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Best Travel Photo Essays Examples

Drag queens pose on covered bridges. Puppies learn to swim. Metal heads cuddle with kittens. Polish witches wave incense sticks.

This is just a sampling of scenes from the best photo essays of 2014. It was hard to choose only 24–runners-up included shots of New York’s extremely well-dressed dogs and very hip, very bearded Sikhs.

These photographs are eye candy, but also so much more: They give you an intimate look at characters you might never otherwise encounter (the biker chicks of Marrakesh), and reveal lifestyles you might not otherwise have known existed (and may wish to remain ignorant of, in the case of the Purity Ball movement in America’s Bible Belt). Some illustrate contemporary social and political issues, while a few just put original spins on the Internet’s bread and butter–cute animal photos. What these photo essays have in common, and what makes them so powerful, is that they all tell stories. None are merely decorative. They serve as a reminder that at its best, photography is a storytelling tool.

Purity Balls: Like A Wedding, Except To Your Dad

It’s a lot like a wedding, except to your dad. At purity balls, a Christian religious ceremony that’s gaining popularity, American girls (some as young as four) vow to their fathers that they’ll remain virgins until marriage. The formal events tend to include dinner, a keynote speech, and ballroom dancing, and the girls get decked out in, um, white gowns. The father, as “High Priest of their home and family,” makes a pledge to protect his daughter’s “purity” during the affair. Often, they exchange purity rings. Stockholm-based photographer David Magnusson captures all this in his book Purity. Over the course of five months, Magnusson traveled to purity balls in Louisiana, Texas, Colorado, and Arizona. On each occasion, he spent an hour interviewing and photographing the father-daughter pair. The poses were up to the subjects themselves, undirected by Magnusson.

Magical Portraits Of Modern-Day Witches

If you ever find yourself feeling nostalgic for your secret middle school Wiccan phase, or if have a friend crush on Hermione (or just enjoy casting the occasional spell), you’ll love Katarzyna Majak’s portraits of modern-day Polish witches. Majak began taking photographs of women on alternative spiritual paths after participating in a “shamanic workshop,” which was part of her personal quest for spirituality beyond her Catholic upbringing in Poland.

Illegal Photos Of London’s Abandoned Underworld, Captured By Daring Place-Hackers

London’s exceptionally clean streets hide a dystopian-looking underworld, blocked off from the vast majority of the public for decades. There are networks of dank hidden sewers, cable conduits, road and utility tunnels, old catacombs, and abandoned train tubes. Now, a daring group of self-identified “place-hackers” is using photography to bring this chthonic region to light, however forbidden their explorations may be. Subterranean London: Cracking the Capital, assembles material from 12 anonymous photographers infatuated with visiting and documenting underground spaces illegally. Featured in the book are shots of the abandoned British Museum tube station, rumored to be haunted by the ghost of an Egyptian pharaoh’s daughter; the ruins of stations destroyed by WWII bombs; and deep-level shelters repurposed as sites for secure document storage.

These Are Photos Of Puppies Learning To Swim. That Is All

In his latest photo series Seth Casteel’s underwater puppies paddle frantically toward the camera, wide-eyed and extra wet-nosed. As young as six weeks and as old as six months, the young pooches follow Casteel’s rubber toys.

Tranquil Scenes Of Life Off-The-Grid

Since 2010, French photographer Antoine Bruy has been traveling throughout Europe, documenting life off the grid for rural farmers, many of whom had left urban lives to subvert the dominant paradigm. Bruy found his subjects through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), a network of organizations that helps people to volunteer on organic farms in exchange for food and accommodation. His series “Scrublands” began in 2010, when Bruy started “WWOOFing,” as it’s known, on an Australian farm.

Tokyo’s Outrageous Street Style

Tokyo is known for its legendary street style, where fashion tribes, from Yamanba to cosplay to Lolita, don elaborate outfits. New York City-based photographer Thomas Card spent the spring of 2012 in Tokyo shooting the capital’s street fashion. More than 130 of his photos were published in a glorious book called Tokyo Adorned.

