Sunday, August 14, 2011

Capturing story telling travel photos

If you are like most photographers who fill up digital cards with photographs to put together a personal vision of your travels or, you might be assembling a power point/slide show in hopes that they will wow folks, and if you have hopes of someday impressing travel section newspaper or magazine editors and art directors with your story telling pictures, then you will need to educate yourself on how to take better travel pictures. One way that might help is to study the magazine content.

Photography and travel go together like peanut better and jelly. Many of us like to travel to places filled with beautiful landscapes and interesting people and for most part; your photographic journey begins just beyond the front door.

At an recent slide show I presented on travel photography, a person asked, “I’ve been to some of the same places as you and own some of the same equipment as you do too, but my photographs aren’t as good as yours. Why?”

The only difference I’ve come across between professionals and amateurs are, that the professionals think before they photograph. A scene I’ve witnessed more than once shows the difference: A camera-toting tourists, spots a scene worth shooting. He momentarily breaks loose, throws his camera to his eye, fires off a few images and then returns to his group.

The difference? A professional photographer will always leave his family at home when they are out working. Only kidding, I’ve know National Geographic photographers who have taken their family along on six-month-long assignments. My wife and family have been on vacations from the Grand Canyon, to Hawaii, Tokyo, Hokkaido’s Ice and Snow Festivals to bullfights in Portugal and to the Panamian rain forest. And when it comes to having to wait for me to get that “shot”, they’ve got to be the most patience family in the world. Besides, it helps to find a hotel with a swimming pool and hot tub for them to relax and play in while I’m out photographing.

My wife says I’m interesting to watch as I photograph. Why? Because, I’ll study the scene to either take mental notes or to jot them down in a notebook. Then taking time to walk here or there, climbing up high or stooping low to find a choice angle and location from which to shoot from, and then only to decide to return later for the beautiful colors of early morning or evening lighting.

Here’s some tips I’ve prepared by learning the hard way, from experience making “mistakes” in the field.

Research in advance of going, spend time at the local library or on the Internet and earn all about your destination. Look for information on cultures, customs, weather, history, politics, wildlife, industry, sports and festivals. You’ll get an idea on what types of photographs you’ll be able to take, what equipment you’ll need as well as what to wear and how to get around.

Using light. Light is the strongest element in photography. Study travel magazines and you’ll notice most of the photographs are either taken in the early morning or late afternoon hours. That’s because the quality of light during these times is much more pleasing to the eye, because it’s warmer with deeper shades of red, orange, yellow. Shadows are also longer, adding a sense of depth to the height and width to the scene you are photographing.

Take photographs that tell the whole story of your travel destination. This means packing your wide-angle and telephoto lenses and photograph people, landscapes, wildlife, flowers, markets and buildings. Shoot a wide variety of indoor and outdoor pictures. Photograph everything, even the food you eat! And be ready to shoot under any lighting conditions.

Ask yourself what’s unique about this place. Editors and art directors often look for establishing shots, the trademark that “says something about your travels in visual terms. Get an idea on what to shoot, go to a local card shop and look at picture postcards of the area’s landmarks.

Great pictures are make, not taken. A photographer studies the scene and chooses the elements/subjects to include in the scene. Don’t be afraid to crop in your viewfinder, only adding your real subject and capturing that only. It’s very tempting to include too many elements in a picture because of the beauty of a scene. Being selective with what elements you add will make a more dramatic image. Think about making a picture rather than taking a picture.

Look for different angles in your shooting. There’s no rule that states that all photographs must be shot from eye level. Take a variety of images of your subject shot from different locations. Change photo angles and switch lenses, as this will change your photographic view as well.

Keep your subjects interested. Most travel photos will be of people in various situations. You’ll find that people make the most interesting photos and you need to find a way to communicate with them. I carry a foreign language dictionary for each country I visit and learn some phases that might help when I want to photograph someone. Speaking a phase of the local language gives the subject a chance to warm up to you.

Dare to be different and break the so-called rules of photographic composition and be creative. Listen to your instincts and shoot pictures from the heart!