Travel Photography: The KISS Principle

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Keep it simple shutterbug. Travel photography is about capturing a moment, a place or a culture. It is as much about the experiences the photographer has along the way as it is about the image itself. The people you meet and the places you see. No one can deny the satisfaction the photographer gains by carefully planning and executing the perfect shot using a whole host of expensive equipment to get everything just right. However a technically perfect, but emotionally distant shot pales into insignificance next to one that manages to convey it’s message with sensitivity and shows an intimacy with it’s subject.

I have known many a photographer who will spend hours setting up their tripod, attaching all the required components (and some not required ones), cleaning and polishing the lens to within an inch of its life, only to miss those few moments of perfect light, when the sun bursts through the clouds and spreads it’s golden rays over the scene, or the seconds a member of an exotic tribe smiles into their camera.

So how do you keep the quality, but not miss the moment? Get back to basics. Take a long hard look at your kit bag and then leave most of it behind. Take with you only the essentials. Aside from a spare battery set and other such essentials, one camera, one or two lenses, and possibly a polarizing filter should let you cover most situations. Apart from not being weighed down by a heavy bag, you will find yourself thinking less about the technical aspects of photography and more about the image you are taking.

An obvious, but often overlooked aspect of travel photography is getting to know your subject. I don’t mean planning weeks ahead the best way to get to your destination and the best time to go (although this is important too). What do you do once you get there? Walk around the scene. Look at the angles. Look at the people. Speak to people. Become part of the scene. Think about the message you are trying to convey, and the way you want to convey it. Is it about the place itself or the people that live there? Are you looking at the broader picture or the finer details? Or both?

These are all questions that need to be answered at some point. The successful photographer is one who knows the purpose of their shoot and acts accordingly. You may find that you spend more time getting to know your subjects than actually shooting. This however, is no bad thing. It is better to come away with a few memorable images than many average ones. In addition to the images, you will more likely come away with a richer cultural experience. Which for many a traveling photographer, is the real prize.

So while it is easy to be swept up in discussion with other photographers about who has which gadget, don’t forget why you’re there in the first place, and spend a little more time thinking about what you see though the lens rather than the lens itself.