Embrace the Wait: Using Travel Time to Improve your Photography

I’m writing this post (in my head) as I’m standing in a field waiting for wild horses to do something interesting.

I’ve been waiting a while.

My friends are getting bored even though we came to the Ozarks specifically to photograph these amazing creatures standing not 20 feet from us. The exhilaration of actually finding the wild horses faded after about an hour of standing in a wet field watching them eat grass – they do that a lot.

Lone Horse
This horse is part of the Shawnee wild horse herd located near Eminence, Missouri. The evening golden hour lit the field and the hill beyond.

This got me thinking about all the times that I wait when I travel.

  • Waiting in long lines.
  • Waiting for my train to arrive.
  • Waiting for sunset.
  • Waiting for my husband to finish doing whatever he does that takes so much time before we leave the hotel room.

In today’s world, time is a commodity. The quickest way to get somewhere is often the most expensive and paying for private tours allows us to bypass crowds and long lines (Thank you FierenzeCard! I’m not sure what we would have done without you in Florence! – zipped right through that long Uffizi line!).

My husband and I are looking at airline tickets to India right now. If we don’t mind spending 50 hours in transit, the tickets are quite inexpensive, but we’d rather have a 20-something hour journey, so we’ll pay more.

There are times when paying for time is the best thing to do, but what I’m talking about in this post is more of a mind-set. We often have this “let’s just get there” mentality and it blinds us to the photographic possibilities around us.


Instead, we need to embrace the journey and discover the adventures of travel and the photos that go along with these experiences.

This post is about ways to use the waiting time productively both as a traveler and a photographer.

I tend to be an impatient waiter and don’t often use the waiting time as productively as I might. So, I’m writing this post mainly for me – I will assign it to myself as required reading before any of my future trips.

Photo Shooting Photographers
Waiting for the wild horses to do something, I spotted a rare breed of wild photographers in a field.

Look for Photo Ops

I’m the worst at getting fixated on the goal and not enjoying the ride. Inevitably touring involves standing in lines, especially in high season (which always also seems to be hot-season). It’s easy to get run down and annoyed at all those other pesky travelers between you and the sight you’re trying to see. 

It’s important to drag your focus away from the future and look at the here-and-now. Remember those horses I mentioned watching at the top of the post? The night before, they weren’t even there. I waited and waited for the wild horses to arrive and they were no where to be seen – they are wild horses after all – they don’t always keep to the posted tourist schedule! 

Waiting for the wild horses to arrive, I found some bees at my feet to photograph. Embrace the wait!

Photo Spring Fling
Waiting in a field for wild horses to arrive, I whiled away the time watching bees flit from flower to flower.

Look for interesting architecture or art, for people doing interesting things, and especially look for the unexpected.

This is also the perfect time to practice a photographic technique. Waiting for our train to arrive, I practiced motion blur on the London Underground.

Photo On the Northern Line
Practicing motion blur on the Underground. London, England.

Chit the Chat

When standing in long lines or waiting for transit, talk to the travelers around you. You’ve got at least one thing in common with them – a desire to see what ever  you’re waiting for! You’d be surprised at how often general chit-chat leads to some valuable information.

I only found this beautiful spiral staircase, called the Tulip Stairs, at Queen’s House in Greenwich, England by chatting with a local photographer at a London market.

Photo Tulip Staircase
This famous spiral staircase at Queen’s House in Greenwich (London), U.K. is much photographed. Tulip refers to the decoration on the banister. To get this photograph, I laid down on the floor, much to the curiosity of passing tourists.

Find out where your fellow travelers have been, maybe they know something that you don’t. I’ve been able to bypass lines because someone has told me where the back entrance is (psst: lines are shorter at the Institute of Art in Chicago if you go through the Modern Wing – pass it on!).

Chatting with security guards and other officials is also a good way to gain some valuable information and use up some of that waiting time. That’s what most of them are there for anyway and they’re often bored silly!

And while you’re chatting, you might find a willing subject for your photo. My photog friend was chatting to a fellow in Cuba (or was he chatting her up? It was hard to tell.) While she got the information, I had a bored – and therefore willing – sidekick to photograph.

Photo Cuban Street Portrait
This fellow was out selling bread early on a Saturday morning in Old Havana. He stopped a bit to chat and pose for a photo.

Street Study

If you’re just standing around anyway, this is a good time to whip out you camera and practice a bit of street photography.

One of the best things a street photographer can do is find a place to settle in and wait for the photo to come to them – well you’re stuck waiting (in a line, for a plane, etc.) so this trick is made for you!

While I was waiting for my photog friends to catch up, I saw this character on the streets of Trinidad. I’ve seen other photos of him so he’s probably a fixture, but I had time to study his ever-changing facial expressions.

Take the time to really look around you. Study the light and how it plays in the scene and the people in the scene. Why not? You’ve got time where else are you going?

Watch the scene carefully and try to pick up patterns. You may not be able to choose the best background or light from where you’re waiting, but you can try to pick up patterns in street behavior.

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One of the best lessons I learned about street photography was to try and anticipate what people will do. Street photographers only seem to react quickly to changing situations, they’re really ahead of the photo. How might this person turn? How does the crowd move? If you see an action, wait – it’s likely to be repeated by someone else.

Even if your view isn’t ideal for a photograph, practice seeing the street scene evolving in front of you. This skill may help you get a great photo later.

Photo A soft goodbye
When photographing outside a school in Cienfuegos, Cuba, we saw that most of the parents kissed their children good-bye for the day. We tried to anticipate the gesture. This father didn’t kiss his son, but the gesture is loving.

Train stations and airports often have interesting art or architecture to go along with the hustle and bustle of people. Photographing in stations and airports is not always acceptable, but most people are so fixated on their destination, they will ignore you. Though if approached by someone official, of course you’ll have to stop – this has never actually happened to me, though.

Photo Waiting for a Train
Photograph looking up at the ceiling of the train station in Glasgow, Scotland. I loved the geometry contrasted with the rounded domes of the buildings inside the train station.

Final Thoughts

I’m often annoyed by the wait that seem to come with traveling, but there are ways to use the wait times to your advantage to make photographs or practice a technique. Not only will the wait seem faster, you might capture a great shot or two while you pass the time.

I find that once I return home with photos in hand, I usually forget all about the wait and just remember the experience – unless it’s a six hour traffic jam in Transylvania. That I remember!

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5 thoughts on “Embrace the Wait: Using Travel Time to Improve your Photography”

  1. All good advice, Jenn. I’ve found airports are always good places for photography. I park my wife with bags and then disappear for a few minutes with a camera. I find it rather odd that although airports are so security-conscious these days i have never yet been stopped using a camera in them.

    Liked by 1 person


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