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In analyzing nearly 100 photos this year, I was struck by how closely our criteria for a good photograph aligns with what we look for in the stories we publish in TravelAge West. Our favorite images were those that showed us people, places and customs that we might not know too much about — as well as those that capture something fresh about a beloved destination.
Indeed, travel is all about inspiration, and images are one of the greatest tools in the travel agent tool kit. The agents we highlighted here understand this. They not only visited in-demand or emerging destinations — such as Cuba, Chile, Myanmar, Morocco and Mongolia — but they were able to capture the essence of these places. This year, we saw fewer sunsets over beaches and more examples of cultural immersion — how very on trend. And, as you’ll see, these kinds of photos can serve as great client engagement tools for social media.
In 2016, make it a goal to bring your camera with you on your travels, but don’t snap mindlessly. Consider the story you want to tell about the destination and then go to work: Find the right angle, the perfect light and an engaging subject. Then click.
First PlaceMarcia DillonCaprice Travel, Scottsdale, Ariz.
“This building was located a few blocks from where I was staying in Havana at a small bed-and-breakfast. We walked over to this building to see the beautiful staircase and a wall mural depicting a speech by Fidel Castro. There was no one around, so we walked up the staircase to explore. The building was crumbling inside. I wandered up to the second floor, where this woman was hanging laundry from a restaurant that was located on the third floor. There was a stark contrast between the white tablecloths and the crumbling plaster on the ceiling and walls. The windows were all missing, and the breeze was blowing through to dry the laundry. When I looked at this space, it made me sad to see what the ravages of time had done. I visualized the beauty that once was here and, hopefully, will be again. I loved wandering the streets of Havana and finding hidden places that provided me with wonderful photos of the people and this beautiful city of yesteryear.”
Woman in Cuba, First Place, 2015 TravelAge West reader photo contest // © 2015 Marcia Dillon
Mongolian man with eagle, Second Place, 2015 TravelAge West reader photo contest // © 2015 Wanda Bogacka-Plucinski
Lake Havasu Balloon Festival, Third Place, 2015 TravelAge West reader photo contest // © 2015 Becky McGuire
Fisherman in Myanmar, Honorable Mention, 2015 TravelAge West reader photo contest // © 2015 Marcia Dillon
Jaguar during a morning game drive, Honorable Mention, 2015 TravelAge West reader photo contest // © 2015 Daniela Harrison
Taj Palace Marrakech (now Sahara Palace), Honorable Mention, 2015 TravelAge West reader photo contest // © 2015 Randa Nawawi
Local Puerto Rican piano man, Honorable Mention, 2015 TravelAge West reader photo contest // © 2015 Kristen Bentz
Cape Horn Chile, Honorable Mention, 2015 TravelAge West reader photo contest // © 2015 Steve Orens
Singular Resort Patagonia, Honorable Mention, 2015 TravelAge West reader photo contest // © 2015 Steve Orens
Flooding of St. Mark's Square, Honorable Mention, 2015 TravelAge West reader photo contest // © 2015 Laurel Leidner
Second PlaceWanda Bogacka-PlucinskiNomadic Expeditions, Monroe Township, N.J.
“I traveled by myself, for three weeks, to the untamed country of Mongolia. Although I was nervous, I woke up excited each day willing to try new things, even if they scared me. I wanted to experience the simplicity of life, lose my attachment to material things, get dirty and be among people who didn’t speak my language. I discovered that the nomadic people possess a certain warmth and hospitality that I have yet to find elsewhere. They have a very hard life but, despite that, they seem happy — opening their doors and hearts to a total stranger. The natural, raw, beauty of Mongolia made me feel as though I was standing on the edge of the earth, with no noise or light pollution — just the sound of my own breath. Traveling to Mongolia may not be for everyone, but if you have a philosophy to live each day as though it may be your last, have an adventurous spirit and are not afraid to discover new things about yourself, Mongolia is the perfect place. The reason I took this photo is because this Kazakh eagle hunter's rugged, weathered face mirrors for me what Mongolia is like: beautifully authentic and ruff, yet strong and resilient, possessing great warmth and heart.”
Third PlaceBecky McGuireThe Travel Goddess, Prior Lake, Minn.
“This picture of balloons was taken in January 2015 at the Lake Havasu Balloon Festival in Arizona, which is one of my favorite events. It was taken at what we call ‘the channel.’ The bridge in the background is the historic London Bridge.”
Honorable MentionsThese seven photos round out our top 10 photo picks.
1. Marcia DillonCaprice Travel, Scottsdale, Ariz.
“This was taken in Myanmar on a fam trip last year with Trails of Indochina. I was sitting in the back of this boat at 5 a.m. on Lake Inle and took this photo of the fisherman as he rowed his boat. He is one of the famous leg rowers who lives along the lake.”
2. Daniela HarrisonAvenues of the World Travel, Flagstaff, Ariz.
“This was the first time I took my husband on safari, and it was the perfect vacation. We stayed at Lion Sands Narina in South Africa. This was taken during the morning game drive after a big rainstorm the night before. Heading out right after the rainstorm was great for tracking wildlife. All tracks were fresh, and there were many kills from the previous night, which made spotting cats so much easier. This beauty tried to get out of the wet grass and posed on the tree for us. For a good photo, I guess all you need is some luck, good timing and a steady hand.”
3. Randa NawawiVacation Discounters, Inc., San Ramon, Calif.
“I took this picture of a doorman at Taj Palace Marrakech (now Sahara Palace) earlier this year. His silhouette against the backdrop of the Atlas Mountains, the olive groves and palm trees and the hotel’s Moorish decor captures the essence of all that is Morocco. Morocco has everything any traveler would want: It encompasses culture, history and adventure and is filled with majestic palaces, interesting museums, mouth-watering cuisine and gorgeous natural landscapes.”
4. Kristen BentzIsland Spree Travel, Anchorage, Alaska
“‘Piano Man’ depicts a local Puerto Rican man sharing his gift and culture by playing his accordion everyday in the streets of Old San Juan. As we walked through the cobbled streets, past beautiful Spanish colonial homes and businesses, we could hear his music resonating through the crowds and had to see where it was coming from. To our surprise, this gentleman was so engrossed in his soulful tune, he hardly noticed anyone was there. When I advise, as well as personally travel, I always encourage clients to not only see the sights, but also experience the culture — stop and smell the roses, taste the food, dance to the music and converse with the locals. I’ve never once been sorry that I did.”
5. Steve OrensPlaza Travel, Encino, Calif.
“We had one last morning on the ship heading back from Cape Horn, Chile, and our last stop was Magdalena Island. As we enjoyed the morning with more than 100,000 penguins, there were ample photo opportunities. Then I saw these two penguins headed on a mission, the two behind them standing on the hill and the bird flying — it was the perfect shot to capture the feeling of being part of the wildlife and the natural setting on this small island just off the coast.”
6. Steve OrensPlaza Travel, Encino, Calif.
“Travel is always a journey, and one that creates the best memories. After being on a ship for three nights and then spending four hours in a bus, we arrived at Singular Resort in Patagonia. The old industrial building is a national historic site, and there are many aspects of the property that remain from the early 1900s when it was a cold-storage plant. We walked down to the shore and found the perfect lighting and cloud cover to create a peaceful, calming welcome to our home for the next five days.”
7. Laurel LeidnerPicture Yourself Traveling, Lake Arrowhead, Calif.
“The flooding of St. Mark’s Square can only double a photographer’s delight as we find our subject reflected in the acqua alta. Grand buildings only become grander in this unique experience, which makes navigating the huge piazza a challenge but creates images that delight and perplex.”