The 25 Best Places in the World to Photograph

Esteemed image makers name their favorite locations.

CULTURE

The documentary and travel photographers we polled are drawn to cultures far-removed from ours both geographically and chronologically. “It’s like going back into the Stone Age culture,” Chris Rainier says of New Guinea. “And that’s pretty cool in the beginning of the 21st century.”

PHOTOGRAPHERS’ FAVORITES

(c) Chris Rainier/chrisrainier.com

Chris Rainier -- “You can still find people living totally off the land, knowing nothing of cultures beyond their valleys. That’s one of the reasons I go back again and again. Plus it is visually extraordinary.”

(c) Andrea Pistolesi

Andrea Pistolesi -- Pistolesi is drawn to Sicily, “especially during the religious and traditional festivals when the island’s roots — reaching back to the ancient Greeks and the Arabs — influence this deeply Catholic society, making for unique situations for the photographer.”

(c) Carolyn Drake

Carolyn Drake -- “The expansion of powerful societies into foreign territories, and the destruction of local populations that get in the way, is a storyline that runs through the entire course of human history.”

(c) Jodi Cobb/National Geographic Stock

Jodi Cobb -- Cobb cites the breathtaking beauty of the islands and the warmth of its people as unforgettable, but also comments on the emptiness as "a stark reminder of the devastation caused by
the early explorers. These islands are haunted, and you will be too."

(c) Brown W. Cannon III

Brown W. Cannon III -- “The challenges are getting to the locations,” says Cannon of shooting in Mongolia. “But the country is full of culture: horse races, camel trekking, Mongolian wrestling, hunting with golden eagles. The only thing I found a shortage of was time.”

WILDLIFE

Wildlife photographers are often driven by concern for endangered species. Their chosen destinations feature fauna that’s exotic yet accessible to intrepid explorers. “The forces of nature combined with extreme adventure are simply irresistible,” says Daisy Gilardini.

PHOTOGRAPHERS’ FAVORITES

Daniel Cox-- The incredible variety of animals and the access to them has been drawing Cox to regularly shoot in Kenya for some 12 years. “Kenya has fewer restrictions on what the drivers can or can’t do, plus the game guides are very educated. It’s very productive photographically.”

(c) Daisy Gilardini

Daisy Gilardini -- “Polar bears and walruses are fascinating creatures. We need images to show people that if we don’t change our lifestyle, they could soon disappear.”

(c) Paul Nicklen/National Geographic Stock

Paul Nicklen -- “I will always be exploring ecosystems, documenting what is disappearing due to climate change. We are losing a lot more than just ice.”

(c) Joel Sartore/joelsartore.com

Jooel Sartore -- “It’s the wildlife of the Amazon — parrots, jaguars, giant anteaters — but out in the open. If you go in the dry season, when the birds congregate there, it’s really a magical place.”

(c) Susan Middleton

Susan Middleton -- “Much of the wildlife of Midway Atoll has little fear of humans,” says Middleton of shooting on Eastern Island in the atoll, part of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

(c) Tom Mangelsen

Tom Mangelsen -- “There are few places in North America where one can see bears, wolves, caribou and moose all in the same day. Plus, the backdrop of the Alaska range contributes to the extraordinary beauty.”

IN THE BAG

Our experts agree: The key equipment for wildlife photography is a great set of lenses.

• In Kenya, Daniel Cox stresses the need for “telephotos! Our workhorse lens is a 200-400mm, but I also use a 600mm f/4.”

• Trekking to the Arctic, Daisy Gilardini packs “16mm fisheye, 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8, 200- 400mm f/4, and 600mm f/4.”

• In Alaska’s Denali National Park, Tom Mangelsen takes “14-24mm, 24-70mm, 70-300mm, 200-400mm, 600mm, and 1.4X and 1.7X teleconverters.”

• Remote locations also call for preparedness. “Bring everything you need with you, since the nearest store is 1,200 miles away,” says Susan Middleton, about shooting at Midway Atoll. “I always pack backup gear — cameras, strobes, batteries, plastic bags and waterproof backpacks. But balance that with severe weight restrictions on the chartered flight. Pack thoughtfully.”

