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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Think Globally, Shoot Locally


To become a better travel photographer, try staying home and shooting alone

I know all about shooting locally. My early career dues were paid working for five years as a newspaper photographer on the streets of the garden spots of the Garden State: Jersey City, Hoboken and Union City. One day, I used to think to myself as I tried to pull off an interesting weather shot, or "wild art" (as those standalone scenics used to be known in the news biz), in deepest Hudson County, I'm going to be shooting in Burma and not Bayonne.

Sure enough, that day did come, but even though I'm known primarily for overseas travel work, I've never stopped shooting in my own backyard, even when the publishing economy was good enough to keep me abroad for months at a time.

The reason for my love of shooting locally is due in equal parts to being really interested in showing the places I know well and keeping me in good photographic "shape." One of the professional travel shooter's hazards is that sometimes the easy exoticism of the location can let us coast a bit in the creativity department.

That's why, in good economic times and bad, I've always had a local component to my travel shooting. When I lived in northern New Jersey, I used to shoot stock in New York City whenever there was a lull in jobs and the weather was good. I loved the energy of shooting in the city, and in those days, shooting travel stock on speculation of a major destination like the Big Apple was also an economically wise thing to do.

When we moved down to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, my wife Peggy—who runs the business and stock end of my career and is known affectionately around the house as "she who must be obeyed" (aka SWMBO)—suggested I shoot our new home region for a coffee-table book project. It was a wise move on several counts—it forced me to get to know my new neighborhood, I discovered Philadelphia, the book became one of our best-selling projects, and the Philadelphia tourist board has become one of my best clients.

Local, Not Yokel.
There are several advantages to shooting travel in your own backyard that can pay off big time. First and foremost, now you're the local—you speak the language (no fixers need apply), you probably have some good contacts, and you know the lay of the land. Since you live close by, you can cherry-pick the weather conditions and not be forced to make pictures in less than ideal atmospheric conditions. You can go back several times to get the shot just right. You have the luxury of time. And the shots you make are yours and yours alone, since you're not standing cheek-by-tripod with a group of fellow photographers. None of this can happen when you're half a world away on a tight schedule in a strange land.

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