Turkey and the Art of Travel Photography

By Steve Dreyer Back to


There are many articles on travel photography that hit the usual “hot button” checklist, but many photographers want to make their images more unique than the typical photos seen in travel brochures or on the web. This article is about my recent trip to Turkey and how I approached several situations in the field. Turkey had never been on my list—until recently. A country divided between Asia and Europe, it seemed like a great place to make interesting images, even of often-photographed locations.

I wanted to capture historical, cultural and modern aspects of the country during my trip. I spent time in Istanbul, Cappadocia, Ephesus and Bodrum. All different, and all a photographer’s dream come true.

Before the Trip

It’s always a good idea to think ahead about your goals. It may be that you are on a client assignment, preparing for an exhibit, intending to create a book, or posting work on your web site. Many people simply want to enjoy and record memorable, more traditional images of the sites they visit. It doesn’t matter what your goals are, but it’s important to think about them ahead of time so you’re not disappointed on your return.I like making fine art images and those that tell a story, either real or imagined by the viewer. I want to capture the essence of a place and the people in it.

This is not so easy when you are seeing a country for the first time and on a schedule. After all, you don’t want to miss anything as you go from place to place. In this article I describe why I took certain types of images and what went into making them in the field, which is where it all starts.

The photographer makes the picture, but you also need to decide on the right equipment to put in your bag. It’s always a balance between traveling light and taking what you might need based on your research. I took my Canon 5D Mark III, which is great for low light, high ISO and normally high noise situations just in case I could not use a tripod for long exposures. I took a wide-angle zoom and a couple of longer fixed length lenses. There are times when a relatively heavy, more obvious DSLR is not what you want, so I pocketed my Canon S95 point and shoot, which came in handy.

My pre-trip research included reading about historical and modern day Turkey, looking at Google Maps, weather projections, reading blogs and yes, looking at travel brochures (mostly to know what I did not want to do). I like to have spontaneity in my work, but I did write down notes and ideas about what might be interesting in Istanbul, Cappadocia, Ephesus and Bodrum. Following are notes from some of these places that might help you if you travel to Turkey and other locations.


Vendor Counting Change, Istanbul

I knew I was going to see the Blue Mosque and of course I photographed it from the outside, as you’d see in just about every travel brochure. But I was more interested in taking photographs of interesting angles and ceilings inside of the Hagia Sophia Museum and the underground Basilica Cistern. It’s easy to forget, but looking above, below and to the sides of where you are standing can produce the most interesting images.

Originally built as a Byzantine church and mosque in Istanbul, Hagia Sophia is considered by many to be one of the most interesting structures in the world. Many of the photographs that you see focus on the outside of the building or the wide expanse of the inside, with visitors appearing in the images.

I planned to make images of the inside of the building. I looked from side to side, but I was mostly struck by the interesting symmetrical patterns on the ceiling and wanted a tight shot to show them off. Of course the ceiling was far from where I was standing, but I was prepared with a long lens. I shot multiple exposures with a fixed aperture so that I could get detail in the figures and reduce blown-out light through the windows.


Cave for Sale, Cappadocia

Cappadocia is known for its cave houses that are built into the sides of mountains. And it can be difficult to see them as high noon approaches because of the deep shadows. Sometimes you just have to get up close to get away from the sun if you want to make an image that brings back the feeling that you had when you were there. Rather than show a large mountain with many caves, I chose to get close to one of them and stood on a rock to bring me to the level of the entrance.

Taking photographs of local scenes that tell a story is a good way to differentiate your images from the usual and bring back special memories. I was walking to a restaurant that was known for its food, and particularly for its tomato sauce. As I approached the building I saw a woman stirring the sauce in a large outdoor pot over a hot flame. But aside from the sauce-in-the-making, I was fortunate to notice and capture the sign on the wall behind it, which will always remind me of those cave dwellings in the rocks! (See phototechmag. com for more of Steve’s photos from Cappadocia).

Ruins, Ephesus


I was interested in seeing Ephesus for examples of the Roman influence on Turkey. The tourist site of the ruins was very crowded, and I’m not a big fan of taking photos of other people taking photos, even if they are of the well-known and often-photographed sites. If you want a different perspective (pun intended) look up and see what others are taking from afar. Doing so and shooting tight can uncover details such as ancient text and architectural elements, and will often provide you with a more memorable and interesting view of things.


One of my favorite places to go is to a local market. They do tend to be very colorful because of the food that’s on display, and that’s what you usually see photographs of. But color can be distracting, and I am a fan of black and white street work, as it can create a special feeling about a place. It’s not easy to capture images at a market, especially when there are a lot of people milling around. It’s useful to do a quick walk around survey and then wait for an expression, a conversation or an activity that catches your eye. A lot of patience and a quick press of the shutter are definitely required.

Street Market, Bodrum

Amphorae, which are of different shapes and size, were used on ancient ships to transport liquids, grains, olives and other items. In more recent times, sponge divers recovered many of them from shipwrecked vessels. I saw amphorae safeguarded behind glass cabinets. It was a challenge to photograph them because I didn’t want any glare or reflections in the photograph. One way to take care of this is to use a polarizer. If you are indoors, as I was, you’ll need to use a large aperture and high ISO and let in more light, which can result in some noise. I took several photographs of them, as I thought they were interesting, out of the ordinary travel-related images. They might even look good on the wall as artwork!

Amphorae, Bodrum

Street Photography

Being in the right place at the right time cannot always be planned, but if you always take your camera with you and look for signs of people going about their business, you may be lucky enough to spot an everyday activity that will remind you of the place you’ve visited. I was leaving one of the tourist sites and happened to turn around to see a vendor counting, and it looked like weighing his change.


Modern Conicals, Bodrum

I relaxed a little at the end of the trip in a modern hotel in Bodrum, assuming that I was done with my photographic journey. Then one night I looked at the pool, and surrounding it were several brightly lit modern structures that by design resembled the conical shapes I saw in Cappadocia more than a week earlier.

I could have just used my tripod to take photos of the modern conical shapes. But I wanted them to look older, like the wonderful natural structures I had seen. Getting in close and a little bit of work in the digital darkroom gave me something more memorable than what was in the hotel’s brochure.

I like to try new ways of viewing the world when I travel, and have been making a conscious effort to create images that are different from what I can see in brochures and on the web. It’s difficult to be unique with every one of the images you bring home from your travels. But planning, thinking ahead and making the attempt in the field can be very rewarding. I recently told a friend that I wanted to write this article about making more interesting travel photos. He smiled and told me that this topic came up during a conversation he had with another photographer, who said something like “if I want the everyday travel photos, I’ll buy postcards.” I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Resources: Canon-usa.canon.com

About the Author

Steve Dreyer
Steve Dreyer is a New York-based photographer, educator and writer specializing in fine art color and black & white images. His work, which includes landscapes, street photography and portraits, has appeared in numerous art exhibits. Steve also delivers workshops and creates eBooks on a variety of photography topics, including composition, digital workflow and post-processing software. For more information, visit his web site at stevedreyer.com and his blog at stevedreyerphoto.com