Thursday, September 24, 2009
Commercial travel photography
As the editorial photography world continues to shrivel and die many 'editorial' travel photographers are turning their hand to the more lucrative area of commercial travel photography.
You know the kind of stuff I mean? Beautiful couples in a rainforest pointing up at some fictitious bird in the tree (out of frame) and smiling like a cheshire cat.
For those of us who are used to a documentary style, natural kind of photography adjusting to this new way of seeing the world can be quite a challenge.
This is an area of photography where the latest techniques in HDR, post-processing and 'fancy stuff' don't necessarily go down with everybody. Mainly commercial travel clients want to show their product as naturally as possible while at the same time making it as perfect as possible.
The challenge then becomes to create an image that stays true to your own style whilst selling what it is you're photographing. In many ways travel photography has always been a sell. Even when you do work for a magazine you're selling a destination. Granted it's a soft sell but you're looking for the attractive, interesting sides to a destination. With commercial travel photography you're selling what the client is paying you to sell - namely their travel product.
My style tends to stay as close to my editorial work as possible. I tend to go for strong, graphic compositions that attempt to look like they're not set-up. This isn't always possible because you have to show couples enjoying their breakfast on the balcony with the wonderful view etc. And yes you sometimes have to have them pointing at fictitious birds in the trees . The challenge is to go beyond the cliches and to have clients who want to go beyond what everybody around them is doing.
And so every so often it comes together and you produce a picture that could work both commercially and editorially, and really speaks to you as a photographer as a stand-alone image. This is one such picture for me. Taken at the beautiful Thala Beach Lodge up near Port Douglas, I used to run photo tours up there and had been on this beautiful headland looking down at the beach many times before.
So when they asked me to do some promotional shots for them straight away I knew I wanted to get up on this bluff at sunrise and photograph a couple walking along the beach. It's one of the most beautiful beaches you'll find anywhere and all the times I'd been up there nobody photogenic ever walked into view. The disadvantage of documentary photography - you have to hope somebody walks into your frame!
So I headed up to the bluff and instructed my models to walk down the beach towards me, turn around and do it again a couple times more until I had the shot I wanted. The light was perfect, the beach was looking great and the patterns on the waves were spectacular. When it all comes together like this I just love my job!
As magazine travel work (and magazines for that matter!) dries up, stock photography goes the way of the bargain basement and documentary images get in line behind the public's craving for images of Hollywood celebrities, traditional travel photographers are searching for ways to stay afloat. Commercial travel (tourism?) photography is one such avenue if you can manage to balance your own personal way of seeing the world with a new clientele. Who's up for the challenge?