Friday, November 6, 2009

Fantastic FNQ photo Friday

One of the things I love about travel photography is the fact that it lets me get out into pristine areas of wilderness all by myself. Photography's a pretty solo pursuit a lot of the time and being out in nature by myself in the peace and quiet is something I really enjoy.

A lot of people know that Cairns is on the doorstep of the World Heritage Listed Daintree National Park, but what many people might not realise is that there's a lot of beautiful rainforest within a few minutes of the centre of the city.

One of my favourite little places to get away from it all is a section of rainforest called Crystal Cascades. About half an hour out of the centre of town by car and you're a world away.

The main river just inside the entrance is where everybody goes to swim, picnic and generally lay about and enjoy the atmosphere. But if you do the full walk all the way to the end you'll find a gorgeous waterfall.

And if you don't get that far, about half way along on the left hand side there's a gorgeous little rainforest stream. You'll have to scramble up some boulders to get the best view but it's only a couple of feet off the sealed walking path.

For rainforest shots I always have my polarising filter on. It cuts down the glare from the wet, tropical leaves and brings out the vivid green in them. I also make sure I have my tripod because it's pretty dark in there. Closing down to f16 for a large depth of field gave me a shutter speed of 2 seconds at ISO 100. No point trying to hand hold that!

It's best to get there early in the morning before the sun comes up and makes it too contrasty, or aim for a day when there's a lot of cloud cover. It's a beautiful place and definitely worth a visit if you get the chance. And no I didn't put the leaves there. :)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Following the travel photography passion - a personal story

I ummed and aahed about where to take this series of posts on the passion for travel photography. Because I don't want to be preaching here. That's not my aim for the blog. My aim is to hopefully throw out some ideas that I think are important and hopefully give you all a few good tips on things that I think work and don't work.

So to continue on with the whole thing about following that passion for travel photography I figured the logical next step would be to talk about my journey to this point as honestly (and passionately!) as I can. And hopefully there'll be a few tidbits in there to take away on your own journey.

Like many of us who love the sound of that shutter button, I didn't choose photography, it chose me. Nothing unusual there, we're all in the same boat I'm sure. But I quickly realised that still lifes, portraits of CEOs and fancy Photoshop techniques wasn't where my heart lied.

Nine months in Africa, followed by a year traipsing around SE Asia, India and Nepal had me obsessed with travel photography. It was all I could think about day and night. A couple of years is a long time to be on the road and as fun as it was, towards the end I was really looking forward to putting down some roots and sorting my images out with the dream of making it into a profession.

Of course the best way to kill a passion (and one I forgot to mention yesterday) is to turn it into your job! I'm happy to say, though, in my case that definitely isn't the case. I couldn't imagine doing anything else. I've tried, believe me. I've actually sat down and thought about what I would possibly do if I wasn't a travel photographer - sad I know. And nothing at all came into my head. So I guess I'm stuck with this career.

But following a passion like this is a constant struggle. I meet so many professional photographers who, when they hear what area of photography I work in, the first thing out of their mouths is "Oh I wanted to be a travel photographer but it was too hard (financially unrewarding, competitive...insert your own excuse here) so I turned to weddings."

Good on them I say. They've chosen a path that makes them a good living in a constantly renewable market and I salute them for it. But I just couldn't do it. Even when things were tight financially I couldn't make myself photograph stuff that wasn't my passion. You see I'm also a stubborn bastard sometimes. Cutting off my nose despite my face is my constant motto and thorn in my side. :)

Whether I did the right thing or not I always wonder. Turning down paying jobs because they're not your field of expertise is always a risky proposition. But for me that little nag in the back of my mind telling me that this isn't the path I really want to head down always kept me back.

Following the passion led to another major decision quite recently. For the last ten years I have combined travel photography with writing. In Australia it makes a lot of sense to do this. The best way to travel for free is to get sponsored trips, and the only way to get invited on those is to write. So that's what I did. But a comment by a travel photographer/writer friend a year or so ago got me to thinking.

He mentioned that he was working hard on improving his writing. And it suddenly hit me. I had no passion or drive to become a better writer - at least not in the traditional feature travel article sense.

More importantly I felt that when I was on a travel writer's trip my photography lacked quality. Yes I got some nice images but not much that was spectacular because I didn't have that same intensity that I had when I was just concentrating on the photography. They say men can't multi-task and I guess I was living proof of that.

So I decided to give up the writing side of things. And have turned down quite a few jobs over the last year. Again, probably not a wise move financially but spiritually it's been great. Kind of ironic that I write more now every day than I ever did before but now it's writing about my passion - travel photography.

The other thing I've found about following your passion is that you need to listen to yourself more and those around you less. I'm sure all of us who have blogs log in to the Google Analytics page and check whether people are actually tuning in or not. And cheer when the graph goes up, and sob when it goes down. Feel elated when somebody tells us they like our pictures, and terrible when somebody says they don't really.

