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

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Photographers should definitely write!


Thank you everybody for your emails and comments on Monday's post about travel writing and photography. It really made me sit down and think even more about these ideas that have been running through my head.

And before you think I've gone completely off the rails and am going to go back on what I said on Monday, rest assured I'm not!

I think photographers most definitely need to be able to express themselves with the written word. Hell if I didn't think we needed to be able to write I certainly wouldn't sit down to pound out my blog five nights a week.

I guess I was talking about a specific writing situation - that of the travel writer/photographer. For the most part travel writers in Australia get sent on famils where a PR company will send them away somewhere interesting for a few days to gather story ideas.

Notice I said writers get sent on famils. Photographers don't get sent on famils mainly due to reasons of economics. Why pay for two to go when you can send one to write and take some pictures as well, or give any camera-phobic journos a disc of images to use with their articles?

Famils mostly tend to be pretty structured in terms of what the writers see and do, often down to the time they need to be where. And these timetables are not structured at all around photography. They're designed to give the writers as much access to as many interesting places in as short a period of time as possible - more bang for the buck.

But as photographers we often need as much time as possible in one place. And not only do we need more time, it has to be the right time. Take this Boyd's forest dragon above. These guys don't just pop out and beg you to take their photo. You need to be calm, quiet and most of all patient. They might scamper when they see you but if you wait 10 minutes or maybe even more they'll come back and you can get a photo. Unless you're being told that you've got to move on to the next spot.

When you go away on a trip you've organised yourself then the tables are turned. You can plan your trip around the light. Organise interviews when the conditions aren't right for photography and skip breakfasts and dinners when you need to be outside in the golden hours of day. But even then you're likely to be on a pretty tight time frame, especially if you're getting help from a tourism bureau in terms of accommodation etc so you've had to tee everything up in advance.

Either which way you'll probably find yourself leaning towards one end or the other. Either you'll be fretting about being in the right place at the right time for photography (and totally forgetting to jot down any notes about the experience) or you'll be concentraing on writing down your feelings and putting the photography on the back burner.

So I guess I was talking about the type of travel photography we see in newspapers and magazines where there's been a limited amount of time on site and most of that time revolves around getting access to good information for an article.

But does that get you out of needing to write? Not at all. Captioning, keywording, the ability to talk in the same written language as your clients, the ability to communicate the logistics of an assignment. All of this is vitally important. I thoroughly enjoy writing, and these days channel that passion into writing about photography mostly.

But really fantastic, out of this world travel photography that takes the viewer's breath away is a pretty tall order from a writer who is also trying to cover as many angles as possible to maximise their time away and get as many articles as possible out of a short trip. It's not a question of the writer not being able to photograph - many of my writer colleagues are far better photographers than I am.

But the writer usually needs to move quickly and fluidly, talk to lots of people, discover lots of details. The photographer looking for brilliant images needs to slow things down, spend time with their subjects and let things develop in front of their lens while they wait. And most likely they'll need to skip all planned dinners as well! After all the food can wait, the light can't.

What do you think?

6 comments:

Carl Pendle Photography said...

Hi Paul, Again I agree with you and guess you needed to clarify it. I think it is all about quality and I wish more publications valued the words and photographs as separate talents that often need two professionals to do the job properly.
Best
Carl
www.carlpendle.com

Paul Dymond said...

Thanks Carl,

I'm glad somebody's able to make sense of incoherent ramblings!

Unfortunately I think the days of magazines (well all except for those at the top of the tree) sending both a writer and photographer on assignment are gone.

It will be interesting to see how things pan out as we go forward and more photographers become adept at creating their own multimedia presentations using still images and music.

Interesting days indeed.

Jenna Patrick said...

Great analysis,

Writing and photography are so different. Most folks think they can be done at the same time, by the same person.

Graham said...

Great follow-up post mate...I now see where you are going with this.

I had a gig just recently whereby I had to interview a dozen couples and also photograph them. The way I went about it was to record the interview on my phone, rather than try and write things down and shoot the couples during the interview. The result worked a treat as the people were more relaxed than had I done it in two stages (as you know, people tend not to like having the photographs taken).

Having never experienced a famil, I can only guess that it would indeed be difficult at best to get the most out of your time (I am of course open to try however......)

Paul Dymond said...

Thanks Jenna,

they certainly are different and I find pretty hard to do at the same time. I find it a lot easier to write when I haven't got a camera in my hand.

Paul Dymond said...

Cheers Graham,

sounds like recording the interview on your phone worked out really well for you. As for famils, well I'm sure you'll start getting some as you get more travel articles published. They're pretty much a necessity to make a living at travel writing here in Australia.