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Beauty is hiding in plain sight, but only for those who learn to see beyond the obvious. To capture the heart of a region through your lens, you must connect with a place on a deeper level. This often involves slowing down and immersing yourself in the culture of those who call it home. By doing so, you become more than just a tourist with a camera, but a participant searching for truth and understanding. Every corner of this earth has its own unique characteristics, and the successful travel photographer exposes these differences in a way that others can relate to.
It seems counterintuitive, but in searching for clean, simple compositions, your photos will benefit from a new level of sophistication. As Paulo Coelho said,
“Elegance is achieved when all that is superfluous has been discarded and the human being discovers simplicity and concentration: the simpler and more sober the posture, the more beautiful it will be.”
When visiting new places, sensory overload can overwhelm even the most deliberate photographers. This is where a slow, methodical pace will have a big impact on your work. Large bus tours with heavy agendas don’t typically allow the necessary time to capture the look and feel of a place. Instead, try a self guided tour, or a small group that caters to photographers.
Many photographers struggle with the idea of adding people to their compositions. After all, it can be unnerving to include a stranger in your composition. Yet, by working a human element into your travel work, your photography will become more visually engaging. Not only does it create a sense of scale, but they become more salable for stock photography. You’ll just need to secure a model release in order to do this. With a number of smart phone and tablet apps for releases, this no longer needs to be an awkward exchange of actual paper documents. For the participant’s cooperation, you can offer to send a high resolution copy of the image.
We all love to shoot scenic vistas bathed in the golden light of magic hour. While these dramatic landscapes can certainly round out a portfolio, it’s what you do with the remainder of the day that sets your collection apart. As you explore a location through your lens, think of yourself as a visual detective. No detail is too small. It’s the little things that ultimately add up to form the bigger picture.
Anyone who says you should pack your camera away midday is doing you a disservice. Contrary to what many suggest, the light is good all day, even at high noon. The trick is to best match the various qualities of light to your subject matter. A rolling green landscape can appear lush and vibrant with the simple twist of a circular polarizing filter. Why limit your photography to the hours around sunrise and sunset?
Researching potential shooting locations on the web is an essential part of any pre-trip preparation. With tools like the Photographer’s Ephemeris, you can study the precise time and locations of sunrise and sunset, along with with the moon phase. While this is helpful to create a basic shot list, remember to leave some time for unexpected adventure. Recognize that things will not always work out as planned. Getting lost is sometimes the only way to find what you’re looking for.
It seems that even the most remote destinations have been photographed from nearly every perspective. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t shoot them however. Instead, consider it a personal challenge to go one step further and create something unique. How can you take what’s already been done, and make it yours? It’s this vision that separates your work from the masses.
Zoom lenses give you the ability to change your focal length with a flick of the wrist. This is indeed convenient for many types of photography including travel work. Yet, if you limit your perspective to what the lens provides, you’ll miss out on a number of great opportunities. Travel photography calls for us to explore beyond the end of our zoom range. Let curiosity guide your compositions and the nature of a place will reveal itself.
This article is sponsored by the New York Institute of Photography. NYIP offers high-quality online photography courses that are affordable, convenient, and accredited. Chris Corradino is a paid instructor with NYIP.