picture of dye worker in a Moroccan tannery was taken
from a nearby rooftop. Looking for unique viewpoints is
important in travel photography, especially when it comes
to commonly photographed sites.
Photos © 1999, Rick Sammon, All Rights Reserved
Travel photographers are
a unique breed. Some go to the ends of the earth to get pictures that
tell a story of a faraway land. Others stay relatively close to home,
documenting the pulse of a major metropolitan city--which might be a
travel destination to faraway people.
Some travel shooters, like National Geographic deep-sea (and 3D) shooter
Emory Kristof, spend months in the field working on a project, taking
countless pictures. Then there are unique individuals who spend months
taking only one picture a day--as was the case with National Geographic
shooter Jim Brandenberg, who shot only one picture a day for 90 days
for his stunning new book Chased by the Light (NorthWord Press).
All travel shooters, however, have three things in common, in addition,
that is, to being addicted to traveling with their cameras and, as we
used to say in the '60s, "a little bit out there."
First, travel pros use time-proven photographic and traveling techniques
to get great pictures. Second, they count on technology to help them
capture and create the image they see in their mind's eye. Third,
they use basic psychology when working with people to gain their confidence--without
which photographing people is a "bust."
1. Techniques. Here's a look at just a few of
the traveling and photographic techniques I, and many of my travel buddies,
use as a travel shooter.
· Research a site. This "homework"
reduces the number of surprises on site. Research includes checking
out weather; transportation; common diseases (like malaria) with the
Center for Disease Control (in Atlanta, Georgia); customs guidelines;
photographic restrictions; baggage restrictions; local current (110v
or 220v) and power outlet adapters; phone service (for calls and e-mail);
and phone jacks for computer modems. Also, I check with the US State
Department to see if it's safe to travel to a location.
are these strangers in a Moroccan market smiling at author/photographer
Rick Sammon? He's scrolling through pictures he took
of them on a digital camera's LCD panel. "Show
and tell" with a digital camera is a great way to
make friends in foreign lands.
· Work with local
experts on site. Local tour guides and experts can save you time
and money in the field. They might be able to cut through "red tape,"
especially when you are in a land where English is not generally spoken.
And, they might be able to get you out of trouble. At the very least,
local experts can be a "security blanket" when you are in
a foreign land. When choosing a local expert, however, be sure to check
his or her references carefully--with more than once source.
· You snooze you lose. Sounds funny, but it's
true. If you sleep in or take a nap in the afternoon, you'll lose
out on capturing the best light of day: "warm" colors (deeper
shades of red, orange, and yellow) and long shadows. Shoot at midday and
you'll get pictures with a "cool" bluish cast.
· Tell the whole story. When traveling, photograph
everything you can: people, buildings, landscapes, and seascapes. Take
wide angle, telephoto, and macro shots. Try to tell the entire story of
your locations with pictures. Better yet, try to tell more than one story--so
you can sell more than one story to different magazines.
lenses creatively. Try wide angle lenses for close-ups,
as illustrated in this picture of door handles on a Moroccan
palace. Also try telephoto lenses for landscapes--when you
want to compress the elements in a scene.
· Consider color.
A 1970s National Geographic how-to photography book, written
by National Geographic shooter Al Moldvay, included this tip: Include
the color red in the scene. That's good advice, followed by many
pro shooters--which is why you see pictures of climbers and scuba divers
with red caps (Jacques Cousteau's red cap was his trademark), red
canoes traveling down rivers, and red tents on mountainsides. Yellow,
by the way, is also a strong color--but not as pleasing to the eye as
So when you are composing a picture, look for color. The more colorful
your picture, the more impact it will have. Kodak has a new film, Kodak
Elite Chrome Extra Color 100, that offers increased color saturation.
It's designed for landscapes, seascapes, cityscapes, and wildlife--but
not for people pictures.
Naturally, black and white pictures can have great impact, too. So don't
overlook this medium.
on location, look for colorful subjects, like these slippers
on display at the famous Fez tannery in Morocco. Want to
increase the color saturation of a picture? Use a super-saturated
film like Kodak's Elite Chrome Extra Color 100. You
can also increase the color saturation of a picture in "digital
darkroom" programs like Adobe Photoshop.
