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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Art Of Travel Photography


To make evocative travel images that tell the story of a place and its people, look beyond photo clichés


Banff Winter Pond, Alberta

Ever since early photographers began capturing images of faraway places in the mid-19th century, travel photography has enthralled people with tantalizing glimpses of distant lands. Even before the dawn of air travel, photography was shrinking our world by transporting us to foreign countries. Thanks to an assortment of intrepid photographers who roamed the globe looking for the unusual and the exotic, magazines like National Geographic brought the outside world to living rooms across America.

Today, many of us travel with cameras in search of evocative images. But as pictures from around the globe flood the Internet and publicize many of the world's photo hot spots, it's harder than ever to find unique shots. When was the last time you saw a fresh composition of Yosemite Valley or the Taj Mahal? Are there really any new ways left to depict lions while on a Kenyan safari? How do we find compelling images without slipping into cliché?

As a working travel photographer, my approach to shooting a destination begins even before I pack my bags. My pre-trip planning includes compiling a thorough shot list for the location. Beginning with specific requests from the client, I find more ideas from browsing stock photo sites to see how a location has been covered by others. Bookstores and the library carry photo books covering diverse locales, and tourism websites often feature regional photo galleries. These potential shots become the foundation of my itinerary as I organize them by location, best time of day to shoot and proximity to other shots.
Intimate slice-of-life shots are another way to bring the viewer closer to a culture or an area. A shopkeeper with her wares, a close-up of flowers or local cuisine, and architectural details enhance the visual story begun by grand panoramas and sweeping cityscape shots.
Arriving on location, I work steadily through my shot list to capture the images that clearly evoke a sense of place. As redundant as they may be, it's hard to go wrong with classic vistas like the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin Headlands parking lot and Yosemite Valley from the Tunnel Overlook. Cliché or not, strong images of the world's great places are a nice addition to any serious shooter's portfolio. But to expand our craft, we need to look beyond the obvious and dig deeper.

As I move down my list and tick off the standard shots that identify the destination, I also look for new ways to interpret those icons. Leaving well-trodden routes to wander backstreets, climb hills and search for rooftop views gets me seeing in different ways. Some of my favorite shots happened only because I veered away from the familiar.

Intimate slice-of-life shots are another way to bring the viewer closer to a culture or an area. A shopkeeper with her wares, a close-up of flowers or local cuisine, and architectural details enhance the visual story begun by grand panoramas and sweeping cityscape shots. Every destination has something that distinguishes it from others. Spend time walking the streets or trails, and sooner or later those elements will reveal themselves.

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