Archive for the ‘trips’ Tag

Friday Foto Talk: Flow & Travel Photography   6 comments

Rising pre-dawn to climb Tajamulco, highest peak in Central America, a half-asleep state gave way to flow as the sun rose.

Rising pre-dawn to climb Tajamulco, highest peak in Central America, a half-asleep state gave way to flow as the sun rose.

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.

A bit of a cliche, but prayer flags and the Himalaya are just too big a part of the scene in Nepal to pass up.

A bit of a cliche, but prayer flags and the Himalaya are just too big a part of the scene in Nepal to pass up.

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.

With huge views of the Nepali Himalayas outside this teahouse, I shifted focus to smaller things.

  • 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.
Angkor Wat's West Gate is an easy subject to like, but it took patience and time to shoot it with pedaling commuters and the sun in the right position.

Angkor Wat’s West Gate is an easy subject to like, but it took patience and time to shoot it with pedaling commuters and the sun in the right position.

  • 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.
I was rushing to a waterhole where the game was supposed to be when I stumbled upon this cheetah stalking the grasslands: Etosha, Namibia.

I was rushing to a waterhole where the game was supposed to be when I stumbled upon this cheetah stalking the grasslands: Etosha, Namibia.

  • 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!

I didn’t plan on attending this rough ‘n ready rodeo on Omotepe, Nicaragua. But I let my hosts drag me there and didn’t let their fun with my flag get in the way of a good time.

  • 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!
This Himba boy in northern Namibia was cute in how serious he was about standing tall and noble.

This Himba boy in northern Namibia was cute in how serious he was about standing tall and noble.

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!

At Tikal, the ancient Mayan city in Guatemala, rainy weather and the late hour made it feel empty and helped me to experience photo flow.

At Tikal, the ancient Mayan city in Guatemala, rainy weather and the late hour made it feel empty and helped me to experience photo flow.

Friday Foto Talk: Travel Photography, Part III   9 comments

An empty beach invites exploration on Costa Rica's remote Osa Peninsula.

An empty beach invites exploration on Costa Rica’s remote Osa Peninsula.

This is the third and final installment in this series on travel photography tips.  I hope you’ve enjoyed and gotten something out of them.  Check out Part I and Part II if you haven’t already.  If you are interested in any of the pictures just click on them and you will see options for purchase of the high-resolution versions.  Please contact me if you have any questions.

      • What to Photograph:  You should have done some research on what to seek out and photograph while on your trip.  But if you didn’t do much, so what?  Just hit up a gift shop when you arrive and check out the postcards.  They will tell you what is often photographed in that place.  You might not want to take most of those pictures, but it is only a good thing to know what they are.  Don’t be shy, ask questions about the subjects in the pictures.  Hit up the proprietor or buy the card(s) and approach locals on the street with questions about what’s pictured.  This can yield much more than how to get to the particular spot.  Think of postcards as springboards for further exploration.

A boy in a village in northern India gazes with a peculiar intensity.

      • Roaming & People Pics:  I mentioned wandering above, but I want to stress that there is one good reason that a plan is not really necessary.  That reason is people.  There are almost certainly going to be people anywhere you go, and they are endlessly fascinating subjects for your pictures.  While I am normally quite reserved around home, I open up on the road.  Especially in different countries, I’m willing to sort of make a fool of myself.  I approach people readily, perhaps make a joke, and ask to take some photographs.  Most say yes.  Sometimes I even take their picture first then go up and explain why I just took their picture.  My reason is usually flattering.  As you might know, flattery will get you everywhere.

Two young Sherpa friends haul equipment on the trail to Namche Bazaar in Nepal.

      • Children:  I hate seeing tourists with cameras converge on kids and you see the kids aren’t into it.  It’s one thing if a group of laughing children approach you and ham it up.  But you should always ask about and look for their parents.  Ask the parents if it’s okay first.  Just don’t be one of those doofuses in the Himalayan village cornering a couple young friends just being themselves and feeling slightly threatened by all the pasty tourists pressing in with their cameras.

Upon waking very early on only my 3rd morning in Africa, I stepped outside to see this stately female Thornicroft's giraffe in Zambia's South Luangwa National Park.

      • Elderly:  There is a sort of axiom out there about travel photography that kids and old people are what you should focus on.  This might be true as far as the impact of the images, but I don’t generally go along with it.  I think there are all sorts of interesting people out there: young, old and in between.  But kids and the elderly are probably most likely to have the time to give you.  Just don’t treat the elderly like some people treat kids – as if they have no real say in the situation.  Treat everybody the same, with respect for them and their time.

A woman in the Himalaya of Nepal is proud of her vegetable garden, and her grandson.

      • Communication:  A nice smile and willingness to chat is always good.  Sometimes language is a barrier.  But you can just share what pictures you’ve taken with them (via the LCD) and have a laugh.  It’s important to make some kind of connection, and make clear from the beginning that you’re into taking pictures.  Don’t be shy about that.

In Etosha, Namibia, my patience paid off.  After 2+ months in Africa, I had not seen a cheetah.  Then I happened on a mother and these two cuties.

      • Sharing:  It goes without saying, if you promise to send pictures of people that you’ve taken, you need to follow through.  Doing it while on the road is the best option.  But I carry a Polaroid Pogo printer, a pocket-sized printer that uses no ink and connects directly to my DSLR via a mini-USB cable.  It produces wallet-sized prints.  I give out prints for people who cooperate and with whom I’ve spent time.  I don’t go crazy (you can only carry so much paper), but it has greased many a wheel believe me.  I just found out, however, that they have almost quadrupled the price on these.  The new ones have bluetooth, but I paid $45 and they are now about $160!  I can’t really recommend this thing (which produces, after all, rather poor quality prints) at that new price.  But if you can find an older one, go for it.

The spectacular peak of Taboche looms above the trekking route to Everest Base Camp in Nepal.

      • Money:  Should you pay for pictures or not?  If a person is dressed up like his ancestors and is accompanied by a bored animal, you can bet you need to.  But in most cases it’s optional; always has been.  I don’t generally do it.  But since in the case of other countries (where you are more likely to be asked to pay) the people I want to photograph are on the street and thus may likely be selling something, I will simply buy something from them.  Then I’m not some tourist with a camera but a customer.  Or if they ask for money I might offer them a small print (from the Pogo – see above), explaining that it’s not my “thing” to pay for photos.  Like all rules, this rule of mine has exceptions, but I try pretty hard to stick to it.

An attractive couple of locals from the Nicaraguan island of Omotepe take a break from riding their horses in a local parade.

      • Relax:  I think everyone should read Tao de Ching before they travel.  Trust me I’ve tried too hard when traveling, usually only for the first couple days though.  Just take it as it comes.  If it rains, get an umbrella and shoot interesting city stuff.  If it’s hot get out early and late, taking advantage of “pool light” in the mid-day.  Shoot what interests you in the place you’re in and don’t stress about things.  You want to have a good time on your trip, so you should be willing to miss some shots and keep your “let the good times roll” vibe in place.  For one thing, you’ll get better people shots with a fun carefree attitude.  Have fun!

A lone jet skier motors across Lake Powell, Arizona at dusk.

Okay, I’m tired of this subject for now.  There is more, probably much more, to say on this subject.  If you have something to add, or any questions, let it fly!  I’ll probably be posting on this subject in the future, and many of my posts are travel-related anyway.  Thanks for reading!

A relaxing walk on the beach is a great way to take life easy when on the road.  Get a picture while you're at it.

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