Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Once Is Not Enough
The pluses and pleasures of backtracking
I try to identify the key sites at a place and plan to shoot them at least two different times of day. In St. Petersburg, the Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood is one of the city’s icons, with colorful onion domes that just say “Russia.” I went during the afternoon and got it with a nice blue sky background, but I also went back at twilight to catch the beautifully lit towers against a rich twilight sky.
Going back to identified high-quality targets in different light and weather is a staple of shooting alone on assignment, and if you’re willing to leave a meal early or arrive at breakfast a little late, you can pull the same thing off on a group tour. But that’s not the only tough decision that you may face during a group tour; sometimes you have to let something go in order to have the time to visually explore something else.
As much as I wanted to see the exhibits, I knew I’d need the time for the exterior so I skipped the interior tour and did all my exploration from the outside. I shot color and black-and-white infrared, and had time to go clear across the river for overviews and different angles. I was ruing the fact that I had missed the interior when I hooked up again with the group, only to find that interior photography wasn’t allowed! Even if it were, my choice to bypass it would have been the right choice (for photography, maybe not for art appreciation!), but, boy, did I feel better about my decision after getting that news from my fellow tour members.
Even though I have a thirst for visiting new places, I’ll never turn down an opportunity to go back to a particularly interesting place, especially in a different season. One of my first jobs for the then-new National Geographic Traveler magazine back in the ’80s was to shoot a city profile of Salzburg, Austria, during the summer festival. Twenty years later, I was offered the same assignment, this time in winter. I jumped at the chance, of course, and I was amazed at how different, and even more beautiful, the city was in the dead of winter—fewer tourists, more hotel availability and postcard-pretty snowscapes.
Winter, or off-season travel in general, is a great way to revisit a place. It’s cheaper and less crowded, which means your chances of getting pictures that aren’t loaded with other tourists are greater, and you’ll have more of a chance to slow down and relate with the locals instead of fellow tourists. So try a little “slow travel” instead of “fast tourism” on your next trip, and watch how your photography improves.
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