Yesterday we began to look at some of the common mistakes that aspiring travel photographers, as well as photographers in general make at the beginning of the journey the world of photography. Today we explore 5 more travel photography mistakes.
6. Forgetting about communicating from within the frame – composition
When we travel, the new, exotic sights, sounds and smells can be overwhelming or they can get us so excited that we easily forget that with an image we’re not only capturing memories, but can also communicate what we want to say or how we feel about the subject in front of the camera. In other words we forget about the way we frame the shot, about composition.
It’s happened to me plenty of times during the early stages of my own photographic journey, particularly on my first trip to India. When I arrived in that amazing country there was just such a myriad of incredible characters and places, that excitement took over and I got a little “trigger happy”. I pointed the camera in the direction of anything and everything I found interesting, snapping away without ever considering what my photos would say and how they would be perceived by others.
When I returned and saw those images more objectively, I realised that only a small percentage of them was any good. A few times I managed to get strong shots on instinct and luck alone, but in most cases you’d see people’s vital body parts “cut off” because of how I’d frame the shot or there would be too much irrelevant visual clutter in the frame, making it unclear just what in the world the photo was actually about.
Eventually I learned that sometimes before pressing that shutter button it’s important to pause, regroup, get your thoughts together and consider what you actually want to say and communicate from within the frame of a photograph and how to do it in the best possible way.
7. Thinking that photos which capture dramatic or interesting moments are lucky shots
The image at the top of this article might seem like the result of pure luck, it’s easy to believe that I was simply in the right place at the right time, but that isn’t entirely true. I’m not denying that luck can play a big part when it comes to making these sorts of images, but it is certainly not the only factor. The more experienced photographers will usually tell you that great “images of moments” are created when luck meets preparation. Image #1 is the result of such a “meeting”.
I was prepared because I had a rough idea of what I wanted to photograph – I researched and I became familiar with the location. I knew that I’d find interesting characters like this Saddhu (Indian holy man/ascetic) in the area where I took the photo and I understood which scenes had the most photographic potential. The scene of those pigeons taking to the air is something I had observed several times before; they were always in the same spot every morning, because one man would always feed them at this time – I wanted to somehow work them into my image.
All that I needed to make the shot that I had envisioned was for all the necessary elements to align. You could say that I got lucky because of the way they did align. I must admit that there’s no way I would have imagined that the dog, (which I think adds a lot to the image) would appear in the scene like that. But ultimately it is because I was prepared that I was able and ready to take advantage of the situation when luck came my way.
8. Not taking enough photographs
What’s “enough” is of course subjective. My meaning of “not enough” is not doing any of the following; exploring different angles and viewpoints, photographing a person in action at different stages of that action, experimenting with the settings (exposure, ISO, shutter speed) and possibly even with different lenses.
One thing that I and most of the experienced travel photographers have learned through at times painful lessons is that it’s always better to take more photographs than what you need, for the simple fact that if you’ve got a photo-worthy situation, you’re not necessarily going to be able to recreate it or come back to it ever again, so make the most of your chances.
The examples above should give you a better understanding of what “enough” looks like.
I actually took much more photos than what you see here, but you can get the idea of what I was trying to do through the images that I’ve provided. I explored the scene photographically from different angles and captured the woman’s movement through different stages.
By doing this I gave myself the chance to create one or even a couple of images that I was particularly happy with.
The image to the right is the one that works best for me.
9. Not interacting or connecting with people when making portraits
Photographing people can be a daunting task and the interaction is often what a lot of us shy away from. It’s certainly possible to make powerful, candid portraits with a long lens without having any interaction with the subject whatsoever, but limiting ourselves to this technique means that we’re not giving ourselves the slightest chance to create something really special.
Sometimes the interaction and the connection the photographer makes with the subject are obvious in the photograph. There’s a certain trust and openness that often come out in the way the subject gazes through the lens. But the benefits of interacting and connecting also go beyond the obvious.
When the photographer establishes rapport with the subject, it means that he/she is no longer just a random passer-by, but someone who the subject sympathises with and this very fact can lead to the creation of photographs that would otherwise be impossible.
The story behind the above image demonstrates the point rather well. The man in the photo is a sulphur miner who works at Indonesia’s famous Ijen crater. Over the few days I spent at this place I actually became friends with him.
Because of our friendship we were both comfortable with the idea of me following him around and taking photos as he made his journey to the crater. In a sense the photographic process became a collaboration; I’d sometimes ask him to slow down or to look in one direction or another as I was making photos and he gladly went along with my requests. When I recognised the perfect setting for a portrait (that dramatic mountain backdrop) I suggested that my friend take his usual cigarette break there rather than a few hundred meters ahead. Our “collaboration” allowed me an extra level of creative control over the scene and led to a more powerful image, but it’s not necessarily something I could have expected from a person with whom I didn’t interact or connect with before and I certainly could not have expected the same if I simply made the photo using a long lens from afar.
10. Not leaving the group
This applies more to people who go on group tours on group photo workshops. While such ways of traveling certainly have their benefits, there are also undoubtedly some disadvantages. Here are those which I find to be most significant:
- It is extremely hard if not impossible to get intimate with the subject. The fact that there’s a whole group of people looking at or photographing the same person can feel rather confrontational and overwhelming to any “normal” person.
- Usually you don’t have the freedom to be spontaneous because you’re not the only one making the decisions. While I’m all for planning and being organised, sometimes spontaneity can provide a great creative spark and leads to some unexpectedly special images.
- Your experiences are less personal, not necessarily only because you’re following the group, but because being around other people inevitably influences the way one sees and experiences things.
Despite these disadvantages I’m not saying that one should never travel in a group altogether. What I am saying is that it would be really beneficial to set aside some time for yourself, to have your own, personal experiences in order, to make photos that resonate closely with you. How much time you set aside for yourself is up to you, but even a quick wander around the town in which you’re staying/stopping can lead to fascinating experiences and worthwhile photographic results.
I’ve chosen to include the above image because in some ways it embodies the beauty of just wandering around and searching for interesting photographic moments by yourself. It’s a photograph of a simple, subtle you could even say quiet, everyday-life moment and it’s interesting precisely because of that. It’s not something that I could have ever captured while traveling in a group – the child would have either run off or would have run towards the group out of immense curiosity. The very essence of what made the scene work – the quietness and subtlety would have been very quickly destroyed.
If you enjoyed this exploration of the topic of travel photography – check out Mitchell’s eBook – Transcend Travel: a Guide to Captivating Travel Photography.