Flow, or “being in the zone” is all the rage these days. It’s considered to be how creative people create. While that’s true, flow is not that uncommon. We’ve all experienced it. I heard a radio interview the other day and the guest referred to flow as something experienced by people at the highest level. I think that’s too narrow a way to think about it. Any time you get 100% engaged in an activity and lose track of time, you’re in flow. Flow will help you progress toward expertise, but being very good at something isn’t a prerequisite for flow.
This series, which started with the idea and concept of flow, has moved on to how to foster the state in different types of photography. Today let’s look at travel photography, which consists of shooting a wide variety of subjects in unfamiliar places. I call the entire western U.S. my home area and by definition travel takes me to countries outside the U.S. My travel photos lean heavily toward cultural subjects, including people, but includes landscape and wildlife. While traveling I photograph far more people (and fewer landscapes) than I normally do.
When you’re traveling and shooting there is no shortage of distractions. So flow is not that easy. Here are a few tips:
- Observe & Engage. Just as it is with other kinds of photography, keen observation and then intense engagement with your subjects is a sure route toward experiencing flow.
- Filter & Focus. Traveling can overwhelm the senses. It’s one of the great things about it. But in order to do your best photography focusing on the subjects that you want to shoot is necessary. The kind of concentration required to capture images with strong subjects can help you experience flow while doing it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t get a few overview shots that establish context and show the place you’re in (you could also do this with video). But it’s easier to get into flow and capture good images if you zero in on one subject at a time, filtering out the rest.
- Quality vs. Quantity. Let’s be honest. Travel can be hectic at times. That’s probably inevitable. But your whole trip doesn’t have to be this way. If you plan an overly busy itinerary, you shouldn’t expect to experience flow while shooting. And you should expect more snapshots than quality images. You simply can’t have both quality and quantity, and this goes especially for traveling. As you plan your itinerary, choose one or the other and be happy with the consequences of that decision.
- Slow Down. I prefer to plan a light itinerary and cover less area in more time. This way I get to relax and spend some time with subjects. When I take the camera out in some new place, randomly exploring with no real destination in mind, flow comes much easier than when I’m rushing to move on to the next place. Leaving real time for deep exploration is a key to successful travel photography (and travel in general). Of course during the trip there will always be those times when you have to hurry to catch a train or to check out. Just don’t let that pace infect your entire journey.
- Make it About the Journey. While it’s important to get to your destination in order to spend time exploring and shooting, the journey is at least as important. Sometimes it’s more so. You’ll encounter some of your best photographic subjects while you’re traveling from one place to another. So a second key to travel photography is being ready at all times to capture images. You may prefer your phone for this, or a small point and shoot camera. It doesn’t matter, just keep observing and shooting things that are interesting along the way.
- Be Flexible. This is good advice anytime you travel, whether shooting seriously or not. But consider this: you can take yourself right out of your game if you get uptight about the inevitable changes and screw-ups that occur during any trip. Being upset about things that are outside your control means you’re not about to enter flow anytime soon. I won’t claim to be perfect in this regard. But isn’t it better to look upon an unforeseen left turn in your trip as an opportunity to photograph something unexpected? Go with the flow so you can experience flow!
- Be Outgoing. Some of the best travel images are of people, often showing something of their unique culture. But unless you play at being a paparazzi, you’ll need to break out of your shell and approach strangers in order to get good people shots. Luckily, most people around the world (not all) are happy to be approached by tourists. You may be rejected occasionally. Don’t let that stop you. All it takes is one great interaction to make your travel day. Once you’re with an interesting local talking and laughing, all the time shooting great candids, photo flow can’t be far behind!
By the way, a future post will go into more depth about photographing people in strange (to you) surroundings. Thanks so much for reading and have a wonderful weekend!