· The eyes have
it. There's an old expression: "The eyes are the
soul of the person." With this thought in mind, try to compose your
pictures so you can clearly see your subject's eyes. One technique
is to use daylight fill-in flash, a feature that's available on
many 35mm SLR, APS, and even point-and-shoot cameras.
· Compose carefully. I'm sure you know all
the old "rules" of composition: Don't put the subject
in the center of the frame; don't cut a landscape or seascape in
half with the horizon line; beware of a distracting background; and so
on. When composing a picture, however, you just may want to keep the words
of Ansel Adams, the most famous landscape photographer of all time, in
mind. He said, "The so-called rules of photographic composition
are, in my opinion, invalid, irrelevant, and immaterial."
2. Technology. Being up-to-speed on the latest technological
advancements is a "must" for a travel shooter.
For me, and for many of my travel photographer friends, some of the most
important technological advancements are in the digital area. Or, as one
pro shooter told me several years ago, "You're dead if you
are not into digital."
No, I'm not speaking about high-end digital cameras. I'm referring
to digital technological advancements for 35mm SLR slide and negative
shooters. You see, for the money and convenience, shooting film is still
the easiest and most affordable way to get a high quality original image
into the digital darkroom--via desktop film scanners, drum scanners, and
the Kodak Photo CD. Then, once in the digital darkroom, pictures can be
easily enhanced--primarily working with Adobe Photoshop.
Now, I could go on and on, using all the following pages in this issue
of Shutterbug, to recount all the pros and cons and the long debates over
using Photoshop as a tool for creating better/new images. Naturally, we
can't devote all that space to just one "hot" topic.
So, I'd like to make this comment: I, and most of my friendly competitors,
only enhance/change the color, contrast, sharpness, hue, and saturation
of our pictures--or specific parts of our pictures.
So why is Adobe Photoshop so important to travel shooters? Because, thanks
to this program, we now shoot differently--knowing that we can make great
improvements, as well as subtle refinements, on a picture in the digital
darkroom. Just one example: A picture of the Grand Canyon taken on an
overcast day (lacking color and detail) can be turned into a picture that
almost looks like it was taken at sunset. Is this form of digital enhancement
cheating? I don't think so-- unless you add the long shadows of
late afternoon, which is also possible. For those who do think it's
cheating, consider this scenario: Is having the backing of a major magazine,
which allows a shooter to stay on site for weeks or months until the light
is just right, considered cheating? If you feel it is, then cheating includes
using an 81A warming filter or special purpose film to achieve a desired
Here's a look at some of the other important technological advancements
for 35mm travel shooters:
· Improved slide and negative films, for sharper pictures with more
vibrant colors and greater versatility in a wide variety of light conditions;
· Sharper zoom lenses, which cut down a travel shooters load;
· Wide angle zooms (17-35mm and 20-35mm), great for evaluating different
compositions in the viewfinder when taking landscapes, seascapes, cityscapes,
and environmental portraits. (FYI: zoom lenses are sharpest at their shorter
· More accurate in-camera natural light exposure and focusing systems,
which translate into a higher percentage of good pictures;
· Daylight fill-in flash, said by many pros to be one of the most
important advancements in traditional photography in recent years.
All combined, today's technological advancements make it easier
than ever before to get great travel pictures--for pros and aspiring amateurs,
3. Psychology. Being a travel photographer involves a
lot more than having great gear and using effective photographic techniques.
Photographing people, for example, involves a certain amount of psychology.
You see, when you encounter strangers in a strange land, you can't
just jump out of the car or walk up to them and start shooting. Rather,
you need to spend some time getting to know them, and vice versa. This
is easily accomplished, if you have the confidence to start up a conversation,
alone or with the help of a translator. Ask about your subject's
lifestyle, interests, hobbies, and so on. Share a part of your life with
your subject. My personal getting-to-know-you technique is to show a picture
of my son to my subject, which always results in a smile.
Then, after I've gotten the subject to like me, or at least accept
me, I begin shooting, with permission of course. I shoot as fast as I
can because I don't want to wear out my welcome. After I have finished
taking my pictures, I bid my subject a fond farewell--promising to send
a picture of our brief encounter.
Techniques, technology, and psychology alone do not make a great travel
shooter. Two other important considerations are dedication and luck.