For me, compelling travel photography has always presented place in a completely new context. I’m not moved by photos of the Eiffel Tower itself but instead by the photographer’s perspective of what makes the Eiffel Tower so beautiful in his eyes. Anyone can take a head-level shot of it from the Trocadero and slap it on another postcard, but not everyone will lie on their back from its underbelly or walk up the stairs and shoot down. These are the shots that will remain fresh and new to us, time and time again.
Get low, go high, shoot from the hip or from the ground. Use the rule-of-thirds but freshen it up with some new perspective.
“Let’s not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives and we obey them without realizing it.” ~Vincent Van Gogh, 1889
Walking through the souk in Marrakech’s ancient medina, I remember seeing this bicycle and chair. I couldn’t help but feel like they contained the old souls of that market, that they’d heard years and years of conversation that I would never understand. I felt connected to the place and these objects in an extraordinary way and subsequently took the shot. It remains one of my favourite photographs of all time, not because of its technical merits (it was taken on aperture priority, I’m pretty sure), but instead because it pulls me back to that time and place every time I look at it. There’s an emotion capture in this photo and because I took the time to shoot it based on emotion and emotion alone, it continues to reward me years after the experience.
People give a place soul. Brazil would not be the sensual, gregarious, passionate country that it is without the Brazilians who make it so. The fountain photograph from the Louvre (above) would feel completely different had the kissing Parisian couple not been there to validate Paris as the City of Love. I used to wait for passerbys to get out of my way before capturing Notre Dame or Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Now, I welcome their presence and invite myself as a visitor in their world, as opposed to wishing them out of the way. Don’t be afraid to catch the inhabitants of a place in the context of their normal lives. Include them in your tableau. Times Square wouldn’t feel so electric if it was empty of people, right?
Learning to manipulate light has been the single most challenging part of my photography education. I’ve learned that in addition to the “golden hour”, filtered light under a cloudy sky or through a north-facing window have produced some amazing portrait photographs. For travel photos, I’ve learned to capture light during unexpected times and in unconventional places:
Peeping through roof slats in a Morroccan market:
Midday in a quiet street in Lijiang China:
Even in a subway station in London’s Westminster undground line:
And perhaps the most important tip of all: carry your/a camera with you everywhere you go. Lugging a DSLR around during a year-long backpacking trip isn’t my idea of fun. Actually, it can be quite cumbersome. However, I can’t tell you how many times I wish I hadn’t left my camera locked up in the hotel safe during an excursion or routine walk to the grocery store while in some random town in the middle of nowhere Indonesia. The best travel photographs are of moments that happen when you least expect. Lijiang China:
And last but not least – back them up! The photographs you take while on the road will be exponentially more important than the cheap souvenirs that you pick up along the way. Be sure to back them up to a safe place. The Higham family traveled a whole year abroad and used SmugMug to safely back-up and share their photos throughout the journey. Preserve your precious memories online!
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