ARCHITECTURE

PHOTOGRAPHERS’ FAVORITES

(c) Pete Turner

Pete Turner -- “These people work in color, which is what I work in,” says Turner of prominent architects in Baja, Mexico. “In a lot of the hotels, people just go crazy with colors, so you can sometimes shoot right where you stay.”

(c) Jen Judge

Jen Judge -- “The contrast between the barren desolate landscape and the ornate ancient architecture seems like the ultimate balance between man and nature.”

**Insider Tip:****** Next time, Judge wants to shoot the livestock market at Nizwa.

(c) Peter Aaron/ESTO

Peter Aaron -- “The biggest, best Crusader castles are there as well as the Dead Cities [some 700 abandoned settlements]. The ruins of Palmyra dating from the 1st century rise in the desert, and Damascus and Aleppo [whose citadel is pictured] are beautiful ancient cities.”

Insider Tip: Aaron recommends verdant April and May for picture taking.

(c) Andrea Fazzari

Andrea Fazzari -- “Here in Jaipur, in the state of Rajasthan, I appreciate the aesthetic of Rajputana and Mughal architecture. The floating, intricate palaces are also especially striking.”

For structural beauty, it seems, the older and more unusual a place is, the better. “The trick is to distill what you are seeing,” Pete Turner points out. “You have to edit out what doesn’t turn you on and photograph what does.”

Insider Tip: While Fazzari names Jaipur as her favorite location in India, she also recommends Udaipur and Jodhpur, both of which are also in the state of Rajasthan.

LANDSCAPE

Top-flight landscape photographers seek out visual drama: places with spectacular palettes of color, plus extremes of light and weather. Often venturing into the wild, these pros are practiced in survival — and patience. As George Steinmetz says, “Interesting things take time to reveal themselves.”

PHOTOGRAPHERS’ FAVORITES

George Steinmeitz -- “You can fly over the coast for an hour and not see a single vehicle track.”

Must Shoot

• “Sossusvlei and Dead Vlei are a must,” advises Steinmetz about southern Africa’s Namibia. “I would suggest driving on the emptiest part of the coast, from Lüderitz to Walvis Bay.”

(c) Linda Connor

Linda Conner -- “Next time I go, I will try to be as open as I can and let the place reveal its subtle secrets, resulting in a very different picture.”

(c) Tom Till

Tom Till -- Till, who says he’s lucky to live in the Four Corners region, cites his home as having great light and great subjects, “the two elements you need in an almost endless supply.”

• “I can’t wait to shoot the wildflowers this spring,” says Till of his stomping grounds, the Four Corners region, where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona converge. “After the huge snowstorms and spring rains, they should be some of the best ever.”

(c) Tim Fitzharris

Tim Fitzharris -- “In fall, the mountain slopes are covered with bronze and gold stands of aspen. In summer, the subalpine meadows are lush with wildflowers.”

(c) Sisse Brimberg & Cotton Coulson/KEENPRESS

Sissy Brimberg and Cotton Coulson -- “It offers landscape photographers calm lakes with reflections, surrounded by tall standing mountains. The light varies throughout the day from morning fog to romantic sunsets,” says Coulson.

Being There

Beauty aside, access is key to a great landscape destination.

• “There is abundant camping, a plethora of photo-ops accessible by paved road, and a maze of four-wheel-drive trails built by gold and silver mining concerns more than a century ago,” says Tim Fitzharris of the San Juan Mountains. “Fly to Durango, Colorado [from Denver], to get started.”

• George Steinmetz says of Namibia, “You can rent camper-style pickups and self-drive your safari, a rarity in Africa. I would try to put in at least a little time in a small plane, as the Namibian coast is really beautiful from the air.”

UNDERWATER

These destinations are all about great diving and the mysteries of the deep, but they’re alluring above water as well: Each features its own cultural milieu and enchanting scenery, what Kevin Palmer calls “a magical interplay of the bizarre and the beautiful.”

