Going Behind the Lens with Travel Photographer Tanveer Badal

No other visual medium inspires wanderlust like photography. From thumb-stopping social media snapshots of spectacular landscapes to magazine spreads featuring architecturally significant hotels, the best travel photography captures a sense of place that transports viewers to a destination far beyond the frame. Tanveer Badal, a Los Angeles-based professional travel photographer, is one of the most talented behind-the-lens creators in the field, with a portfolio that could double as an atlas. Tanveer is a go-to photographer for the world’s most prestigious luxury hotel brands, including the Four Seasons, Hotel Esencia, Habitas, and 1 Hotels, in addition to his contributions to renowned editorial publications such as Condé Nast Traveler and The New York Times. What does it take to achieve such success? HAP spoke with Tanveer to learn more. 

Habitas Al’Ula, Saudi Arabia
Credit: Tanveer Badal

How did you build a career as a travel photographer and do you have any advice for someone looking to emulate that path? 

I grew up with a Bangladeshi passport which was really difficult to travel with because I needed to apply for a Visa every time I wanted to go abroad. As soon as I became a US citizen during college and received a US passport, I felt the whole world was opened up to me. I traveled every long weekend and for vacation while working a corporate publishing job in NYC. I started getting compliments on my vacation photos, even with a tiny point-and-shoot Canon G9 camera. Eventually, I bought my first DSLR (Canon 5D Mark I) and read the manual. The rest is history!

My advice, even if it sounds like a cliché, would be to keep shooting. There’s a quote from French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson along the lines of “your first 10,000 photographs are your worst” — and I agree with that. But look at them and learn what you can do better next time, and how you can emulate the photos you love. It doesn’t have to be a fully immersive course in photography. Just learn one or two things at a time and, eventually, you’ll become one with your camera and know how to approach a special moment when you’re standing in front of it.    

Monastero Santa Rosa, Amalfi Coast
Credit: Tanveer Badal

What equipment do you use and how did you develop your unique photography style?

I’ve been a Canon photographer my entire career but also shoot with my Leica M6 film camera in low-pressure situations (and after I get the “business” shots). Style is of course something that develops over time and again from looking at all the previous (mostly terrible) photos you’ve taken and learning from it helps. In a world bombarded with filters and grading, I try to keep my images as true to natural looking as possible so it doesn’t date themselves. I suppose that would be my “style.”      

Habitas Bacalar
Credit: Tanveer Badal

What’s your packing strategy for travel assignments? Do you try to keep as much of your photo gear as possible in your carry-on?

As a travel and hotel photographer, I shoot a wide range of subjects: architecture, lifestyle, drone, underwater, motion, etc., so I’m meticulous about what I pack for each shoot. I do my best work when I’m unburdened by too much gear. Going through customs is another major consideration, so I try to pack as lightly as possible while still having all the tools I need to do the job. I keep an Evernote of what I “wish” I had brought to a particular shoot or items I never ended up using. Over time, I’ve developed a checklist of “must-haves” and unnecessary baggage. 

Habitas Al’Ula
Credit: Tanveer Badal

What makes shooting a hotel different from landscape photography or portraiture? What are some techniques for capturing the essence of a hotel’s guest experience in a photograph? 

I often get hired by clients like Habitas and Aman precisely because they don’t want their photos to look like standard hotel photography. They want images that look like inspirational travel images you’d find in magazines. Often there’s a heavy focus on sunrises, sunsets, and natural light. But first, you have to understand and learn classic hotel photography and studio lighting before you can break the rules and trim it down to the basics: composition and light.

The Mansion at Hotel Esencia, Riviera Maya, Mexico
Credit: Tanveer Badal

What are some exceptionally photogenic hotel properties that you’ve captured? 

You can tell when an architect has heavily considered sun locations and architectural details in a project which is a pleasure to photograph, especially when you can time your shot to be at the exact right moment. I recently photographed the new Mansion at Hotel Esencia and virtually every corner felt like a beautiful moment. Lush green jungles on one side; electric blue Caribbean sea on the other. You get so wrapped up in a shoot that sometimes you have to look up and appreciate the incredible places in which you’re spending an otherwise typical Monday morning.

Amanyara, Turks & Caicos
Credit: Tanveer Badal

Which destinations do you keep returning to and why? And where are you most looking forward to traveling next? 

The more I shoot in Mexico and the Caribbean, the more I get hired to return, which is absolutely okay with me! I recently visited French Polynesia for the first time on an editorial assignment and I already know I’ll be going back to explore more parts of it again and again. Being from Bangladesh, my heart will always be in Far East Asia and I’ve had the fortune to spend a lot of time in Africa. So yes, basically, everywhere. The more you travel, the longer your list grows!

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