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Part 2 – Mustering Mastering Travel Photography

Mastering travel photography is a life long quest. Mustering the time, money and effort required is part and parcel with that quest. We left the opening episode with a quote defining precisely what travel photography is, at least according to the Photographic Society of America. And then we redefined it! Please have a look if you have not read it already. We’ll wait here. For part 1, CLICK HERE.

A lady is stalking monks to take their photo on U Bein Bridge, Myanmar.
Monk stalking on U Bein Bridge, Myanmar.

And now let’s meander over to a few more snappy travel photography quotes our crack staff labored for all of 38 seconds to unearth. Astonishingly, they are all from the prolific pen of some dude named Anonymous. We’re not sure, but we think he might be Greek. In any event, fabulous prizes await the cyber-sleuth who can track him down for us. We have a very strong hunch this guy gives good interview, so please visit this page numerous times daily, because when he calls, we’ll probably go LIVE. Think of the magnitude!

“PHOTO”, derived from the Greek combo of phos & phot, both a form of light.

“Really, it’s all about light? What happens when you haven’t got your shot and your drop-dead upload is an hour away, it’s pouring buckets and your authentic natives are restless? That’s right. You move back in with Mumsy and go back to your stock-hole! It’s not ALL about light. It’s about resourcefulness, imagination, and the ability to create a useable image from inside the trunk of a speeding car if you have to. Light… Don’t tell me about light; I was in that trunk! And I got that image.“

You didn’t steal this from the Shooting Under Fire script, did you? Mac? David? Because I swear I just heard Nick Nolte’s voice. OK, so this is no doubt a photo journo talking, but you get the point.

Nikon Nick Nolte in "Shooting Under Fire"
Nikon Nick Nolte in “Shooting Under Fire”

“Last I checked, Photoshop didn’t have a shutter release.”

Is that true? I still haven’t figured why you use unsharp to sharpen! And lest you think I’m alone, check out this little chestnut from one of the greatest all around photographers and photography educators of all time:

“I am completely camera illiterate. I am so uninterested in the technology it’s painful. People that take my classes very often know more about my camera than I do!” — Art Wolfe

Atta boy, Art. Give it to the tech-heads. Beyond knowing how to use the essential basics and make situational adjustments on your camera in order to capture any image you’re after, it’s all geek city Greek to me, and I KNOW I’m not alone! That said, the essentials need to become second nature and be performed almost without thinking. They are not all that difficult, it just takes practice.

“You don’t become a better photographer with your finger on a mouse. You become a better photographer with your butt in the field.”

I think I’m getting a man crush on this Greek. That was definitely a shot across the bow of the HDR crowd and Photoshop “painters”. Yeah that’s right, we be Nat Geo Old School geezers around this joint, just so you know. Have Pinhole Will Travel. We’ll even play the Francis Bedford card on you if we have to, so watch it.

OK, we know “the field” the Greek references above are expensive for travel photographers, most of whom work on their own dime and then hope to earn a few. But hey, “the street” just outside is free, free free. Just walk, baby! Walk and see. See and walk. Bring a seeing-eye dog for all we care, just get your “butt in the field!” You cannot afford to be bored with your surroundings, any surroundings!

A well known photographer we know well, well, when he gets in a rut, does a little exercise he claims to have invented. It’s called “Killing Zorro”. It’s about getting out there and rethinking your approach w/o hiding behind the black mask, making yourself see and think like a photographer without any hope of actually taking a photograph. Sound crazy? Well, maybe. Whether you use your hands and body or not is up to you. This scribe does, if for no other reason than to get used to making a fool of myself and laughing it off with people looking at me strangely. (Smiling is one of the best “weapons” a travel photographer has).

Burmese photographer A.P. Soe is one the happiest snappers you will ever meet! Maybe it's the whiskey.
Burmese photographer A.P. Soe always has a ready smile. Maybe it’s the whisky.

SEE the shot and make the shot in your head first, yes all of it, every little move — right down to the ISO, f-stop, whatever you need to do before you press your grubby little digit on the shutter release. Then perform the action as if you had a camera. Of course, in Manuel Mode! Alright fine, but at least partial Manual ever ready to exposure compensate. Many shooters use aperture priority most of the time. For you beginners, you cannot trust the camera in auto or even P-mode, at least in difficult light. It will get it wrong every single time, no matter how many millions of dollars you have spent on it.

Well, did you get the shot? If not, why not? Do this every day for a week come hell or high-water. (Why is your brow furrowed?).

If athletes work on visualizing their every move, why shouldn’t photographers? The simple fact is, when we visualize our approach in the field without the contraption in our hands or pressed to our skulls, we begin to think, see and make decisions differently. It slows tings down and makes us less lazy at the same time, because we don’t have to worry about missing the shot – there is no shot! Like most of us in the age of digital, you dear travel shooter, probably shoot TMFF too! (Too Many F-ing Frames). Yes, TMFF is a form of laziness, because it’s much easier to snap away than it is to “see” and think.

And what happens to most of those frames? That’s right, deleted or banished to the Folder of a Thousand Files you keep right next to your Trash Bin for years on end. Why? Why does that folder exist? Too much shooting! Unless we’re very conscious about precisely what we’re trying to capture and why, all that shooting is only reinforcing our bad habits. Lack of awareness allows bad habits to form; continued lack of awareness allows them to slink deeper into the subconscious, and plant roots.

If we are actually as aware as we like to think we are, then why do we take so many crappy shots? We know very well photography always has a high “body count”. But have you had a chance to look at the “bodies” of a top tier photographer? First thing you see – is fewer dead. Far fewer. They know when NOT to shoot. Fewer frames, fewer mistakes. Second thing you see is less ‘blood and gore’. Some of these ‘bodies’ would make a lot of online portfolios out there, no doubt.

Former Nikon Photographer of the Year, Alastair McNaughton, was a Tri-X Troglodyte well into the digital age. Not only did this cave dwelling snapper have the restrictions of 36 or 37 frames to a roll and a limited budget, he printed all his own photographs! Can any of us even imagine having to print ALL those images trapped in the Folder of a Thousand Files? Now imagine having to print all the images you have deleted on top of it?! Ask yourself this – at what point did all the digi-snapping start working against you, rather than for you? If it’s all you’ve done, the answer may well be – from the very start!

Sydney harbor in extraordinary photo by Alastair McNaughton

We are not suggesting going back to the not so old days of film. We are saying flat out, that the new day of digital is still evolving

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toward the disciplined eye of the film photographer. That’s where the masters are now, synergizing discipline with technology to create and incredibly powerful matrix that most of the rest of us have not yet been able to wrap our gourds around, and squeeze ever so gently.

To be continued… It gets better, trust us! But seriously, this is kinda good already isn’t it? No? Fine then! Go back to flippin’ View Bug and slather yourself in “7 Tips for Shooting Black Cats in Sleeping Hat”. And good luck with that. BTW, our next major available small group photography tour workshop happens June 18 to July 2, 2018 in spectacular Vietnam. Spending 15 days with two of the best travel shooters on the planet in David Lazar and Nguyen Vu Phuoc, will surely vault you toward mastery! Or at least mustery.

A poor women's Non La taken outside of Hanoi on photo tour in Vietnam
Photo: Nguyen Vu Phuoc