Do you need to travel far for pictures?


Luck favors the prepared–While driving in Garner Valley, California, I came across this trio. If you drive a lot, it’s always a good idea to have your camera with you. Keep a notebook handy as you’re driving or walking around to make notes of promising situations. With digital cameras available on your cellphone, you don’t even need to write. A shot of the scene and the street signs should jog your memory when you need to recall where it was. You may not even have to shoot the street signs if you have those smartphones which are GPS enabled and can geo-tag.

Ever since I left the newspaper, I haven’t been driving very much except for picking up the kids, dropping them off and running the usual errands around the city.

I used to be a road warrior, meaning my car was my office. There were days I would drive 2 hours (one-way), hop out of the car to make a quick portrait, hop back in the car and then drive back to the newspaper.

sleeperEven after switching to digital, I still had to drive quite a bit during an eight-hour shift.

In fact, the higher-ups at the papers actually packed more assignments into my day when they realized I only needed a phone line or an internet connection and my laptop to send pictures back.

That often left me wondering if I was a photographer or a courier.

How far you have to go depends solely on what kinds of subjects you enjoy photographing.

Let’s face it, if you’re trying to follow in the footsteps of Ansel Adams, and you live on the island of Hong Kong, just forget it.

Make the most of where you are–In a place with so much humanity, I found the people  intriguing. I had a lot of fun picking out faces in the crowds whether it was someone sleeping at a public park, or the old rickshaw puller waiting at the Star Ferry Terminal in Kowloon.

When I was there, I don’t recall an instance when I could be alone in public for longer than 5 minutes no matter what time of the day.

It was just so crowded on that little rock in the South China Sea.

rickshawIn that instance, you’re better off sticking with people or street photography.

Most beginners start out with landscapes  because it is easiest.

Let’s face it.

Mount Rushmore, Ayers Rock, the Sphinx, the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower or the Great Wall of China are all very cooperative subjects and they are outdoors.

Toughest part is waiting for either the light or the other tourists to get out of your picture.

Photography, like most skills, has a natural progression.

As your camera handling skills improve, you need to be challenged if you want to improve.

I’ve tried telling  my students that.

They still whine when I make them photograph people, especially when I specify those people they photograph need to be strangers.

For most folks, there’s nothing more intimidating than going up to a stranger and asking their permission to take their picture. Actually, I take that back.

Approaching a “hot” woman at a bar and striking up a conversation with her, without my camera, still scares the bejesus out of me.

Now, now don’t be speed dialing my wife. It’s a hypothetical, okay?

See if this makes sense.

At first, I didn’t want anyone in my pictures. Then, I thought all my pictures looked so lonely without a person.

Later, having a person wasn’t enough. I wanted to see more. I wanted to see their faces.

Even later still, I wasn’t happy with just being able to see their faces, I wanted to capture some candid moments when I interacted with them.

Finally, I would seek out people who had interesting stories to see if I could show that. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. I’m a story-teller at heart, that’s why.

So if you’re not a hardcore landscape photographer, but a generalist, I hope you realize that you are only limited in your choices by your imagination and powers of observation.

Most of us are creatures of habit. If you never venture outside just before sunset, then you’re missing out a lot on what your world looks like.

Likewise, if you are a late-riser, or if you take the same route to work daily, you’re probably not seeing some possibilities for good pictures.

When I worked at the newspaper and had a company car, I used to leave earlier than I needed to get to an assignment because I wanted to take a different route just to explore.

Of course, I didn’t have to pay for the expense of the gas, so why not take a circuitous route since I was on the clock anyway?

I used to make mental notes to myself. Oddities like which highway I was traveling on, the time of the year and time of the day I saw something promising.

I would file that away in a little notebook for those times when the bossman would inevitable call to say, ”We don’t have anything for the cover, come back with something.”

Tricks of the trade? I think it was more my way of maximizing my chances to find a good picture.

Now that you’ve read this rather roundabout post about how far you have to go to find a picture, please go outside with your camera.

After all, not everyone can have their very own pet spider living in his kitchen like I do.

7 thoughts on “Do you need to travel far for pictures?”

  1. Thanks. I remember wanting so badly to come home and be a witness to the beginning of the end for the Marcos dictatorship but chose to stay in the US due to my studies. It would have been an experience to have had the opportunity to document that sad part (albeit a triumphant one in the end) of my homeland’s history in photos.

    Thanks again.

  2. Hi Ed,
    Thank you for reading and taking the trouble to comment. Selamat Po Pare. Great pictures of Cory. I lived in Manila for 14 months. I was there when her husband was assassinated. Sad. He didn’t even make it out of the airport! Nice work on your website, by the way.

  3. DeeAnn,
    If I remember Charlotte’s Web correctly, that spider is probably dead. They have a short lifespan but make up for it by having hundreds of babies.

    My point to the post is really that photographers should make the most of where they are. And to minimize the random driving around to look for pictures, it’s better to take notes and think of possibilities.

    As much as I would like to be on location like Muka Head beach (below) I used to frequent in Penang, Malaysia where I grew up, there are locations here in the US which I absolutely love.

  4. Is that spider still alive?
    Don’t forget to keep in your vehicle, besides camera, is fire turnout gear.
    Gym wear just didn’t cut it for trying to shoot a recent structure fire in Hemet.
    Usually the big bag is right next to photo gear, but ‘forgot’ to put back in after moving large loads.
    Fire turnout gear can be as simple as loose pants, sturdy shoes.
    Approaching people and not intimidating them with overboard equipment is important.
    Peter you are right about the storytelling. Relating to others, general interest in what they are doing go a long way.

  5. Thank you Jo. Your images for the foundation’s calendar come to mind when I wrote about “Making the Most of Where You Are.” When you have it completed, do some me a pdf so I can share. I could post link to Latika Roy foundation’s page if you are planning to sell it online?

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