The Mental Side of Travel Photography

This will be my last blog posting for a while.  I’ll be traveling and making photographs for the next five weeks in England and Wales.  The equipment I’m taking is my standard kit but I’m taking some new Ideas.  I believe that these ideas will assure that I bring home higher quality images.

Here are a few.  They are based, in large, on mistakes I’ve made in the past.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reviewed and done post processing on photos only to lament a soft focus, a poor composition, lighting problems, etc..  And the sad truth is that, with travel photography, there is rarely the opportunity for a do-over.

#1  I’ll start out with the big one.  I will force myself to approach every photo opportunity by asking this question:  “What is there about this scene/venue/situation/person that makes me want to make this image?”  The answer, of course, sets the course for how I will make the exposure.  If, for example, I’m feeling the excitement of a large, crowded market I may want to find an elevated position where I can shoot with a wide lens and attempt to capture the myriad of colors and sights of the place.  Or, perhaps, I feel  as if I have just discovered a book seller hidden among his wares.  I’ll try to compose the photo so that he is framed by the books but stands out because I put him on the thirds point.  Now the viewer can make the same discovery.

Framed Book Seller

Framed Book Seller

#2  Next, I will force myself to get up early.  This isn’t easy for me because I always stay at B&B’s.  By the time breakfast is over the early opportunities are gone.  Solution:  Get out for an hour before breakfast.  In addition to the early, low light for landscapes, I love to witness a city or village waking up.

#3  Force myself to use the tripod when it counts.  And it almost always counts in low (or even marginal) light.  Sure, the newer cameras may allow me to make a decent image by cranking up the ISO (at some cost to quality) but the tack sharp photo that I will be proud of is made with lower ISO and a tripod.

#4  I am color blind.  Mostly.  Reds and greens look a lot alike.  And don’t even start with me about complimentary colors.  Such a term is beyond my comprehension.  Even so I can see, and appreciate, bright, saturated colors.  The problem is that I have always failed to see those vivid colors as composition elements.  So…I’m going to try.

Color Blind Approach to Color Composition

Color Blind Approach to Color Composition

#5  I’m going to include people more in my landscapes — both for scale and, in some cases, for effect.  Imagine the lone figure walking away from you down a foggy, country lane.

#6  The data content of an image made in a modern digital camera is enormous.  For that reason I’m able to use a shorter, wider angle lens and crop later.  This is particularly helpful in making street photography.  (Don’t worry, You Purists, I’m not suggesting I would do anything other than crop in the camera when making that tack sharp landscape or architectural photo.) 

#7   And speaking of street, I will work harder at it.  Street photography (REAL street photography) is tough work.  I shall, on this trip, be more discerning and more patient.

#8  I will always carry my camera.  I have missed some fantastic opportunities over the years because I didn’t want to take the camera to the restaurant at the dinner hour — and, of course, I didn’t have it with me when walking back to lodging in that magical time when the light is great.   I vow to never do that again.

#9  More portraits!  We automatically think of beautiful scenics associated with travel photography but it can be argued that portraits are just as important and even more so if you want to capture vignettes of the culture.  Afraid to approach someone for their portrait?  Not me.  They can only say “no” but theyusually don’t.

Cityscape Detail

Cityscape Detail

#10  Travel photographers tend to miss the small stuff.  I’ll attempt to remedy that by forcing myself to photograph a telling detail every time I approach a scene, venue, or situation.  The details are there and can sometimes be quite satisfying from an artistic viewpoint.

#11  Consider depth-of-field for every photo opportunity.  This, of course, ties back to #1 above.  For example, if the character of the old woman’s etched face is what attracts me to the portrait, I should certainly not allow the viewer to move his eyes to a busy background.

So…there is my list.  If I’ve left out something, let me know.

Next posting will be sometime in mid-June.  For those subscribed I’ll fire out a blog posting notice.

John Martin

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Stephanie - Brilliant pre-visualization! I can’t wait to see what you come home with.

Barbara - When I got “hooked” as they say on photography, it was because of 3 photos I took at Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I was using one of two cameras I owned at the time. Canon, of course, EOS rebel film Camera. It was a cloudy day and we walked around the mill area and when I turned a corner and turned around I knew it was a beautiful shot. Click…
My point is I could walk down a road hundreds of times, but that one morning, in the fog, I will see the perfect shot.. I can’t explain the feeling I get when I see this shot, only that I know I must walk back those few extra steps and try to capture it. I love photography…

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