Friday, September 25, 2009

Scurrying towards the future

This little fella is making a break for the ocean. Only 1 in 1000 thousand of his brothers and sisters will make it to being a fully fledged adult turtle. Remind you of a profession we all know and love?

Yesterday's post was about how editorial travel photographers are turning to commercial travel photography to make a buck. Well it ain't just commercial travel they're looking at - corporate, weddings, photo tours. You name it they're up for it.

And it kind of reminds me of this little turtle scrambling at full pace towards an uncertain future. But here's the thing. Travel photography has always been a pretty uncertain game.

I mean look at the odds. Your competition is anybody who travels, anybody who takes photos and anybody who would be happy to see their pictures in print. Now back in the days of large format cameras and heavy wooden tripods that wouldn't have been too many people who didn't have access to a couple of donkeys to get them to great locations and a lot of stamina!

Now all you need is the dosh to get you on a plane, a bag full of Immodium for dodgy meals, a donkey to carry all those cards, cables and batteries oh and a lot of stamina. :) It's always been a challenge making a living in this game but there has always been outlets for our work. Sure they mightn't have raised their pay rates in 20 years, they might be taking more and more of our rights but they were always there. But if the doomsday pundits are right newspapers and magazines won't be much of a market for too much longer. And with the plethora of great travel photographers sprouting up every year the competition for the few that remain will be immense.

So us wily travel photographers will have to put on our thinking caps and work out other ways to make money. Sending your spouse out to work is always appealing. :) Those of us who simply love photography and travel too much to even consider doing anything else will simply have to work smarter to do what we love. We'll have to create markets for our work rather than waiting for somebody to create them for us. We'll have to come up with lots of good ideas for images, rather than waiting on somebody to call us up and give us an assignment. And we'll have to be more proactive than ever before. Procrastinators can sit this one out.

As Dean so eloquently put it in the comments for yesterday's post, this shake up will weed out those who don't have the mettle to make a go of things. Bring it on I say! Deciding to go freelance means that you accept responsibility for being the master (or mistress) of your own future. Sounds better than having somebody else make all the decision for us if you ask me.

Have a great weekend and get those thinking caps on. If you can work out hyperfocal distance then figuring out how to make a buck shooting travel should be a walk in the park. :)

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?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wide angle lenses, space and a giant fountain

Yesterday I showed you a shot with the telephoto lens (scroll down to take a look if you missed it) and how it compressed the perspective so it looked like the guy was about to get his leg chomped by a giant crocodile.

Today we've gone the other way to a wide angle lens, but ironically we're still emphasising size.

Now as I've mentioned before, when you use the wide angle lens things that are close to the camera appear big and things that are away from the camera look small.

That means that compositionally speaking if you want to make something look big one trick you can use is to get close to it with a wide angle lens and contrast it with something that you can make small and a long way away. Now this giant fountain is not small by any means. In fact it shoots up 48 metres into the air! So it really is big. It's in the middle of Moerenuma Park in Sapporo, the capital city of Hokkaido, Japan. The whole park is full of these wonderful slides and swings all in the form of abstract sculptures designed by a famous Japanese sculptor by the name of Noguchi Isamu.

Now if I walked back a long way and shot it with a telephoto lens the fountain itself would look big, but so would the people in the background. Not only would they look big but they would look close to the fountain, so you wouldn't get the sense of the giant amount of space around the gushing water. The water itself would look wide and powerful but you wouldn't get the sense of height and space.

So I chose to use a wide angle lens and lean far out over the barrier to get as close to the fountain as I could - which isn't very close mind you when you're only small! But the effect is that the gushing water looks big and powerful compared to the tiny little people behind. The other trick I've used is that I haven't shown the tip of the water. In other words how far exactly it goes up is up to your imagination. It could end just north of the frame or it could go a lot farther up. That gives even more of an impression of size and height.

So yesterday and today have used two different lenses with the similar effect of size, but the opposite effect in terms of how far apart or close to objects appear in the frame. The telephoto makes two objects look close to each other and the wide angle makes two objects look far apart from each other.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Telephoto lenses and crocodile compressions

When you want to make two things (or more) look really close to each other you want to reach for the telephoto lens. The longer the lens, the closer the objects will look to each other.

Which is exactly what I wanted to do here. This is the crocodile show at the Cairns Tropical Zoo. A guy in short shorts stands next to a shallow pool containing a giant crocodile and proceeds to feed it a chicken or two. All in the name of entertainment and giving the croc a feed.

Now this guy was pretty close to the edge of the pond. Much closer than any of us would ever want to be. And the best way to show that photographically, apart from standing right beside the guy and shooting with a wide angle lens, is to use the telephoto.

The only problem with the telephoto, and this is one that a lot of photographers forget. You have to walk away from your subject for it to work. You have to put some distance between you and the thing you're photographing for the telephoto lens to be truly effective.

If I was too close here you only would have seen the inside of the croc's mouth if I had zoomed all the way in. If I had zoomed back to fit the guy in I would have been at a shorter focal length and he wouldn't have seemed so close. So you have to move back. The more you move back the more you have to zoom in to get the framing you want, and the more you zoom in the closer the objects will appear to each other.

So to get objects looking closer together than they actually are in real life, walk back and zoom in with the longest lens you have.

Top 100 photo blogs

Well thanks everyone who voted. Apparently Have Camera Will Travel is in Digital Reviewer's Top 100 photo blogs. You can find our listing here Quite nice to be on the same page as some of the greats - Rick Sammon, David Hobby and Scott Kelby. Thanks to everyone who voted - it means a lot.

Monday, September 21, 2009

To freeze or not to freeze - the shutter speed dilemma

As I've mentioned here before I pretty much spend most of my time in Aperture Priority mode. I choose the aperture and let the camera choose the shutter speed. I came to shoot this way from the days when cameras weren't so smart and if you set yourself a fast shutter speed (say 1/8000 second to freeze some action) and it was too dark for such a shutter speed - well the camera would take the picture anyway and you'd get a blank picture!

So I used to (and still do) put my camera into aperture priority and set my widest aperture. When you open up your camera as wide as it will go (say f2.8, f3.5 etc) you'll always get the fastest possible shutter speeds for those conditions.

Now they have smart cameras which, even if you set 1/8000 second, will drop back down to a shutter speed in the realm of possibility automatically for you.

But one place I've always used Shutter Priority is for slow shutter speeds. I like blur in my pictures more than completely freezing the movement in a lot of situations. Why? Because then you can tell that something is actually moving.

Take these wind turbines here. Photographed up at Ravenshoe on the Atherton Tablelands this is the State's largest wind farm and these things move really slowly on a calm sunny day. As in so slow that you need a really slow shutter speed to get any movement in them whatsoever. To get a slow enough shutter speed here I was using very slow slide film (ISO 50), I had on a polariser and a neutral density filter and this is as much movement as I could get.

If I recall I was down to a couple of seconds exposure time. I probably wouldn't need such a slow shutter speed on a windy day because I'm sure they move a bit faster but I like sunshine! :)

But the next time you see a moving subject and you try and get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze all the motion don't forget that having some blur in the picture can impart more of a sense of movement. Oh and if you don't want the entire frame to be blurry due to hand shake best to use a tripod.