The roads I follow as a travel photographer mostoften lead me to landmarks and landscapes, festivals and events, people and cultures. But not always. As you can see from the photos here, I consider photographing wildlife one of the requirements of a successful travel photographer.
The picture of the Buddhist nun drinking tea in the Drepung Monastery in Tibet was going to be perfect. The light coming in through a window behind her was capturing the texture of her skin and casting a glow on the tea and the rising steam, and from my training in studio photography I knew how rarely light like this happens in real life. But by the time I’d asked for and received permission to take the photo, the moment had passed: she’d finished her tea and was about to move from the light. So now, along with permission to take the photo, I had to get permission to recreate it.
I’ve seen my share, and I expect you have too, of people who basically spray the area hoping to get a keeper. I’ve also seen photographers who wait…wait…and wait some more to catch that decisive moment. I’m neither of those types. I think of what I do as mindful shooting: I know what I want the photo to look like; I preconceive and previsualize the moment; I control the situation as much as I can to get that moment; and I’m prepared to work with what I’m given and what I can’t control in order to get a good result.
Early on I lived in Paris, shooting fashion photography. I saw all the iconic places and landmarks, of course, and observed hundreds of people shooting them. When I became a travel photographer, my initial thought was to shoot lots of subjects other than the icons; to make untypical, evocative images of marketplaces, shop fronts, and unexpected details. Pretty quickly I found out the icons defined a place, and even more important, the icons made the money.
I learned photography in the film days, and when the huge change to digital came along, I changed not only my gear but the way I see. I used to have to see in terms of very specific criteria of what would work within the ISO range of my film and what the film could record in terms of light and shadow. Low ISOs meant I couldn’t get enough depth of field, or a tripod was needed, or I had to light something because there wasn’t enough information in pictures that had incredible shadow detail. High ISOs often meant an unacceptable level of grain and bad color rendition. As a result I passed up a lot of situations that got my attention but were beyond the capability of my film to capture.