Saturday, October 2, 2010

Calling all travel writers! Wanna collaborate?

For more than a decade I worked as both a travel photographer and writer. And thoroughly enjoyed it. But during that time I also worked on many projects where I just photographed, often working in collaboration with a writer.

And I always really enjoyed those assignments because they took me out of my comfort zone and let me work with interesting people, and often in areas that I wouldn't think of writing about myself.

The photograph here is one example. I worked with a young writer in Sweden of all places. She had been out here to Cairns and worked on a banana farm in a little town called Tully, a couple of hours south. Anyway she'd written an article about the experience and needed some images to go with her piece. So I drove down to Tully and spent a day photographing the workers and the farm in her article.

Collaborations like this work really well in situations where the writer really doesn't enjoy photographing, or doesn't feel they have the skill to do the job justice. Or in cases where the weather doesn't co-operate and they need better pictures. Sure there's plenty of free offerings from tourism boards and other sources, but often they are generic pictures that don't really fit with the story in a neat package.

So here is my call out to all my readers there in cyberspace. Have you ever been, or know anybody who's ever been to far north Queensland - that's ranging from Townsville in the South up to Cape York in the north? Do you know somebody who wants to write an article on the experience - doesn't have to be travel related mind you, I do all sorts of editorial work - but needs photos to go along with it? Would you be interested in collaborating?

I bring to the table a deep collection of stock images from this part of the world and an ability to do assignments locally, and hopefully what you bring to the table is a knowledge of the markets where you live and an idea of where you could publish your piece. I've never tried something like this before, and honestly have no idea if it will work. But I'd like to give it a try. We live in a global community and I'd like to tap into that a bit more and thought this is one way I could do it.

So put your thinking caps on and if you come up with anybody please let them know. Or if you yourself are interested please let me know. Far North Queensland is my main specialty, with my sub-specialty being Hokkaido, Japan. If you want to write a story on either or those places and are looking for images not found anywhere else please let me know. You can comment here on the blog or send me an email at info at dymond dot com dot au.

I look forward to seeing how this little experiment goes! Here's to producing some wonderful collaborative art. Please feel free to pass this on to all your social networks via the Retweet button above or any other way you think might help.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

How can you envision photographic respect?

In my last post I talked about showing your photographic subjects respect. And I wrote a bit about tuning in to your own feelings about a photographic subject to help you determine how to show not only your subject respect, but also your own feelings. I thought I should add a little postcript because a lot of talk about photographic vision concentrates on finding your own personal inner way of seeing. By necessity the way you envision a photograph will come from within you and help set you apart from other photographers. We're all individuals and obviously see the world in different ways.

But a lot of those theories don't really point to what I was alluding to - which is that the subject of your photographs deserve just as much respect as your inner vision. After all you could find yourself in some tropical paradise and take a whole bunch of abstract pictures of grains of sand, overexposed pictures of cocktail glasses and landscapes with tilted horizons (because you couldn't think of any other way to make the picture interesting!). And all those would be valid interpretations of how you felt. But would they be showing respect to your subject?

I would err on the side of saying no. That they would appeal as fine art to people who shared your sensibilities, but that true respect for your photographic subject involves thinking about how other people interpret the pictures as well. And by other people I don't necessarily mean photographers.

I live a cloistered life. The vast majority of my friends are photographers. All of them are passionate, some of them pros, some of them amateurs. They all love their photography. And they love their tech-speak and gadgets. But only a very few of them would I trust to a conversation about the merits of a picture in terms of respecting the subject. They can all point to the fact that I should have had more depth of field in this picture, or avoided the lamp post coming out of the subject's head in that one. But sometimes they miss the mark when it comes to talking about the impact of the subject itself. For those opinions I tend to prefer people who have no interest in photography whatsoever.

Because those people wouldn't know an f-stop from a bus stop they can only focus on what's in the picture itself. And they're a great guage for telling you whether your images are hitting the mark or not. So keeping them in mind is one of the first things you can think about when you're trying to show respect to your subject. Would a non-photographer find this an interesting image? Would they be more interested in the subject of the picture or the how (or why) I took it?

Another way of getting that inspiration is to think less about yourself and more about the legacy your pictures will leave. With travel photography one of the first inspirations is 'I will never be in this place again so I'd better take a lovely shot'. That might be all the motivation you need to get up before dawn to capture a landscape in beautiful light. But if it isn't take the focus away from you for a minute.

Imagine that the landscape you want to photograph is due to be strip-mined. Turned into a quarry for the minerals beneath it. And you will be the last photographer ever to capture it. Indeed, depending on the ability of your pictures to move people you might even be able to save it from the mining. Now would that be inspiration enough for you to do more than show up at midday and grab a quick snap? You see how taking the emphasis away from you and putting it on the subject helps provide you with inspiration?

