Thursday, August 12, 2010

The death of professional travel photography?

There's been a bit of flutter lately on the blogosphere about the death of travel photography. First it was mentioned on Andrea Pistolesi's blog - a great post entitled A Requiem for Travel Photography. Then it was picked up by my colleague Bob Krist on his post entitled Is Travel Photography Dead?

Well I don't know if it's dead, and I'm sure the situation varies from country to country, but is is definitely changing and not what it used to be. There's been a lot of talk about the demise of magazines and how they're losing ground to the internet. The younger generation wants everything on their iPad.

I don't know about you but I still prefer to see beautiful photos blown up as double page spreads in glossy pages. But the emphasis has to be on the 'beautiful' part. In this country I see too much mediocre stuff being printed simply because it's available. Rather than sending a talented photographer out on assignment to capture unique, one-off images, the bean counters at newspapers and magazines demand that their editors source free pictures from the tourism bureaus.

Or they publish the images that travel writers submit, not really caring if those are the best possible pictures they can publish, but rather grabbing what is the most convenient. As somebody who has written their fair share of word/photo packages I'm here to tell you that the travel writer's schedule isn't always conducive to great travel photography. You get what you can and submit it. And it gets published. And I don't know about you but I (the travel magazine reading I, not the travel photographer I) feel ripped off.

Why should I spend good money on a publication that doesn't consider me valuable enough to provide me with the best possible content. If I can see better quality images online, pictures that take my breath away, why would I pay good money to look at the same photograph I've seen in a hundred other magazines with articles on the same area?

Personally I think that if the same bean counters are in charge of everything at the (sure to be coming soon) online versions of these magazines and newspapers then we're going to be in for the same problem. How to get people to pay to view images that don't blow them away. How do you compete with the millions of fantastic pictures found on the net if you grab the cheapest, most convenient, least differentiating picture you can? The answer, I think, is you can't. At least not photographically speaking.

So what is the answer? How do we, the consumers, get to see great travel photography whilst supporting the work of great travel photographers? And how do we travel photographers get to have our work published and make a living?

To tell you the truth I don't think anybody has it figured out yet. But I can tell you this, as long as the major publishers continue to run their current course the answer isn't going to lie with them.

For all you budding travel photographers I can give this bit of advice. Unless you want to write articles to accompany your photos the answer is not going to be to travel to as many places as possible and have a small number of images of each place. That's a rapidly dwindling market. As more and more people travel to the far reaches of the globe and capture it on their prosumer digital cameras your chances of selling an odd picture here and there of somewhere you visited for a brief stopover is rapidly dwindling.

No the answer, until somebody comes up with a way of convincing the traditional publishers to go for quality rather than convenience, is to specialise. Know a place, subject, people so intimately and deeply that you will be the only person to go to for photographs in that area.

Use your unique photographic skills and ways of seeing the world to transition across into other areas. Environmental photography. Conservation photography. Cultural photography. Get back to your storyteller vision and jettison the desire to create stand-alone beautiful images. Create a body of pictures that will tell the story of your particular place of expertise.

Find commercial travel clients who love the way you see the world. Hold exhibitions. Think outside the box. Just don't think that you're going to make a living shooting for travel magazines any time soon. Advertising may come back, readership might go up, the web might be the saviour for the publishing companies but if the bean counters still tell their editors to 'get it cheap, take all rights, it's good enough' then we're all doomed to mediocrity.

Just as a little aside before I wrap this rant up. Before everybody emails me and lets me know that there are some great travel publications out there who support excellent travel photographers - I know. And I also know that there are fantastic travel and photo editors who do their damndest to get great photography published and for them I am truly grateful. And that it's not in any way the fault of the frontline editorial staff doing their best to put out a magazine within budget constraints.

I'm speaking in generalisations about an entire industry here. Do yourself a favour, grab your favourite travel magazine or in-flight magazine (or general magazine or newspaper which features travel) and look at the proportion of really fantastic photographs provided by an individual photographer (or stock library) compared to the number of obviously free, cheap or mediocre/convenient pictures. And honestly evaluate whether you think that magazine has done its best to provide you, the reader, with the best possible pictures you've paid for. And then imagine whether that will change when the magazine goes online and whether you'd want to pay for that or not. Yes there are some shining examples of great publications and I wish them all the success in the world because they're the ones holding the beacons out for all of us. But there are also a lot who don't look to be trying to raise the bar very much and I don't like their future behind the coming paywalls.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Photographing stage shows

One of my favourite things to photograph on my trips are stage shows. Yes they can sometimes be a bit corny and obviously put on for the tourists, but they're usually colourful and vibrant and very welcoming of photographers.

If the stage show is happening at night then it's most likely going to be under tungsten lighting - which shows up as quite orange on daylight white balance. If you put your camera on to its automatic white balance or even the Tungsten setting you will get a more neutral, blueish colour.

In situations like these, even if you're regularly a Jpeg shooter, I recommend that you shoot Raw. The reason for this is that, like many things in this art, white balance is a subjective decision. The colours that you capture are supposed to represent how you felt, not necessarily a strict recording of exactly how it was.

Tungsten lighting is the perfect example of this. Here you can see the look I got with a daylight setting (only in this case it was daylight balanced film). It has quite an orange glow to it but you know what? I like it. I think it gives a sense of welcome and friendliness. It adds a nice warm glow to the faces of the children and looks inviting. A 'correct' white balance with tungsten can often look cold and clinical. Anything but inviting. But sometimes the daylight setting can be just too orange. So if you shoot Raw you can look at the images later and decide on a colour temperature setting that you find visually appealing.

If you're like me you'll probably find that you use different white balance settings for different images depending on the look you want. For close-up portraits where skin colour is more of an issue you might prefer a slightly more natural look, whereas for wide-angle shots of the whole stage you might prefer that warmer, orangey glow. At least when you shoot Raw you can pick and choose what tickles your fancy.