Metal Heads And Their Cats

“Metal” might not be the first adjective that comes to mind when you think of cats. But that might change after you see the images from photographer Alexandra Crockett’s book, Metal Cats, published by powerHouse Books. It chronicles the deep, dark bonds between fans of heavy, guitar-laden music and their feline companions.

Inside The Offices Of 12 Psychoanalysts

Sometimes an office is just an office. But if you’re a psychoanalyst, the presentation of your work space has to be impeccably thought out, designed to foster a sense of sanctuary and privacy. Since Sigmund Freud’s Victorian consulting room, with its oriental rug-draped couch, analysts have learned to use interior design as a therapeutic tool. In his ongoing series “In the Shadow of Freud’s Couch,” Mark Gerald, who’s both a photographer and a psychoanalyst, offers a look inside the offices of analysts all over the world.

Photos Merge New Hampshire’s Finest Cultural Fixtures: Covered Bridges And Drag Queens

Andre Rosa’s Kickstarter-funded project merges the two things that he feels have the most cultural currency in New Hampshire: covered bridges and drag queens. The software engineer turned calendar publisher, who’s based in Manchester, joked about his light bulb moment last summer to a friend, then realized he was onto something. He decided to create a monthly calendar featuring centerfolds of drag queens in front of covered bridges.

New York’s Changing Storefronts, In Photos

In the early 2000s, photographers James and Karla Murray embarked on a journey to capture the mom-and-pop stores of New York City. Their book, Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York, showed a city that’s quickly fading into memory: one full of local delis, beloved bars, and shops devoted entirely to hosiery. A decade later, they returned to capture what those stores have become in a new project, Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York—10 Years Later. The answer: Subways, Chase bank branches, and Verizon stores.

Surreal Photographs Mix Wes Anderson And Salvador Dali

Photographer Todd Baxter doesn’t try to capture real life in his photos. He’s a narrative artist whose medium happens to be photography. “I have these ideas for a scene—like two kids looking into a glowing hole at night in the woods (“Owl Scouts”) or the aftermath of a burglary with a couple tied up in their living room (“Bound and Gagged”),” he says, “and I try to make them happen.” His photography isn’t photorealistic: It’s staged, slightly off-kilter, and just a bit surreal. He uses a camera, but his work is less photojournalistic than it is painterly.

The Deeply Weird World Of Extreme Dog Grooming

The world of creative canine coiffure is a truly, deeply weird one. Last year, New York City-based photographer Paul Nathan traveled to New Jersey’s Intergroom, a high-profile grooming competition, because of course those exist, and took portraits of pooches clipped and dyed to look like flamingoes, clowns, leopards, and parrots, among other un-dogly things. These freakish glamour shots are compiled in a book, Groomed, from Pelluceo Publishing.

The Biker Chicks Of Marrakesh

You’ve probably never seen a biker gang quite like this. In photographer Hassan Hajjaj’s series “Kesh Angels,” the lady motorcyclists of Marrakesh, Morocco, wear polka-dot abaya and Nike-branded djellaba, posing on their bikes against brightly painted walls. The juxtaposition of traditional Islamic dress with biker-tough posturing and Western branding upends stereotypes of Muslim women as anti-modern and ultra-conservative.

What It’s Like To Be A Ruin-Porn Photographer

Andre Govia describes himself as “addicted to decay.” The U.K.-based urban explorer’s book of photography, Abandoned Planet, is an extensive tribute to that addiction, which has taken Govia and his camera to more than 22 countries over the past 15 years. Govia, who mainly makes his living as a freelance cinematographer for television, elicits a certain ethereal drama from the remains of old manor houses, decrepit prisons, hospitals, and mental institutions, and even indoor swimming complexes far past their prime.

What You’ll Look Like At 100

In our heavily Botoxed culture, it’s rare to see images that present aged skin as beautiful. That’s part of what makes Missouri-based photographer Anastasia Pottinger’s black-and-white photos of people over the age 100, “Centenarians,” so powerful.

Meals Re-Created From 9 Famous Books

When described right, food in literature can be as memorable and enchanting as the characters themselves. For Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature’s Most Memorable Meals, designer and writer Dinah Fried re-created 50 famous novelistic feasts and beautifully photographed them.