Imagine a beautiful building is about to be demolished. You're there in the afternoon and it's facing east. If you knew that in a couple of days it would be rubble would you be more inclined to come back in the morning when the first rays of sunrise hit it?

With travel portrait photography one of my greatest sources of inspiration is imagining the look on the subject's face when I show them the picture. Do you think they'll be happy with a high-contrast snapshot taken out in the midday sun showing all their wrinkles? Do you think they'd be thrilled if you take the time to move them into softer light and really create a beautiful portrait?

Imagine how happy they'll be when they see the LCD. Imagine how thrilled they'll be if you send them a print. Imagine that it might be the only photograph of themselves that they will ever own. That their children will ever have to remember them by when they're gone. Their one legacy to the world after they depart. In many parts of the world this is by no means a stretch of the imagination.

Don't you think that in all of the above cases you owe it to your subjects to be the best photographer you can be? Without a doubt photographic vision is hugely important. It's the reason we spend so much time concentrating on it and refining it in an effort to remain true to ourselves and (if professional) differentiate ourselves from our colleagues. But just as important in what we do as travel and nature photographers is to consider the importance of paying respect to our subjects. For without them we're just overexposed pictures of blurry grains of sand on a beach. We might appeal to the artsy set and satisfying our inner vision but are we paying enough attention to what our subjects would want?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

How can you show your subject respect?

A lot of travel photography is shot in an editorial, documentary style. We travel to places both near and far and attempt to capture with our cameras what it is we experienced. But just showing what we saw isn't enough to move our viewers. We need show what it is we felt, or what we thought about our experiences. And we owe it to our subjects to do it truthfully.

When I say truthfully however, I don't mean truthfully according to other people's opinions. I mean how you as the photographer truthfully felt. Which is always going to be subjective. No matter what you think of how an individual's opinions shouldn't shape a documentary image, the truth of the matter is that in travel photography our opinions will always shape our images.

Firstly we decide where to travel to. That's a subjective decision based on where we think looks interesting. Travel photography by its very nature tends to be of places that the photographer has travelled to because they wanted to. So our subjectivity leads to our first showing of our respect for our subject - we're interested enough in it to shell out dollars to visit. The second way we show respect is by finding out as much about our subject in advance so that we can capture it in the best possible light.

Let's say you'd always wanted to visit the Taj Mahal - a lifelong dream. You get there and discover that it is just as beautiful as you'd ever imagined. To truly respect not only the Taj but your own feelings about it you're not going to photograph it in the middle of the day with its harsh light, millions of tourists and a total lack of emotion. That would be showing a lack of respect for not only your subject but your feelings about it. So you'd come at sunrise or sunset when there are hardly any people around and the light is beautiful. You'd look for different angles to show the beauty that captivated you. You would treat it with as much photographic reverence as the architect who built it. To do anything less would be disrespectful.

But let's say you had the opposite reaction. You were annoyed at all the millions of other tourists, the fact you had to leave your tripod outside. You were disappointed by the greying marble caused by the smog of India's notorious traffic. Basically it wasn't anything like you expected. Whether these opinions could be called petty or not they are yours. Own them. Be true to yourself. In this case I would argue that it would be more respectful to show all the things about the Taj Mahal that annoyed you. Just because you started off with the intention of showing the beautiful doesn't mean you have to let it cloud your photographic judgement. If you chose to ignore what you were feeling you might still come away with 'beautiful' pictures but they wouldn't be yours - they would be facsimiles of other people's cliched expectations.

Who knows, by the time you've photographically worked your annoyances out of your system you might be able to finally appreciate the beauty and think about coming back at sunrise. Or you might not. Either which way both photographic interpretations would be correct because they're both being true to yourself.

The same goes for people as well. I often think that photographers are nervous about approaching strangers to photograph because they're not treating it as a way of showing respect. Sure you might not know anything about the individual you'd like to photograph, but if you've shown respect then you'll know something about their culture. You'll have learnt a couple of greetings in the local language. You'll be able to show that you're interested in them as something more than just a pretty picture, and that you respect them.

Not only that but you'll see the portrait as a gift from them to you (by posing for you) and as a gift from you to them (by capturing the best possible portrait of them). So you won't photograph them in harsh light but will move them into the shade to avoid creating harsh shadows and emphasising wrinkles. You'll attempt to make some sort of human connection so that you can capture an image that captures their spirit. You won't snap and run but will take them time to have some sort of limited interaction - no matter how short or limited. The more you get to know them the more respectful and insightful your portrait will be and the more respectful the interaction will be.

In other words, as a travel photographer to differentiate yourself from the millions of tourist photographers you need to show respect. For not only your subjects, but for yourself and your individual feelings about what it is you've chosen to photograph from the millions of subjects around the globe. The more opinionated you are the more those opinions will shine through in your images and the more they will resonate with others. Don't be afraid to be yourself.