tripod is essential for really sharp images.

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  8. Very interesting article Brendan. Like you, I dont’ quite understand why mirrorless doesn’t take off. To me, it’s the future. For travek photography, I’ve given up on DSLR and use now a m43 camera. The weight and the size is the key point here. But I think that the anwser is that many people buy a DSLR (and not any brand, it has to be Canon or Nikon) because it looks like a pro camera. So that’s what they need to take great pictures, or so they think 🙁

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    • There’s lots of truth to that Laurent. Lots of people like the DSLRs because they look pro. As a photographer, I know that if I show up with a big camera and huge lens, it instills confidence in the client. If I showed up with a little mirrorless, even though the photos are still top notch, I doubt there’d be that same sense of confidence.

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  9. Hi Brendan,

    This is a really interesting post. My partner Sam, and I have seen many ways in which people take pictures throughout our time here in South America. To my surprise a lot of people, either South Americans or from elsewhere in the world, carry around their DSLRs around their necks all day. Even more surprising are the number of people taking pictures or video using tablets. Whilst out walking in Cuenca, Ecudaor this morning, dozens of people were videoing the cultural events on tablets, which just looks odd!

    As both of us work remotely we have our computer gear to carry around so it wouldn’t be great to carry more heavy stuff. A couple of fellow travellers, Simon and Erin from Never Ending Voyage have purchased a new Olympus mirrorless camera and lens. If you wouldn’t mind recommending a few cameras we can look at when we are back in Europe at the end of the month, it would be much appreciated. We would like something small, light but it would have a relatively good zoom.

    Post a Reply
    • Hey Zab,
      The Olympus mirrorless is actually getting really high reviews. If you want a bit of a bargain, go grab the Canon M. They dropped the price on it big time because it wasn’t selling because of new of autofocus issues. However, it seems the new updated firmware has that solved. The bonus of a camera like this is that you’ll e able to use the big canon lenses if you’d like.
      If you don’t feel the need for interchangeable lenses, the best camera in my opinion is the Canon G16. It’s got great zoom, and all the functionality of a DSLR or mirrorless.

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  10. I definitely didn’t see that one coming.

    Post a Reply
  11. The trend I don’t like is everyone using instagram filters. So bored with that ready 🙂 I’ll admit I find taking pics with my iphone much more enjoyable than with a camera. Heaps more convenient in terms of recharging batteries and the phone always being on and accessible.

    Post a Reply

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