Travel Photography

Yeah I travel lots. In fact I travel way too much. Most of my travel is for my full time job. The job part of that statement gets in the way during the travel part. I have been doing it for 16 years or so now. But it feels like 60 some days.

The other travel I do for vacations and photography workshops is the fun travel. Although even the travel part of that statement is starting to get old.

So one of the questions I hear most often when I tell folks I am off on another business trip is “are you taking your camera?” Well yes and no is my answer usually. They look at me as if I just told them their underwear was on backwards. Then comes the explanation part. I have to explain what I mean when I say these thought provoking (aka dumb ass) statements.

My work trips are not, normally, very long. In other words I normally don’t travel longer than 5 days a week. I usually leave on a Monday (always fun with the other 63 million people traveling on the same day) and return on the Friday. Given that, I have to consider the following points when deciding if I am taking a camera or A Camera:

How much “free” time will I have?

Where am I going and does it matter?

Am I working days or nights?

So lets first look at the last part of my statement above where I mention if I am taking a camera or A Camera. Some folks out there don’t consider a camera to be a camera unless it is a DSLR with all kinds of gizmos and gadgets and expensive stuff attached to it. Other folks, like me, know that the best camera is the one you have with you. So when I say a camera I mean either my phone (which I always have anyway) or a small point & shoot. When I say A Camera, I mean a DSLR. This is not a discussion about gear or stuff so lets leave it there shall we.

So back to my considerations. First off, how much free time will I have. Most times that is not an easy question to answer and sometimes it falls into the “am I working days or nights or both (at the same time).” If I know ahead of time I will have some free time, then the DSLR light bulb may come on. And if I have nights available that can sometimes be the deciding factor for the DSLR (camera phones and point & shoots are crappy for night shooting).

However I think the biggest deciding factor is where am I going. If I am heading to Calgary for example, and know I will have some time to head out to the Rockies, then the DSLR gets the nod. But if I am heading to Somewhere, PA and I have never been there and I have no time to research it, then most likely the DSLR will stay safely tucked away in its bag and either the point & shoot will come out or just the phone will be used.

If we stop for a moment and look at travel for photography workshops. The fun stuff I was talking about earlier. When I sign up for a workshop, I always know that the folks that are running the workshop have been to this location(s) at least once before the actual workshop. They have taken a couple of images (5 or 10 thousand) and have done their research about where to find the best, and coldest, beer. So where was I going with this? Oh yeah…research. Travel photography is about the only genre of photography that you really can’t do a lot of research for. I mean if you know exactly where you are going, you can check out places and so forth. But usually your time at a place is limited, so you have to jump in, feet first. You can’t worry about weather, light or locked gates. You have to hope that everything cooperates and you walk away with some shots that worked out. Rarely does it happen, but when it does, you thump your chest and exclaim to the world “I Photographer…you…mere mortal.”

Travel photography can be stressful if you let it be. You happen to end up somewhere you have seen online, and you think to yourself…”self, I need to get that shot of the Milky Way coming out of the top of the mountain like I saw in National Geographic.” You work your magic and still all you have is a bunch of burry dots on your iPhone. You need to be practical. Or steal a perfectly good shot from another photographer. (not that I am condoning that…just saying…)

For me, doing photography on work trips is never a lot of fun. I have had some moments, like a couple of years ago, when I was invited to shoot some ice climbers with Paul Zizka and the Northern Lights decided to put on a show. But carrying all the stuff for work trips and then having to haul a camera bag and a tripod along as well can be a pain, mostly in the back and shoulders. But I love doing photography on work trips ‘cause it is my stress relief. When I have had a rough day, if I know I can get out, even for an hour or so, and go shooting, it puts a big grin on my face.

If you are planning a vacation and want to turn it into a photography vacation, then you need to do your research, and have some patience. Depending on where you are going, the time of year, the weather and how long you have, will all be factors in whether you walk away with some great shots, or frustration. One of the biggest mistakes that folks who are going on a one or two week vacation make, is going somewhere with pre-conceived notions about what they can expect to find because this is what they saw online. If you get somewhere and the weather is sucky, don’t be sad. Pull out the camera condom and shoot away…err photograph I mean. Sometimes nasty weather can lead to great shots, or expensive camera repairs. If you get somewhere and the gates are locked and you forgot the bolt cutters, don’t sweat it. The bear was probably sleeping anyway.

Travel should be a joy. It should be educational and rewarding. And it is. But it is like anything, you have to be prepared and you have to be able to adapt. Go on, travel and have fun! Take lots of pics and throw 98% of them in the trash. But the 2% you keep…well they will be magical. And most of all, look away from the camera and enjoy the place you are in. For you might never return but your memories will always be there.

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Good Friday morning!!!