Danny Lyon’s Unseen Photos Of NYC Subway Riders In The ’60s

In 1966, photographer Danny Lyon returned to his hometown of New York City after spending years documenting the Civil Rights movement in the South and motorcycle gangs in Chicago. Once back in the city, Lyon took his mother’s advice: “If you’re bored, just talk to someone on the subway.” Using a Rolleiflex camera and Kodak color transparency film, he started taking photographs of New York’s commuters and the city’s dingy, fluorescent-lit train stations. Eight of Lyon’s large-scale subway photographs are on view for the first time in Underground: 1966, a show hosted by MTA Arts & Design, at the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center station in Brooklyn.

Artist Wants To Map Every Single Human Skin Tone On Earth

In April 2012, artist Angelica Dass started a project, called Humanae, to map every human skin tone and match it with a corresponding Pantone color. Dass samples a small pixel from a portrait subject’s skin—usually from the well-lit cheek area—and then matches it to a Pantone hue, which is used as the backdrop. Her photographs for Humanae now number around 2,000, and collectively, they create a stunning spectrum of pink, brown, honey, and taupe (the list goes on)—hues that correspond to all possible skin pigmentations.

Can You Spot The Snipers Hiding In These Photos?

Do you pride yourself on having a good eye? Do you think you notice details others don’t? Well, test yourself by finding the sniper hiding in these deceptively tranquil-looking landscapes. Even for those with a keen eye, spotting snipers is close to impossible, as this photo series by German artist Simon Menner proves. Covered in moss, hiding behind trees, or buried under twigs and branches, these stealth sharpshooters are as good as invisible even when they’re circled in red. The photos are a chilling glimpse into the world of modern warfare: In the military, design is often used not to please the human eye but to deceive it.

14 Portraits Of College Grads Living At Home

Thanks to rising student debts and the weak economy of post-recession America, it’s no longer shameful to move back home after college–it’s a common reality. But that doesn’t make it any easier for young adults to live under their parents’ watch once again. Photographer Damon Casarez captures such adulthoods-on-hold in Boomerang Kids a photographic collection of college grads who moved home. “This project started out of my own struggle to find work and support myself after graduating college with over $100,000 in student loans,” Casarez tells Co.Design. Casarez spent two months traveling to eight states and 16 cities to photograph his subjects.

50 Behind-The-Scenes Photos From Star Wars

These candid backset shots of Return of the Jedi (1983) in production reveal the work and play that went into creating everyone’s favorite galaxy far, far away. It’s a view of Tatooine, Bespin, Endor, and Dagobah from behind the camera.

Intimate Photos Of How People Eat In New York City

Miho Aikawa’s series of intimate photos reveals how, as New Yorkers and Tokyoites sit down for their evening meal, tradition is evolving to fit into the chaos of contemporary life. “Having dinner isn’t just about eating food, or even about nutrition,” Aikawa says. “It reveals so many aspects of our lives, much more than lunch or even breakfast would. And because dinnertime is usually private, it uniquely reveals a part of a person’s lifestyle.”

Photos Of San Francisco Before The Dotcoms Invaded

Before San Francisco was overrun by tech bros, the city was an idyllic, if gritty, melting pot, as photographer Janet Delaney reveals in her book South of the Market. The roots of the tension between blue-collar Bay Area residents and Silicon Valleyites go back decades, though: After moving to San Francisco’s South of Market (SoMa) district in 1978, Delaney witnessed firsthand as her eclectic neighborhood gave way to the then-new Moscone Convention Center (which now hosts Apple and Google events). From 1980 to 1982, she photographed her streets almost every week–until rent grew too high, and she relocated to the Mission District.

Photo Essay Explores The Inner World Of A Trailer Park

San Francisco-based photographer David Waldorf portrays the close-knit community of a Sonoma Valley trailer park. Some residents are migrant workers who harvest grapes in the nearby Sonoma Valley, while others are fixed-income retirees or former drug addicts. Waldorf was careful to develop trust and friendship with his subjects: “I hung out there for years, and people at the park really seemed to love the photos I took,” he says. “One guy even blew his up to the size of a poster to hang on his wall.”

