The global COVID-19 pandemic has closed borders, emptied streets, and halted tourism in traffic-heavy destinations, reshaping the travel industry in the process. From mandatory temperature checks at amusement parks to limited-capacity museums to online reservations and spaced-out arrival times, tourism, as we know it, has changed significantly—and many locations have seen rapid declines.

For many tourists, however, these changes haven’t necessarily spelled the end of travel but instead encouraged them to stay closer to home; earlier this summer, the booking site Travelocity noted that the majority of hotel bookings were within 100 miles of where travelers lived. People are still looking to “get away from it all”—just on a smaller, more domestic scale.

This trend is likely to continue; according to a spring survey from the U.S. Travel Association, 43% of travelers said that, post-pandemic, they expect to travel to destinations closer to home. As people forgo vacations and instead revamp their homes with pools or patios, experts say we’re entering an era of domestic and local travel. Resorts and hotels are adapting by rolling out new ‘staycation’ and even ‘workation’ packages to appeal to the local customer. In Sweden, the latest national craze has become the ‘hemester,’ or a semester-long domestic holiday.

For commercial photographers, this shift poses unexpected challenges but also new opportunities. As countries and tourist hubs continue to reopen, their marketing approach will change; instead of promoting jam-packed festivals, for instance, many might start using photos of people enjoying getaways in remote, secluded locations.

In light of the surge in global interest in staycations—and the ever-evolving state of travel—we wanted to share our top tips for creating localized, commercial lifestyle photoshoots that resonate with brands today. Read on to learn more about capturing timely, travel-themed content for your Licensing portfolio, while also illustrating the “new normal” post-pandemic.

Tap your local connections

Even as tourism begins to open up around the world, travelers will remain wary of overcrowded destinations. That’s where a local photographer shines: you know your hometown better than anyone, and you know those tucked-away spots that the average tourist doesn’t get to see.

Think: mom-and-pop shops, trendy promenades, that out-of-the-way street food cart. In short, show off what you love most about your town or city, whether it’s an urban lookout or lush landscape. With an eye for detail and an appreciation for local culture, a simple “day-in-the-life” shoot with friends could easily turn into a marketable set of images.

Start by photographing the parks and leisure areas you frequent yourself, and then reach out to local restaurants to see if they’d be willing to sign a property release to let you shoot there. You always need a release if you plan to shoot on any private property (if it can be identified in your photos), but businesses are often happy to sign one in exchange for free photos to use for their own marketing.

Capture the times

Many public spaces have instituted new rules and policies, and those are all changes to reflect in your commercial portfolio. Authentic photos of life and travel in the age of COVID-19 might include masks, but they can also incorporate subtle cues like longer, socially-distanced lines outside stores, plastic barriers, and contactless tech.

When promoting local travel, brands will look for photos that demonstrate their commitment to keeping customers and employees safe, so visualizing these real-world changes can instantly boost the potential of your shoot. For a while, at least, image-buyers are likely to shy away from images that include crowded parks or restaurants.

“Within each city, the ‘look’ of travel has also changed,” the 500px Content Team tells us. Public transit systems have lost revenue, and many cities have seen a surge in walking and biking. Parks have introduced social distancing signs and circles to keep people safe. These are all ideas for a potential photoshoot that strikes a chord with buyers.

Do some digging

You know many of the best spots in your city, but sometimes it helps to approach your hometown as you would a faraway destination. Browse 500px and Getty Images for photos of your city, and invite your personal network (friends, colleagues, social media followers) to share a list of their favorite destinations. Browse a blog meant for travelers to your area. You’ll be surprised by the hidden gems you might have missed otherwise.

Head outdoors

Research from the U.S. Travel Association reveals that most travelers feel safest when traveling by personal vehicle (68%) and while visiting outdoor spots like beaches (26%) and parks (34%). Meanwhile, RV rentals have increased by 650%, and a study from rental company RVshare showed that 65% of respondents wanted to be surrounded by nature. In Italy, travelers have opted to hike and have embraced eco-friendly “staycations.”

Camping and cottaging are also popular. According to reports, 20% of users of Kampgrounds of America are first-time campers, with National Geographic recommending trips to lesser-known destinations like Lake Clark or The Great Basin. These days, people can even book camping adventures using the popular website Hipcamp, which has unsurprisingly noticed a significant reduction in the distances people are traveling from home.

Part of visualizing travel right now means incorporating these outdoor settings and activities, where people can easily maintain a safe social distance. Bring out your telephoto lens, ask friends and family members to take on the role of models, and drive to a local park or plan a road trip; as a bonus, you’re unlikely to need a property release if you’re shooting on public property.

A quick note on property releases: They don’t only apply to photos shot on private property, as intellectual property is also protected. That means that if you’re photographing a landmark, a building by a renowned architect, brand signage, or a work of street art, you need a release, or you need to find a way to shoot it without giving away the location (check out our article on photographing troublesome locations here). You don’t want to spend your time photographing an identifiable building only to realize that the photo isn’t licensable.

Embrace new trends

Changing times also mean new possibilities; as fresh trends emerge within the travel industry, brands will continue to search for photos that reflect them. Private rentals, vacation homes, and villas are taking precedence over hotels, and many travelers are choosing to take longer trips while working remotely.

Weekend road-trips are also popular choices; in New Zealand, for instance, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern encouraged citizens to experience their “own backyards” and employers to consider four-day work weeks. As we’ve seen in Italy, mass tourism is out, and people are taking a more eco-conscious, environmentally friendly approach to travel.

Go solo

Solo travel has been trending in commercial photography for a while now, and this movement is likely to continue, as activities like golf and hiking take precedence over movie theaters, malls, and other tourist attractions. Credit card data suggests that people are spending more on solitary leisure activities, including trail running and marine adventures. With a little foresight, these popular solo activities and sports are easy to capture on an afternoon photoshoot with friends and family.

Make it personal

Local travel is all about sharing your neighborhood or city through your eyes, so bring your camera everywhere—you never know when you’ll encounter the perfect photo-op. Remember to capture your surroundings from your point of view, whether that means using a drone for aerial photos or setting up a studio photoshoot using your favorite local flavors. Make it personal rather than generic; it’s those immersive, creative experiences and perspectives that’ll make your photos stand out from the rest.

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