The Travel Photographer

I remember once reading an article on travel photography that said that the love of travelling was no reason to get into travel photography. At the time I didn't understand this, thinking how wonderful it would be to fly to some distant, remote and idyllic beach snapping away happily as the sun set over azure blue water or shooting the locals happily going about their afternoon shopping rituals. What a better way to earn a living I remember thinking. What an excuse for working; sure beats a visit to the golf course on Wednesday afternoons with clients any day.

It is true that (depending on your client, circumstances or project) you get to travel to far away places, some beautiful and serene while others can be lonely, hot, insect infected or downright dangerous. As a travel photographer you will no doubt do a lot of "self funded trips" where you will plan a trip to shoot specific images for a specific type of magazine or type of article. This, in my opinion, is a great way to test yourself on whether or not you can plan and execute a trip as well as market the images afterwards and hopefully recoup some of if not all of your "self funded" costs. Ideally you would cover your costs and make a profit and through careful and proper editing of images and articles be able to sell the same work many times, not to mention the ongoing sales from the photo library that is holding your work. Why not give it a try? If you have an interest in travel photography do some research on a particular subject, make sure you know the fashions, the seasons get all the contacts you need to contact once you are back and have your images in front of you; go for it.

This article will hopefully give you some insight into travel photography, some idea of the scale of planning and various and, often-overlooked opportunities as well as some hints and tips. There are many books published on this subject, many books relating to the right way to market your work, the right people and institutions to approach and how to approach them and how to present your work. There are books that go into great detail on which images sell and to whom. There is more than enough information out there to make life easier for you.

A world of images
Today, it has never been easier, and in many ways never been more difficult to make a success out of travel photography. There are cheaper airline tickets and budget package deals for foreign destinations. The Internet has made research so much simpler; you can research just about any subject under the sun (including the sun and everything above it too!) from the comfort of your own home. This, in as much as it makes travelling a lot cheaper, faster and research more rewarding, means that more people can do the same thing you are doing, just as fast and be privy to the same information. The digital camera, that was once considered as non-professional tool "that would never stand up to professional photographic standards," has now surpassed the quality of film in many aspects and they are cheaper than they once were. Many photographers, using both 35mm SLR cameras and indeed Medium format cameras have had to change to digital because that is the way the client likes to work, or rather is becoming used to working.

With the falling price of digital cameras everyone seems to be snapping away, and with technology the way it is, even if you are not a sound photographer you can always tweak your images with one of the many available computer photographic editing packages.

So, where does this leave you? Well, lets start by looking at what travel photography is and where it fits in with other forms of photography. Look around you, in cinemas, shopping malls, the corner café, the doctors waiting room table, billboards, the covers of novels, and you will see pictures, images, and photographs everywhere. Where do they all come from? The two main ways that a client or prospective client will come by a photograph that is ideally suited for their campaign is either to hire a photographer and studio to capture the image they want to or to approach a photographic library that specialises in the type of image they are looking for. The latter, in many ways seems more feasible and a lot cheaper too. So, you could pay £1000.00 for the use of an image, but what would it cost you to hire a photographer, studio, stylist etc?

Ok, but why does someone have to travel half way around the globe, say from Australia to Paris to capture images of the Eiffel tower, surely there are many good Parisian photographers that could do the same job by simply poking their noses out their front door and surely there are millions of images of the same subject out there already? You would be correct in thinking like this, but there are always new angles, new fashionable photographic trends and, who really cares where the image came from in the first place, as long as it is good and the client is happy! Ah, now this is where you, the budding travel photographer comes into it. The Eiffel tower is but a large, albeit intriguing and history stooped man made metal structure, but it attracts visitors from all over the world, and it happens to lie in the centre of one of the worlds most romantic cities. So how would you go about photographing the Eiffel Tower?

This is how I would go about "shooting" the Eiffel tower.

Aim of shoot
To capture the Eiffel tower in a variety of moods. My aim is to show happiness, love, sorrow, taste, smell and touch. I want to show "cosmopolitan" and show intimacy.

