Travel Photography–a marriage of words and pictures

A view from Big Bear mountain after a fresh snowfall. Captured on Fujichrome 100. Nikon F5. 50mm lens. Exposure was 1/500s at f11.

Every adolescent’s dream is to travel, see exotic places. So mine was no different.

I joined Singapore Airlines when I was 18, right after what would be in the 11th grade of high school here in the US, “O” levels in the British system of education.

That was when I caught the shutterbug, while traveling on the airline’s dime.

I subscribed to magazines, read voraciously anything that dealt with photography, and I shot miles and miles of slide film.

While in the airlines, my buddies used to deride me for carrying my Tenba bag everywhere.

It weighed a hefty 20 lbs because it had a bunch of lenses and 2 camera bodies.

I could just as easily bought postcards of all the places I visited.

But how much fun is that?

Later, when it came time to part company with the airline and pursue a college degree, I majored in Photojournalism.

People love to see pictures of people like this image of an opera singer in Hong Kong. I went backstage in the dressing room. Why and how you might ask? Well, I wanted to get better pictures and I wanted better control over the lighting. As to how, well, no one stopped me. Canon F-1 camera. Canon 85mm f1.2 FD lens. I miss the bokeh of that wonderful lens. Fujichrome 160 Tungsten film.

Travel photography is quite different from other photographic endeavors especially if you plan to make a living from it.

Most successful travel photographers are writers as well.

Actually in the print world, you can’t separate words from pictures.

They complement each other.

What the picture can’t show, the words explain in greater detail.

While traveling in Osaka, Japan, I came across daycare workers taking a group of toddlers on an outing through a park.

Canon F-1, Fujichrome 100, Canon 28 mm FD lens

So it’s no surprise that some travel articles are sometimes from husband and wife teams.

That’s the perfect job for couples. Think exotic locations, the love of your life with you and endless adventures together.

My biggest problem with travel photography is that a lot of the imagery you see have been so photographed that they’re the equivalent of visual clichés.

What comes to mind when you think of China? Great Wall of China, or the Forbidden City in Beijing? Egypt? The Great Pyramids. India… the Taj Mahal. Indonesia…Borobodur. Cambodia…Angkor Wat.

Moonie Falls, part of the Havasupai Indian’ reservation Arizona, is as majestic and as exotic a location as you can find. Its tranquil beauty has been featured in movies but because of it’s remoteness and inaccessibility by car, it remains pristine and unspoilt. Canon F-1. Canon 20 mm FD lens. Fujicolor 100

As in most printed media, the pictures tend to be more important than the words. A visually striking image will  draw a casual browser of publication into reading an article even if the headline is not well-written.

A great selection of pictures of one destination can save a article with mediocre writing.

But the same can’t be said if the pictures are of poor quality. No matter how good and compelling the writing, if the pictures are just mediocre, readers will not be drawn to the story.

Poorly composed images, especially ones with lots of technical flaws like low resolution, artifacting and digital noise cannot be rescued.

As powerful as Photoshop is, it simply can’t fix or add something that isn’t in a picture. Even if it can, there is the ethical question of are you allowed to?

Most magazine have strict guidelines against such manipulation of images especially in their editorial content.

Singapore‘s Merlion, a cross of a mermaid and lion, photographed at night is iconic of this island nation. Originally photographed on Fujichrome 100. I chose to photograph it at night simply because the distractions in the background is removed when not light by daylight. Canon F-1 camera, 50 mm lens Canon FD lens.

But poorly written articles can be “massaged” and fine-tuned by editors into some quite readable.

Tips for a successful trip:

Careful planning and research of your destination.A sheepherder in the San Jacinto valley lives a solitary existence with only his dogs and sheep for company
Obvious yet a lot of people don’t consider this when making their plans.

Festivities like Oktoberfest in Germany, Tournament of Roses in Pasadena, California takes place annually at the same time.

A Basque sheepherder in the San Jacinto valley, California watches over his flock during an overcast morning.

And by planning I don’t just mean planning for the length of time you are going to be at your destination.

If you’re a digital photogapher, you’ll need power  to charge your batteries and a way to download and clear off your memory cards or you will be up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

If you’re headed abroad where electrical power is different from home, you’ll also a voltage converter.

I recommend the Kensington 3317 International All-in-one Travel Plug Adapter.

To be very clear, this is NOT a power inverter. 

It doesn’t step down or step up the power from the wall outlets.

Most appliances these days have built-in circuitry to run on 110 v and 240 v.

The power brick or AC adapter that comes with your  laptop or charger for your digital camera converts that to Direct Current. If you’re traveling with heavier duty appliances that may not be the case. 

But for laptops and digital cameras, their manufacturers know their market and never limit themselves, least of all to restrictions with electrical power.

Careful note-taking.
Whether you use a laptop or pen and paper, having good habits like keeping receipts and other bills incurred during the trip is important.

Even if you’re not writing the article, precise notes on how to get from town A to town B, how much the fare was, the duration of the drive are all details which add value to your pitch to magazines or collaborative effort with a writer.

A one-man band delights the crowds in Frankfurt, Germany with is home-made ensemble of instruments. Canon F-1. Canon 28mm lens. Fujichrome 100.

Remember your recall will not be so good once you’re home. Foreign names have a way of sounding the same when you get home, so good note-taking is critical.

Your article will have more credibility if you provide details since a travel article is part “how-to” and part narrative.

Another reason for those notes is documentation when you claim the trip as a business expense.

Digital SLR with wide and telephoto zoom lens
Think “light.” If you’re lugging around a lot of gear, you’ll be too beat to use your camera.

Seeing the town the old fashion way–A trishaw peddler takes tourists on a leisurely ride to view historic Penang, Malaysia. Canon 20D camera. ISO 200. 17-35mm f 2.8 zoom.

Traveling light doesn’t mean you leave essentials like a healthy supply of extra memory cards, batteries and flash units at home.

If you’re bringing along a laptop, then a supply of writable CDs or DVDs is important.

Even if you don’t have a chance to edit your images after you download them to your computer, you should burn those images as a backup and mail them to yourself.

That way if all your gear is stolen, you’ll still have images to show when you get home.

So, was I right about how good images can carry an article even when the writing isn’t exemplary?

2 thoughts on “Travel Photography–a marriage of words and pictures”

  1. John,
    I’ll assume you’ll be bringing your digital camera and laptop.
    No doubt, you’ll be bringing a charger for your digital camera and your laptop.

    Most folks don’t realize that laptop computers and many electrical appliance manufacturers make their device run off of DC so they can sell their products worldwide without the hassle of converting the power.

    So really all you would need is the right male or female plugs to interface with the wall outlets of whatever country you’re visiting.

    The Kensington unit I recommended doesn’t convert your power, your laptop and your camera charger already converts it to the right voltage. That unit just gives you the myriad connectors from all over the world in one tiny package.

    Try this site for more specifics on the kind of male/female plugs you need. Good luck! Share some of your pictures!

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