As artists I think we're all kind of struggling to have our art liked by other people. But, for me at least, following your passion means doing what you believe and not relying on other people's beliefs to shape how you create your art. Hell if I followed the Google Analytics graph I'd just turn it into the Wide Angle vs Telephoto Lens blog 'cause that's what the most people seem to be interested in. :)

So in the spirit of encouraging you all to follow your passion for travel photography I'd like to offer a few words of advice. Remeber that you can make travel photographs at home. Take the time to really work out what you're passionate about and concentrate on photographing that as well as you possibly can and give up photographing everything else just because you can. Don't worry about what other people say, listen to your own inner voice - it will tell you if you're on the right track. And finally get used to baked beans on toast if you want to make it your career!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How to kill the travel photography passion

There are a few things you can do to kill your passion for travel photography - some at home and some while out on the road.

But why would I want to kill the passion you say. Well you don't, I'm just saying you might be inadvertently doing some things that are heading you down that path.

Back in the days when we shot film you tended to put a roll of 36 exposures in at Christmas, take a few shots here and there and maybe finish it up by the following Christmas. Alright maybe the keen shutter bugs did a bit more but those were different days.

Why? Part of it was certainly the expense of film but I think another part of it was that keen photographers really concentrated on what they wanted to photograph and stuck to it. In other words they knew it was costing them money so they didn't bother to photograph things that didn't interest them.

Now that we have digital it almost seems to be compulsory to photograph anything and everything just because you can. And that's a sure way to kill the passion. Once you start seeing photography as something you should or have to do then it becomes a chore like any other. You're thinking more about the camera side of the equation and not the subject. So the first way to kill your passion is to just go out photographing anything willy-nilly without thinking about whether it really fires you up or not. Not just interests you slightly but really gets your heart racing. To get back on track you really need to hone in on what you're passionate about before photography in general becomes a chore.

If you're not moved to photograph it you're not going to be moved by the pictures.

As I mentioned yesterday, unless you do this for a job you're not going to be travelling every day of the year (and even pros only travel for a maximum of about 6 months of the year mostly). So you spend the majority of the year at home base. If you're not allowed to photograph willy-nilly then be sure you don't go the other way and not photograph anything until you go overseas.

Yes you can have a dormant passion but the more you exercise it before you go somewhere the more fired up you will be about your trip and the subjects you're going to explore. So be sure to find something travel-related at home base that you could get out and make wonderful images of.

When you're out on the road there are a couple of things that can make travel photography less than enjoyable and point you in the direction of feeling that it's not worth it.

The first one I find is to not really dedicate yourself to it. You don't need to go from sunrise to sunset every day, but when you are out photographing you really need to be in the zone. Thinking about nothing else. Doesn't matter if it's five minutes or five hours, you have to do what's really necessary to get a great image to the sacrifice of everything else.

A lot of people may lack that intensity and then get disappointed because their pictures aren't as nice as they hoped for. It's really hard to take great pictures if you're trying to have a conversation with your better half, keep an eye on the kids and check the email on your iPhone at the same time. Dedicate a set period of time to really work on the craft of photography. If you're on a family vacation get up hours before everybody else and go out alone. Beg, borrow or steal that time away from other commitments. Make sure that you're at your most prepared when lady luck comes along with a great scene to photograph.

Resign yourself to the fact that your best pictures probably aren't going to come when you're 'holidaying' but if you have a certain amount of time to really brush off the cobwebs and explore then that should be enough to keep that passion burning.

And make it fun. If you're out on your own photographing away but nothing is really striking you, don't sweat it. It gets back to that feeling of having to photograph because you've come so far. If it isn't working for you, it isn't working. You need to sit down with a cup of coffee at a cafe and watch the world go by. Wait for some inspiration to strike. Even if it doesn't at least you've taken a moment out to watch the world go by.

Some people swear by learning a new technique to get your passion fired up again. While I can understand that I prefer to look for new subjects. I like to learn something new when I'm at home and use those techniques when I'm out and about. Maybe it's just me but I find it more fun to learn in the comfort of familiar surroundings and then feel confident about using those techniques overseas. When I'm out photographing I like to be totally in the moment and know exactly how I want a picture to look without having to wonder if something will work or not. Not that I don't experiment mind you, I just don't like to use that as a crux to re-ignite passion.

Don't take stuff you don't ever use. When I go away I always carry a tripod and a couple of flashes. Why? Because I use it. I like the effect of using slow shutter speeds with flash for ghosting effects. I also like to shoot at the edges of the day in the darker hours when you need long shutter speeds.

But some photographers hate both those things, feeling they tie them down. Do whatever works for you. If a tripod holds you up and makes photography hard then leave it at home. If you don't like the look of flash don't get one out. In other words keep it fun for you and avoid anything that makes your travel photography less than the best thing you've ever done.

So there's a couple of tips to help you avoid losing that passion for travel photography. If you've got any others feel free to post them in the comments below.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Releasing your inner travel photographer passion

You'll have to excuse the hairy legs - natural sun protection! This is the pose of your typical travel photography junkie- here working hard in the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

Yesterday I spoke about passion, and how you need it to produce great photography (or art of any nature for that matter.)

