Friday, December 3, 2010

What I Learned About Travel Photography

A puddle of leaves, Toccoa River, Georgia
A Puddle of Leaves, Toccoa River, Georgia

All I have to do to want to go on a trip somewhere is spend an evening reading travel photography tips and viewing the accompanying photographs. Suddenly, I am prepared to jump up and go. But then I wake up and realize that I am "me" and "me" doesn't like to travel, not really. Oh, I like it when I get there. The world is a beautiful place. But it's the "getting there" that I don't particularly enjoy.

That said, I do get out once in a while. Personally, I love to visit the Appalachian Mountains. Most people know that about me. In my opinion, there's something marvelous to be said for standing on the top of a ridge, gazing across the endless miles, just thinking about how big it all is and how small I am in the midst of it.

Well, over the last nine years of my travels with family in tow, I have learned a few things about travel photography. Call these "common sense tips", if you will, and in the process, release any stress you have at achieving perfection. We'd all like to get there someday, but seldom do.

Aska Farm, Georgia
Aska Farm, Georgia

Common Sense #1 - You will always have too much gear

No matter how well you try to consolidate your gear, no matter how much "stuff" you leave at home, suddenly you will realize you don't know where you put it all. I always at some point find myself asking, "WHY did I bring this?" Oh, I always mean well. I intend to use all the "tools of the trade" I am carrying, but eventually out of sheer weariness, I give up.

"Do I have to take that out AGAIN?"

My bag of photo gear becomes more and more disorganized as the days progress. This filter is in the wrong case; that lens cover is buried underneath something where I can't possible get to it. Knowing ahead of time that this will happen to me is such relief. I embrace it in advance and become willing to look like the "dumb tourist" I really am.

Common Sense Tip #2 - Your settings will be wrong

At some point, you will take a series of photographs, leave the location (never to return), and then realize you left the ISO on 800. I try to remember to check my settings before I take a shot, but inevitably I forget. This is part of being normal. Take a deep breath, kick yourself, and then get over it. At those moments, we are at our most human, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Fallen Leaf
Fallen Leaf

Common Sense Tip #3 - Embrace your errors

Let's say it together, "I WILL mess up." Now, don't you feel better? This tip maybe goes back to tip #2. Tell yourself you will make mistakes and determine to learn something. I have gleaned more from viewing what I did wrong than I ever did while patting myself on the back. All those 'I-should-haves' become an advantage when you let go of them.

Anna Ruby Falls, Georgia
Fall, Anna Ruby Falls, Helen, Georgia

Common Sense Tip #4 - They will always walk ahead of you

Stop trying to keep up with the crowd. People who don't have a camera will always walk away and leave you standing there alone. The fact is, taking photographs consumes time, whether the people with you realize that or not.

It's all a balancing act. Tell yourself that true skill comes from your ability to correctly take the shot all the while not losing track of your companions. After all, they aren't doing half of what you are or toting all that gear, yet they will still want to look at your photographs once you return home.

Asters, Ocoee River, Tennessee
Asters, Ocoee River, Tennessee

Common Sense Tip #5 - The perfect moment will come and they will be hungry

Remember? You are traveling with people without cameras. Eventually, they will want to eat and it WILL be at that most important moment. This is especially true if you have children. The fact is, children whine (and some adults). Learn how to say, "In a minute," and then ignore them. (Alternatively, knowing this will happen to you, prepare yourself in advance with a selection of snack foods.)

Another twist on this tip, is the guy who comes up behind you to ask where you are from or what gear you are using. Part of traveling is being really patient with strangers and somehow at the same time staying polite.

Common Sense Tip #6 - Someone will take your spot

This brings me to my next observation. Someone WILL take your spot. This happened to me just this last trip. In my case, it was a guy with a HOG of a camera. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes, it is someone with a lesser model or unsupervised children who are the obstruction. You have to decide at this moment if you want to wait it out for that location or fall back to tip #3 and get behind your group again.

Part of photography is in the "oh well" times when you are left with only your memory of the spot and not necessarily a photograph. I always say my best photographs are in my mind.

Appalachian Trail at Clingman's Dome
The Appalachian Trail at Clingman's Dome, Great Smoky Mountains Park

Common Sense Tip #7 - Someone will now think you are a portrait photographer

This someone does not have to be your family. Your family tends to know you photograph bugs and flowers. Instead, it is usually an acquaintance viewing your recent travel photographs, who then asks you to come photograph their birthday party. And yes, it sounds really lame when you say, "I don't take pictures of people." You now sound like a recluse who doesn't get out.

Red Oak
Red Oak, Richard B Russell Scenic Byway, Georgia

Now, please realize these tips are presented "tongue in cheek". My ultimate goal in writing them down, besides the humor and the fact you know I am right, is to relieve you of any stress that things will go perfectly. I have found that it is the errors on a trip, the mistakes you didn't account for, that make for the best stories. If everything always went perfectly, what would there be to talk about?

Knowing that, take the time to be human. Move past the difficulties and enjoy your travels for what they really are - memories created with people you love.

*I'd like to give a shout out to my brother who helped me hash out some of these tips. It seems our list got longer and longer the more we talked about it.

Suzanne Williams Photography
Florida, USA

Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.

1 comment:

Donna L "Sunshine" said...

Oh, my goodness, this is all so true!! Thanks for making light of these all too numerous situations.

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