A day on the Internet and a conversation with a work colleague gives me the information I need. I have a map (updated) and I know the various layouts of the streets leading to the Eiffel Tower. I have been recommended two cafes within walking distance both of which have different views of the structure. From looking through countless images I know of at least 18 different angles that are fresh in my mind and just to make sure, printed out and in my backpack.

I have an idea of the busses and trams and ferries. I know of 7 very local nightclubs, 5 very upmarket trendy hair stylists, 4 gay bars, a police station, a fire station, 2 schools, no less than 5 butcheries, two dog parlours, countless florists and 3 floating restaurants. I looked up the latest clothing fashions from Paris, I know the weather because I have checked the previous 14 days weather and the next 7 day forecast.

I know that there will be severe queues at the Eiffel Tower because annual maintenance has put two of the lifts out of commission, I now the opening times and closing times of the souvenir shop, the tuck shop, the lifts and what time the lights are switched on in the evening. I know how dark it will be too when the lights are switched on because I have checked the sunset and sunrise times.

With this information and my style of photography and calibre of photographic equipment I now plan some simple (I call "ground work") compositions. Some are in my head, others I will sketch, while others will be from the 18 images I have printed out. The main idea is that when I arrive at my destination I already have an idea of the images I want/need to capture. This, in fact, is like the brief you would get from a client or agency - remember, we are talking about a self funded trip to capture images that you can sell, you are now, strictly speaking working for yourself!

Now, imagine arriving in Paris and not even having a clue as to where the Eiffel Tower was let alone any of the other information I have stated above. Would you arrive late on a Friday afternoon and leave on Sunday or would you want to spend Friday and Monday there? Perhaps you could capture the mood of business people in suites and ties wearing their Friday, end of a long week, I hate my boss and am stressed out faces or their, I have had a lovely weekend, smiling, rested faces? If this the type of emotion you want to capture or indeed if this is how you are thinking of the shoot, imagine what the school kids would have to offer (they are at school this time of year in France, aren't they?) Research, research, research.

And so the trip starts, hopefully you will get some good images, both those that you planned as well as other "incidental shots." By this I mean; although you are in a particular place with a particular type of image in mind, you always have your camera with you, so perhaps you will capture a group of pick pockets going about their devious business or perhaps you could capture a cat with tiny kittens sleeping in a hollow of a tree!

I did once visit Paris with the view of photographing the Eiffel Tower; I had no experience then and went about it in the wrong way entirely. I did get some wonderful images of the huge structure but their only worth is that of a reminder to me of a very wonderful and expensive holiday.

Today, for me, my trips are very different. I now work strictly as I have mentioned above, and it works. Through a lot of reading, but mainly through trial, error and personal expense have I learned the true values of planning, research and technique. Travel photography is truly an amazing way to earn a living, but to be successful you need to have excellent photographic skills, an inquiring and intuitive mind, be hungry and passionate, and be motivated and headstrong.

This is the first of a number of articles I am writing on the subject. The next in the series is Travelling with and maintaining your camera gear on the road. The other articles will include some of the following information.

The equipment I use.
Local shows, festivals and events.
Fashion, both conventional and tribal.
Transportation, i.e. cars, horse drawn carts etc.
People - A lot on people.
Bars, band.
Flash photography.
Travelling with and maintaining your equipment on the road.
Writing and photography.
A story, not a country.

Mark Ossendryver has been a keen amateur photographer for many years, shooting both land based and underwater images. He is self taught in all aspects of his work, and through other business interests has had the opportunity to travel extensively, namely to USA, South Africa, Mozambique, Transkei, Tunisia, Egypt, Malaysia, Thailand and most of Europe and the Canary Islands. Mark and his wife now live in Thailand where he concentrates 100% of his time photographing and writing. This was an easy choice, following your heart and your passion to break into the world of photography and writing, but is not an easy life, having given up their home in Chiswick, and said goodbye to friends. Besides photographic articles such as these, he is submitting articles to Lifestyle magazines with articles and images ranging from Oriental cooking to architecture. He has a company, "Mark Ossendryver Photography" registered in Thailand and is currently working on two major projects with his wife and Thai partners. These are namely a guidebook to the Islands of Southern Thailand and The history of Phi Phi Island.

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