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

Friday, June 27, 2008

Getting over the excitement

One of the biggest challenges about doing travel photography well is to go beyond the 'Wow I'm in a foreign country!' type pictures. When you first step off the plane everything is vibrant and alive, the smells are exotic, the languages are unknown and it's a photographer's paradise. You just tend to snap at absolutely everything and end up with absolutely nothing of value. It's good exercise, shapes off the photography cobwebs and gets you ready for the really good stuff, which doesn't happen until you've calmed down.

The world is so awash with pictures from around the world these days that even if we've never ventured farther than the corner shop we all know what the Taj Mahal looks like. We know what people being pushed on to a train in Tokyo looks like. We know what a Cape Buffalo looks like.

So once you have your record shot it's time to get creative and look to show the world in your own style, with your own vision. Take the Cape Buffaloes above. I was on a walking safari in the Okavango Delta with a close friend and our guide. Our guide was armed with nothing but a stick with a big knob on the end. Not gonna do us much good if a lion wants to make lunch out of us but he seemed to know what he was doing.

Walking safaris aren't the greatest for photography because the animals are so accustomed to people on foot meaning hunters that they pretty much scamper at the first sign. So we weren't expect too much but a little into our walk we came across a large herd of Cape Buffalo feeding in the late afternoon light.

So as not to alarm them we crept silently to the top of a nearby termite mound and hid ourselves behind it while we watched them. I already had enough photos of pissed off looking buffaloes staring down my camera lens so wanted to do something different. I wanted an image to capture how it felt to be so close to these animals without them knowing we were even there.

The light was beautiful, the scene was peaceful and that's what I aimed for. So I took out the long lens and zoomed in close on the herd until they were just shapes in the high grass. I underexposed the shot deliberately so the buffalo really were just silhouetted shapes and the grass would glow while retaining detail. If it wasn't for the horn sticking up in the buff in the centre of the picture you almost wouldn't know what they were - which wouldn't have worked for what I wanted to do so that central horn is vital. A shallow depth of field (a necessity in the dark light) focuses the viewer's eye on the centre buffalo.

And this image for me carries far more emotion and memories of that lazy afternoon than any of my other more literal buffalo shots. It's never enough just to get the record shot - I came, I saw, I photographed. You need to interpret it in your own way to get an image that will resonate with you long after the trip has finished.

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