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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Friday, May 2, 2008

I am a rock, I am an island...

Well that's what Paul Simon said anyway. But as a travel photographer you can't really afford to work alone - not if you want to get a complete photographic coverage of an area. One that goes beyond the standard cliches.

The main reason is access. Some of the best angles, the best light, the best places to be to photograph are off limits unless you ask. And I'm not talking about high security, off limits to everybody but top personnel type situations either. No Area 51 alien visitations for us travel photographers!

Take the photograph above. It is Castle Hill overlooking the city of Townsville in far north Queensland, Australia. You can photograph it from this angle by standing right next to the harbour. Anybody can do that. But to get a couple of hundred metres higher for a grand view you need to be standing on the roof of a nearby building. And to do that you're going to need permission.

People often say to me, "Yeah but you're a professional of course they're going to let you." Don't kid yourself. A great friend of mine and keen amateur photographer has photographed from the top of pretty much every big building in Cairns. He's a friendly, courteous and polite retired gentlemen who approaches various hotels and buildings and explains what he'd like to do. If he is refused on grounds of public liability (more common these days!) or safety or some other grounds he doesn't get pushy and try to persist. He graciously accepts, thanks them for their time and moves on to the next place.

I guess this kind of feeds on from my last post. A little bit of courtesy will get you a long way. If you want to photograph a street from above try yelling up to the family on the balcony and see if they'll let you in. Want to photograph a museum before opening time? Try calling them up and seeing what they say. Want to photograph a behind-the-scenes shot of a local performance? Try asking somebody. All they can say is no, which of course they are quite in their right to do.

But if they say yes then you've suddenly got a great angle on some unique travel photography. Plus you'll make a heap of extra friends along the way. Try telling as many people as you know the kind of things you like to photograph. When you're travelling tell everybody you come into contact with - the taxi driver, the concierge, the bartender. Somebody is bound to have a cousin who knows somebody who can open a gate for you. And a gift of a photograph afterwards does wonders!

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