Travel Photography: Part 1 of 4
Last night I gave a presentation at USC’s newly-formed NPPA chapter. Hooray for our students! I showed some of my photos from overseas assignments, and I gave tips for their own travel photography. I’ve expanded on those ideas here.
See the evidence in the photo above, taken at a refugee camp in Kenya. Folks back home would much rather see candid photos of the people you meet, doing regular tasks, than see hundreds of mug shots of your friends.
Think about the purpose of your trip.
The answers to the following questions will help determine what gear to carry, as well as other factors about your experience. Explain in words where you’re going, and your role on the trip. What kind of photos do you want to take? What will be the best photo opportunities there?
• Are you the official photographer? Is this a professional assignment?
• Are you going with a team or alone?
• Do you plan to publish the photos online or in print?
• Do you have responsibilities besides photography on the trip?
• What are the risks and dangers of the place you are visiting?
• Are there stores in-country where you can buy the things you left behind?
Research the location to prepare for interesting or challenging photo ops. If there’s a once-in-a-lifetime night festival going on while you’re there, then it’s probably worth the effort to lug your strobes along on the trip.
Plan in advance what you want to shoot (This could be silly portraits of your friends, step-by-step photos of your volunteer activities, or a series of interesting doorways.) Be ready to respond to what happens around you, but also have some sort of strategy. On a trip to China, a friend and I researched everything we could about tea. We visited (and photographed) the tea fields, the roasting process, and plenty of people drinking the stuff. It was a meaningful adventure that gave us more insight into the culture, and got us off the typical tourist routes.
Plan to make images that are meaningful to YOU. Even if you’re on assignment to take photos of the new clean water system in a village, don’t get stuck in that rut. I have a ritual where I take photos of my bare feet everywhere I go. So I have pictures of my toes hanging over the edge of the Grand Canyon, in a hammock in Hawaii, on a balcony in Italy. They’ll never go in my portfolio, but they have a special place on my refrigerator. (See my post “Skimming the Surface” for a picture of my feet in the Tetons.)
Practice good photography habits before you go. Know how light, composition, and candid moments improve your photos. Traveling won’t instantly make you a better photographer. In fact, you may be so overwhelmed by the visuals that you forget the basics. With some preparation, you can give yourself every chance to make great photos while you’re there.