PHOTOGRAPHERS’ FAVORITES

(c) Damion Berger

Damion Berger -- “There is such a wealth of scenes — from the Festival de Cannes to Monaco’s Grand Prix, the rich bronzed bodies of Saint-Tropez and swimming pools filled to the brim with hyperactive, liberated kids.”

(c) Brian Skerry

Brian Skerry -- When shooting underwater in his favored New Zealand, Skerry recommends packing a range of lenses from superwide (such as 14mm) to macro (60m or 105mm). “There is such diversity, you’ll want to shoot everything, from whales and seals to tiny creatures like nudibranchs and blennies.”

(c) Tanya G. Burnett/islandexposure.us

Tanya G. Burnett and Kevin Palmer -- “Beyond spectacular photo opportunities, this region is often sited as having some of the greatest biodiversity on the planet,” says Burnett.

(c) Jeff Rotman

Jeff Rotman -- “Every place is unique. But the Red Sea’s special beauty is its lush and rich coral reefs, including a lot of soft corals, as well as the animal and marine life found there.”

Alexander Mustard -- “Rocky cliffs plastered in red soft corals, yellow sponges and white anemones; the world’s largest sea slugs and bizarre fish like the decorated warbonnet and grunt sculpin; add to this the chance encounter with a giant Pacific octopus, wolf eels and sea lions, and it really is a dream destination.”

IN THE BAG:

Along with watertight camera housings and lenses ranging from fisheye to telephoto, the underwater photographer never goes out without a good suit.

• “The area is remote and the water is cold,” says Alexander Mustard of Port Hardy at the north end of Vancouver Island. “This means you need to be comfortable diving and operating your camera while wearing a drysuit and thick gloves.”

• Of diving in New Zealand, Brian Skerry adds: “Diving in some southernmost locations requires a drysuit, whereas the northern parts are warmer and only a wetsuit is needed. So it can be equipment intensive. That said, equipment can be rented in a number of locations.”

• “My key equipment is a great drysuit,” says Paul Nicklen of Antarctica. “There are sometimes 19 hours of light there, and if you’re warm and happy, you can keep working.” note: Drysuit diving requires special training.

BEHIND THE LENS

When encountering people in primitive cultures in New Guinea, Chris Rainier often relies on common sense, friendly eye contact and body language. “There’s a universal way of being human,” he says. “It’s taking the time to be careful about the way you conduct yourself, stepping lightly — culturally, emotionally and spiritually — with the people. The quality of a portrait is in direct proportion to the quality of the relationship. If one can unshackle oneself from that notion of what you’re trying to get out of a situation but rather what you can give to it, the byproduct will be fantastic photography.”

GUIDING PRINCIPLES

• In the wilds of Mongolia, Brown W. Cannon III does not recommend going it alone. “Hire a good guide who can grant you access to people and places that are truly authentic,” he says. “A guide can enable you to spend more time shooting and less time searching.”

• While shooting in China, Carolyn Drake advises: “The Chinese government’s interest in holding a tight grip on the region and the stories coming out of it can sometimes make shooting there difficult. There are plenty of cultural differences — this is their place, not mine.”

• Jodi Cobb suggests taking your time in French Polynesia. “You have to slow down to the rhythm of the islands and the tides, and sharpen the senses that civilization has dulled and denied,” she says. “Otherwise, you will be defeated by the sheer beauty that you can’t really capture.”

IF YOU GO

Some places seem to have undeserved reputations. “The biggest challenge to shooting in Syria is the preconception among Westerners, especially Americans, that it is a dangerous country,” says Peter Aaron. “This appears not to be the case. The people of Syria could not be more welcoming. Since the country has been shielded from the West through economic sanctions, there’s little evidence of advertising, and their world looks like a throwback to more-innocent times.” But he adds a caveat: “Due to U.S. government measures, there is no reciprocity between American banks and Syria’s largest bank, so bring lots of cash.”

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