For more excellent photo essays, check out Co.Design’s Exposure series.

Whether you’re a regular traveler or not, unique and beautiful travel photography can excite, motivate and inspire. Travel photography blogs can help you research your next trip, reminisce about your favorite holiday or inspire you to explore somewhere completely new. Whatever your travel history or plans, these blogs are the perfect way to indulge in wanderlust.

The following are ten of the best blogs for travel photography lovers.

Looking to become a freelance photographer yourself? The Broke Backpacker has some great advice! Also head over to TravelFreak for his list of photography gear for travelers, and NOMADasuras to check out their pick for the best camera for travel.

Photo courtesy of Seattle’s Travels

1. Seattle’s Travels

Canadian wanderer Seattle has traveled across vast swathes the globe, and her blog Seattle’s Travels reflects that. Search by destination or adventure form to soak up her pictures. The site also includes plenty of advice for travelers, especially those seeing the world solo.

Photo courtesy of Alex in Wanderland

2. Alex In Wanderland

Four years ago, native New Yorker Alex left the US to travel the world, documenting her adventures through photography on her blog Alex in Wanderland. Her passion for travel is infectious and her travel map is astounding. A crisp, lovely site design also makes her blog a special one for travel photography.

3. Ken Kaminesky

Ken Kaminesky’s eye for the remarkable is immediately apparent when looking at his photos. Ken takes luscious, hyper-detailed pictures of sights around the world, with subjects ranging from culture to nature to people at work. His cityscapes are wonderful, but his nature photography is particularly rich.

4. The Legendary Adventures Of Anna

Anna’s blog The Legendary Adventures of Anna is a playful reflection on the joys of travel.  She provides a range of useful travel and dining tips, especially for the Americas, and her images of Iceland are particularly special.

Photo courtesy of Paris in Four Months.

5. Paris In Four Months

There are a lot of Paris blogs out there, but Paris in Four Months reigns supreme. Swedish Carin moved to Paris in 2012, originally for just four months, but has lived in the City of Lights ever since. Her blog is an ode to the beauty of Paris, from streetscapes to pâtisseries to fashion.

Photo courtesy of TravelFREAK

6. TravelFREAK

Jeremy, a talented mixologist as well as the creator of TravelFREAK, wants you to quit your job, and he’ll stop at nothing to get you to do so, even tempting you with beautiful wanderlust-inducing photos. With a focus on transformative and adventure travel, you’ll immediately be booking your next plane ticket — most likely while perusing one of his photo essays.

Photo courtesy of Kirsten Alana

7. Kirsten Alana

First things first, Kirsten Alana’s site design is one of the prettiest out there. But beyond graphics, her photographs, which vary from quirky snapshots of culture to pure images of nature, are simply beautiful. Her shots of skies are particular highlights.

8. Stuck In Customs

Though the name conjures up one of the most horrendous aspects of travel, Stuck in Customs is filled with photos of the best travel has to offer. Trey Ratcliffe has a true talent for photography, and his images, from the Great Wall of China to the mountains of New Zealand, will make you want to pack your bags ASAP.

9. Farfelue

It’s hard to make Paris look bad, but Farfelue knows how to make Paris look perfect. While Faye’s blog is great for its Paris city guide and travel hints, the highlight is her photos, which capture the French capital at its glittering finest.

10. Beers And Beans

Beers and Beans is one of the most comprehensive travel photography sites out there. If you’re planning a trip, click through for plenty of advice on travel hints, destination details, volunteering and more. Their photographs are joyful, varied and inspiring too.

Photo courtesy of Jessie on a Journey

11. Jessie on a Journey

The personal blog of Epicure & Culture editor Jessica Festa, Jessie on a Journey focuses on solo, adventure and offbeat travel around the globe. Jessica is never without her Nikon D5100, and loves losing herself behind her lens in beautiful, inspiring places. She even sells her photography shop at the EpicureCulture Etsy Shop and on art design products through her Jessieonajourney RedBubble Portfolio.

What are your favorite travel photography blogs? Please share in the comments below.

By Gemma King

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