In the past decade I’ve made an effort to avoid the postcard shot when traveling.
I had that mindset when The Bride and I visited Paris a few years back. The Eiffel Tower — if you haven’t been there — is a marvelous engineering achievement. I’m an engineer and it is that aspect that impressed me. And it is that feeling that I wanted to capture in some of my photos. Of course the Tower was a must-see and I will admit that I did make a few we-were-here photos as we approached from the east side. But the images that I’m most fond of are the ones I made of the structure’s details, the mechanics of it and the people that were there.
Here’s another example. I recently traveled to England and was tempted to photograph the iconic red telephone booth. Well…they are pretty neat but I didn’t see any worth in a straight photo. You can Google England phone booth and click on “images” to see just how common that image has become. What I really wanted was a rainy day with a person walking past carrying a British flag umbrella. What I got was a rainy day. Anyhow, I settled for (and am fairly pleased with) a photo made at night with the booth lighted from within.
A final example from the England trip: Doesn’t everyone go to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard? We did, only we didn’t see much because the sea of humanity between us and the guards was too deep. The best I could do was to hold the camera above my head and hope. The result was a pretty neat street photo that carried with it the excitement and eagerness of the crowd.
My point is this: The traditional post card image that has been made by thousands of photographers may be the reason we journey to a particular place but our treatment of it can be so much better. We can find the elements which reveal the character of the subject. There are details, people’s reactions, new angles, unique lighting — anything that tells the feeling we experience.
I like the term “spirit of place” that Bob Krist used as a title for his book on this idea. Ask yourself what is contributing to that spirit of place. You can be sure that the postcard photographer didn’t do that.