Crowds, construction, and chaos. Every where in the world you will find eyesores that can ruin what could have been a great photo; often one that you’ve had on your photography bucket list for years. Dan, of This World Rocks, illustrated this point well in his post – 17 bucket list items ruined by real images. In the post, he reveals the reality of travel with shocking real world photos of destinations that frequent bucket lists. This two part post is about trying to avoid those real world eyesores, but it will make a lot more sense if you read his first. Just don’t forget to come back here!
So, this got me thinking about how I approach travel photography and the challenges that I have faced when photographing a place with less than ideal surroundings. I wanted to share some ways that might help you to avoid the ugly in your own travel photography.
I have broken this down into two posts. The first part touches on how you can approach travel photography and plan ahead, while the second part is about the best practices when faced with these challenges.
First, ask yourself what it is that you are trying to convey
Travel photography offers a broad range of possibilities from the harsh realities revealed in magazines like National Geographic to the travel fantasies we all drool over presented by Travel + Leisure. Even within such publications the spectrum can vary. You have to think about what it is that you want to convey to your audience when you photograph a place, and for me that is travel inspiration.
I remember the “aha moment” when I figured out that I wanted to be a photographer – I was looking at one of those epic landscape photos in a travel book and imagining what it might be like to visit that place. I already loved to travel, but the day dreaming that commenced just by viewing the photo was so powerful that I realized I wanted to invoke the same feeling in other people. Of course it meant that I could travel as a job too (what can beat that?), but I had a purpose in mind that drove me to start my photography career. So for me, it is important to inspire people to travel, explore, and see all that the world can offer. That is, despite the ugly chaos present in the real world of travel.
Do I think it is misleading to present a location as beautiful even if it is surrounded by garbage, tourists, or other unsavory eyesores? Not at all! An oasis of beauty amongst chaos can make a location (sometimes a very precise spot) all the more special. If I have been inspired by other images of this place, and I succeed in capturing it too, I know that I can then inspire others to go there myself. Given the opportunity, I will be honest about the challenges I have faced in capturing a photo or series of photos, and I will share that here with you. That’s a big part of what this blog is about – educating you to take better photos and showing you how to overcome the obstacles.
So, if you know what kind of travel photos you want to capture, how do you make them happen?
Brace yourself for the unexpected and plan ahead
You might be surprised how much you can find out about a place when you do some prep-work. A lot of amateur photographers show up to a place expecting it to be made for them, available for their every photographic whim, but you have to do your work to get those shots you’ve been dreaming of.
Google is your friend
Often simply Googling “how to photograph…” will get you the information you need. If it takes a little more work, you can try finding the answers to the following questions:
- Have I seen a recent photo of this place? (Maybe there are new restrictions or obstacles that weren’t present when that photo was taken.)
- What’s the specific spot? (You should figure out exactly where to stand to take your photo.)
- How do I get to this spot? (Do you simply walk from your room? Do you need a licensed guide? Is it 3 days away from civilization?)
- Is this spot accessible 24 hours every day? (Maybe the crowds are only around during the afternoon on weekends. Maybe the gates are closed after 5pm.)
- Is this a popular spot? (Is this in a busy city or a quiet town in the middle of nowhere?)
- What kind of gear do I need? (Will I need to climb a mountain or do I simply need a tripod?)
Learn about the place
It’s important to educate yourself on general travel before you go anywhere, especially if you can’t find much on photographing a destination. You can gather plenty of useful information from travel guidebooks, such as those published by Lonely Planet. These are not geared for photographers, but they are excellent resources that provide general travel tips and essential logistical information.
This is contrary to what I have been saying, but I’m not one to skip a destination just because I can’t find out enough about it. Part of the fun is discovering the challenges first hand. Of course, it helps to have more time in these instances so you can try again on another day, at another time, and maybe even at a different location. In those cases, I often feel responsible for sharing my challenges with you, here on my blog, so that you don’t have to stumble your way through like I did. Here is one such example if you’re curious about one such failed attempt: Photographing the Prosser balloon rally .
If I do go to a place without doing much research and I encounter unforeseen challenges, I can blame myself for not being prepared, but I can also be flexible. Being flexible means dealing with what you’ve been dealt whether you expected it or not.