Travel Photography is not for the Faint Hearted

Black and White photo of a female statue in the foreground set against the Palace of VersaillesCanon 5D Mark II camera and Canon 24-105mm f4 L series lens @ 47mm. Exposure Details: 1/60 second @ f16 ISO 100.

The successful combination of travel and photography has been the greatest joy of my life, thus far. The ability to travel has been a marvelous education and has taken me a long way from my white, small town, housing commission background where I spent the first 17 years of my life. Likewise the camera has provided me with a kind of passport that has allowed me to enter into the lives of everyday folk from world's far apart from my own. It has provided me with a vehicle through which to explore the more transcendental nature of our existence within the bounds of the photographic frame. But travel photography is not for the faint hearted. A robust spirit, compassionate nature and significant energies are required if one is to return home with images that do justice to the locations visited.    

How important is this issue? If, like me, you travel so as to photograph, its critical. Travel and photography are, for me, completely interlinked. It's hard to conceive of undertaking one without the other. And, unlike most folks, trying to fit some photography in as a part of their trip, I travel specifically to make photographs. How much easier it would be not to have to worry about cameras, lenses, memory cards, tripod, flash, batteries, charges, laptop, portable backup drives, etc? And let's not forget the 6-8kg (when empty) of camera bag/s needed to lug and store these devices. Carry on luggage constraints have become an increasingly difficult problem for me since my overseas travels began in 1988. And it doesn't get a whole lot easier when you have to find space for all this gear, in addition to your own luggage, on crowded buses and trains. To be sure, serious travel photography projects are not to be undertaken lightly.

Back in 1998 I shared, out of necessity, a room with 2 Japanese girls. I still have photos of me and the girls and, for a short time, kept in contact (snail mail) with 1 of them. Anyway, I remember that one of the girls was able to fit all her luggage including toiletries, medicine, (this was India, after all) a small camera, spare shoes, guide book, a light weight jacket and a water bottle into a day back. Apparently she'd only brought one change of clothes, including smalls. So to ensure that she had clean clothes to wear the following day she'd wash her clothes, by hand, the night before. Amazing! I sometimes think about how easy that kind of life would be when traveling.  

Of course tripods present unique problems for the travel photographer. Their size, weight and potential to be used as a weapon is a major problem for folks trying to include them as part of their carry on luggage allowance. Employing the tripod on location, particularly where large crowds are present, requires great care. If the crowd is moving you'll likely be swept away with the mob, negating any opportunity you might otherwise have had to actually use your tripod. If you find a spot to set up your tripod you'll likely act as a visual magnet for all the happy snappers who'll simply walk right in front of you and take their jolly time photographing family member after family member, prior to just sitting back and taking it all it. All this of course unfolds while you wait for the scene to empty so that you can finally get on with making your picture. The happy little party will eventually leave but will attract another group and the process will begin again. This is one of the reasons why, whenever possible, I'II dress down and use the smallest (high quality) kit I can to be able to make the pictures I want as quickly as possible. And I'II often do it hand held.

I visited Versailles in July 2011. I knew it was going to be busy. After all, it was July, the middle of the busy summer tourist season. I decided to leave my tripod in the hotel and spared myself the hassle of having to lug it around with me all day. And thank goodness I did, it was a nightmare. After being herded, together with our visitors, through one of the main buildings like a mob of sheep, I fled the group and headed outside to explore the grounds and photograph many of the statues and waterfalls spread throughout the complex. I managed to make a few decent images inside, hand-held at slow shutter speeds, but there was no way that tripod-based photography would have been possible or, due to the heavy stream of traffic, acceptable behavior. And I have no problem with that. However, as long as the photographer is respectful of a site, and does not willfully impede the progress of other visitors, I don't see a problem with a tripod, particularly when used outdoors. But when moving around a busy museum-like environment there may be no choice.

I would certainly encourage all motivated photographers to try and take their next holiday travel photos up a level. As long as you're prepared, properly resourced and respectful of local laws and customs you can let your camera lead you on a most merry dance. It will likely provide you with a journey within a journey, quite possible an adventure beyond your previous travel experiences. But, to be successful, its necessary to separate your photography, at least on the day in question, from your partner or your usual travel routine. Just give yourself one day, in a special location and allow your creativity to flow. With the right motivation, intention and approach you'll also impact positively on the lives of those with whom you interact. And the images you bring home will preserve the memory of those interactions and allow you to share them with others.

And that brings me to the new motto for this site, Travel Photography, Heal the World One Photo at a Time'. Our photographs, just like our thoughts and actions, do matter. For those of us fortunate enough to travel the world, we're able to make a considerable impact on the lives of those folk with whom we interact. We can do that directly, through the way we interact with our subjects, and we can do it through the story that we choose to tell through the photographs we make.

I hope your next travels include some incredible photography adventures.   

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Glenn Guy,Travel Photography Guru