Travel Photography

A camera is a mandatory travel accessory that is more important than maps, walking shoes or hotel reservations. Whether I am going on a three-week vacation, leaving for a work-related trip, or just spending a weekend in the mountains, the first thing to go into my luggage is a camera. Photographs are a vivid record of the places that we have visited and explored. They remind us of experiences, sometimes even entire journeys, that might otherwise be forgotten. A photograph has an almost limitless capacity to stimulate the memory, and, for this reason, a well-photographed travel experience never really ends.

A few misguided travelers belittle the importance of a camera. They may feel that a camera is at best a nuisance and at worst a barrier between person and place. Some are appalled by the thought that a camera might identify them as a tourist. Others have frivolously concluded that a few 25¢ postcards are sufficient to document their travels. But postcards are a record of someone else's journey. A postcard will not remind you that your first glimpse of Big Ben was in the pouring rain, or that your spouse never stopped smiling during your last vacation.

Those that feel a camera hinders the connection between photographer and subject do not understand the process of photography. A careful photographer is, by necessity, a leisurely traveler. An effective image demands deliberation and attention to detail. The photographer does not passively admire an ancient cathedral, but concentrates on architectural detail that the postcard-collecting sightseer is unlikely to notice. The photographer assesses the role of light and shadow, considering how the appearance of the cathedral may evolve from early morning to dusk. It is no coincidence that this attention to detail, perspective and light, was shared by the architects and artisans that created the great medieval cathedrals.

The photographer is generally a more informed traveler than the typical tourist because he or she must know in advance which Parisian neighborhoods offer exceptional views of the Eiffel Tower, or the most likely time and place in London to obtain a crowd-free shot of the Royal Horse Guards. The last thing that a photographer wants to hear is a comment such as "you should have been here last week when the cherry blossoms were in bloom." Good photographers know their subject.

Photography has always enhanced, rather than diminished, my connections with both local residents and fellow travelers. In my experience, the notion that locals disdain those perceived as tourists is nonsense. In fact, local residents are more likely to initiate a conversation with a patient and curious photographer than with the typical distracted peripatetic tourist. Also, after noticing my photography gear, other travelers will often hand me their camera along with a request to take their picture.

Although travel provides abundant opportunities for photography, it also presents some of the most challenging conditions that a photographer will encounter. At times, the sheer volume and variety of subjects, combined with inherent time constraints, can seem overwhelming. Crowds are often an integral part of travel and present their own unique challenges. When photographing popular scenes or events, people, including other photographers, may clutter, or even obscure, the subject.

Travel photography also presents unique logistical complications. On the road, it is generally the rule, rather than the exception, that there will be only a single opportunity to get the perfect shot. Even if a particular destination does not represent a "once in a lifetime" experience, it may be many years before a return visit is possible and the light, weather, and even the mood are unlikely to be the same. In some situations, it can be nearly impossible to maintain an adequate supply of the preferred film type, this is particularly true for destinations where English is not the dominant language. The travel photographer must be familiar with a large variety of film types because one never knows what will be available in the next town.

Since the advent of the pinhole camera, photography and travel have developed and maintained a symbiotic relationship. Travel has inspired the exposure of countless rolls of film, and great travel photographs have motivated countless travelers to venture out and consume yet more film. Travel photographs remind of us of the places we've been and the things we've done. They also remind us that our next trip is long overdue.

For a collection of my 100 favorite travel images, technical details of my photography, and a summary of lessons learned, please refer to the following documents

Travel Photo Galleries