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Saturday, March 1, 2008

It's A Small(er) World, After All


The voyage of discovery requires seeing with new eyes

Yes, the iconic views won’t be available to you, but on those days, even if you’re a pro, that’s not a great loss. Like beautiful landscape photographs of the American Southwest, these types of shots are satisfying to shoot, beautiful to look at, but almost impossible to sell as stock because of the oversupply of imagery and general lack of demand (see my column "For Love Or Money?" in the September 2004 issue of OP). So relax, the days when a shot of Big Ben could earn you a lot in a stock collection are long gone. The stock photography business, especially in travel, nature and wildlife, is undergoing a kind of implosion, thanks to royalty-free, microstock and the advent of the 50-cent picture, and the rules are changing. There will be new ways to make money in travel photography, but it won’t be the old paradigm of mile-wide, foot-deep coverage of world icons. The problem is that, at this time of flux and change, it’s hard to know exactly what the new way will be.

I suspect, though, that the new paradigm for a professional travel photographer in a smaller, flat world might involve more in-depth coverage in multimedia form of fewer or less common places. It might involve shooting places you know well (like the area in which you live) or an exotic location you visit often enough to know it like a local.

Actually, developing a local component to your travel work has been a good strategy for a long time. When I left my newspaper job 28 years ago, I got my first major magazine assignment for National Wildlife Magazine, shooting a story about fishermen on the Hudson River, a quarter-mile from where I lived. My first National Geographic story was about New Jersey, my home state, and even today, I spend a lot of time shooting locally, producing books on my area of Pennsylvania, as well as the Jersey Shore. It’s a great visual exercise to try to make surprising shots of familiar places, and it’s a relief to not battle for tripod space every time you set up for a scenic!

It can be profitable, too. In my own stock library, Philadelphia has overtaken Venice as my best-selling destination for photos. Why? More people visit Venice than Philly, that’s for sure, but more photographers cover Venice. It’s easier to shoot Venice (you really have to be blind not to get beautiful shots of this unique city). You have to dig a bit deeper and work a bit harder to make interesting pictures of a place that doesn’t have the built-in visual appeal of the exotic. But because I’m a local, I have insider knowledge of places, activities and viewpoints that aren’t readily available to, say, an Italian photographer who’s blowing into town for a quick five-day shoot for Gente Viaggi or some other Italian travel publication.

Does a smaller world mean staying home to do travel photography? No, not in the least. There are still plenty of reasons to grab your camera and wander. But a smaller world means that workmanlike coverage of exotic places no longer will cut the mustard—nobody will be impressed by mediocre pictures of far-off places anymore. As far as travel photography in the 21st century goes, Marcel Proust, the early 20th-century French novelist, was prescient in his observation that, "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."

For a schedule of Bob Krist's workshops and seminars, check his website, www.bobkrist.com.

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