Now if your passion is photographing weddings, babies or still lifes then I'm afraid I'm not much good to you. You see while I am married, do have a couple of babies and a collection of vases I'm not really passionate about photographing any of them.

You know the architect who never finishes his or her kitchen? Well I'm the photographer who never really photographs his kids - seriously with the intent of creating art anyway. A waste I know but there you have it.

If your passion is travel photography however, then that I know a little something about. There is a myth about having a passion for travel photography - and here I'm not going to differentiate between amateur or pro because in the creation of art it makes no difference whatsoever.

That myth is that your pictures will suddenly get a lot better if you could get on a plane and visit somewhere much more exciting, interesting, stimulating (insert your own adjective here) than the current 'boredom city' place you call home. Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish. If anything you're more likely to create nothing but cliches and seen-it-all-before type pictures when you go somewhere exotic because you're not really following your passion.

Travel itself isn't your passion. Your passion lies within the travel genre. It might be architecture, it might be markets, it might be culture, it might just be the lure of the exotic. But the act of travel alone won't bring those passions on. Your passions lie inside. They're the kind of things you enjoy not just photographing, but reading about, watching documentaries on. It might be forms of transport, festivals and ceremonies, wildlife, spectacular landscapes.

But unless you've got a trust fund, the chances are you can't spend 365 days a year traipsing around the world looking for exotic examples of your passion. Maybe you get a couple of weeks a year, maybe a month or more, but your time available to take 'travel' pictures is pretty limited. So you really need to explore those passions to see if there isn't some way you can photograph them closer to home.

Let's say you're fascinated with India. The colours, the religions, the people. Do you need to go all the way to New Delhi to give in to your passion. I live in a small rural community at the end of the earth and we have a couple of Sikh temples and quite a large Indian community. We also have people from Indonesia, Nepal, Bhutan, name it we have them. So if my passion was portraits of people from different cultures I would be set. (Now I know we have a lot of readers from India on the blog so you'll have to swap another country in here!)

At the end of the day I'm interested in stories. Many of those stories revolve around travel because I love the exotic. But, realistically speaking, unless you're getting paid to do this you can find lots of exotic things to photograph close to home. You just need to look inside you to find out what might interest you.

Sit yourself down for half an hour or so and write out a list of things that you absolutely love to find out about. Not necessarily do, or watch, but just learn about. Now which of those things could you get access to and photograph? And do you think you would enjoy photographing them? Have you thought about photographing them before? Does your pulse race a bit when you think about the great ways you could bring your own vision to this subject? That's when you know you're getting close to your passion.

When you've worked out a few things you think would be fun to photograph go and find out who you can contact to get permission. And then when you've done a few photo shoots and, if you really enjoyed it, see if that group of people has an affiliate group in an interstate or overseas destination. See where I'm going with this. If you don't want to make this a career but love travel photography with all your heart, then look for places close to home to feed that passion and try and tie it in to your annual overseas trip.

Think locally to follow your passions and use that knowledge as a springboard to help you find your passion when you hop on a plane next. Remember that the act of travel itself most likely isn't the passion, it's certain things that excite you at your destination. Try and find an equivalent subject at home and you can feed your passion every weekend, not just for a couple of weeks a year.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

When you have to pinch yourself...

Photography's a funny thing. When you think about it anybody can do it. Hell my 4 year old manages to do a pretty good job of grasping the camera in his little hands and snapping away. And therein lies the problem.

If anybody can do it how are we supposed to be different as image makers than any other of the billions of photographers out there?

You need to find the stuff that makes you want to pinch yourself. For me it's travel and nature, but just hopping on a plane or going bush isn't enough to excite me. That's just like photography - if you've got the money anybody can do it.

Those rare moments where you're in the zone, totally concentrated on getting an image. When you're not thinking of anything else but the scene playing out in front of your lens. When you can scarcely believe your own eyes at how beautiful something is and you just know that you have to take a fantastic photo to do it justice. That's how you differentiate yourself. Because for every one of us that pinch yourself moment is going to be different.

This image was taken from halfway up Dune 45 in Sossusvlei, Namibia, Southern Africa. Why half way up? Because as I struggled up the dune I could see lots of other people already on the summit waiting for the sunrise. And there I was in this eerie silence, just the sand blowing around my feet in the cool morning breeze before dawn. And I looked out and I could see the mist on the valley floor and tell where the sun was going to come up by the way the sky was getting lighter behind the distant mountains.

And at that instant I knew that I had to experience this alone. That being surrounded by twenty other people was going to take away from the feelings I was having. So I sat down and set my tripod up and waited as nature put on her performance. And it felt like it was just for me. And it moved me incredibly. And I hope that this photograph shows you all just how much it moved me.

Remember just because you can point the camera at anything and take a photo doesn't mean you should. Show me the passion. Show me the love. I don't care whether the focus is perfect, you've got the right shutter speed or aperture. All I care about is the subject and how it moved you. When you can figure that out you're on your way to creating images that move other people as well. Just remember if it doesn't move you it sure as hell isn't going to move anybody else.