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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Reactive Or Proactive?

The new travel photography paradigm

Now, comparing these pictures is a bit of an apples-and-oranges matchup because one is photojournalistic and the other is an illustration, but the lesson remains the same. For your pictures to stand out, you must go beyond the easy, exotic grab shot.

In the case of the dancers, to keep it all photojournalistic, maybe you befriend the couple and do a more in-depth picture story or audio slideshow about their lives, on and off the tango stage, or maybe you go way off the wall and attach small cameras to their ankles and get a whole fresh perspective on tango! The point is, we have to do something more and different to remain fresh and relevant.

When I teach a workshop, my students often think I’m kidding when I say that finding the situations and figuring out how to shoot them is the hard part of travel photography and the actual taking of the picture is often almost an afterthought. But that ability to proactively track down and make the most of photo situations really is the true measure of a shooter. Consider the following story.

Years ago, right before the explosion of digital photography and the Internet, I was asked to interview the winners of a photo contest run by a prestigious travel magazine for whom I often worked. I wasn’t one of the contest judges, but they wanted a wrap-up article to run with the publication of the winners’ pictures.

One of the top images was a very, very cool twilight shot of a cormorant fisherman in the Guilin region of China. A wide-angle view, there were three boats in the foreground, with the fishermen and their birds lit by the light of the lamps that hung off the boats’ prows, with the mountains of Guilin looming in the blue twilit background. It was a killer shot, and one that I had seen before, taken by a good friend of mine, a pro shooter, who runs photo tours to Asia and made this shot famous in his award-winning portfolio many years ago.

During the interview, the contest winner was going on about her camera, shutter speed, film and how she composed it and how she always has had an eye and should go pro, etc. (modesty wasn’t one of her strong suits).


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