What to Photograph When You Travel
Whenever I go to a new destination I try to photographically document as much of the experience as possible. This can be very challenging because many places have so much to offer and deciding what to photograph can be daunting. I like to break it down to a few categories and try to capture a story about the place on my film. A good way to do this is to write a storyboard. A storyboard is simply an outline of what I want to make images of, and it normally covers everything from the accommodations, habitats, the wildlife, and the people. The outline can be as general or as specific as you want to be but remember, the more diverse your choice of images, the more stories you can tell about the destination. Remember that the storyboard is simply an outline to help you decide what to photograph. You probably won't get every image that's on your list and you want to be open to new ideas when come across images you did not think of. The storyboard will help you organize your priorities and keep you on track about what you want to photograph. Here again information plays a big role in organizing your list. What kinds of shots are easy to get and which ones will need time to acquire.
Want pictures of the lodge? If you are with a group and have a set itinerary, check it to see what time of the day you will actually be at the lodge and how the light falls on the buildings at that time of the day. Lots of lodges have bird feeders or water sources that attract wildlife and this is a wonderful place to get images since the wildlife will be accustom to people watching them.
If you are traveling in a group you may need to be extra creative because you will be tied to the groups schedule and have less flexibility to move on your own. This is not the end of the world and many experienced guides will put you in the best places at the best time of the day to see and photograph them. When you are on your own your schedule is normally up to you. Take advantage of this by planning your photographic endeavors to the time of the day that is best to make the images.
If I am going to photograph a local market I try to get there as all the local vendors are just setting up, this helps me in many ways. First, it allows me to see the layout of the place and see which direction the light will be coming from. Of course the sunlight is less harsh in the early morning so people will tend to have their wares and themselves out in the open where they are visible. Once the sun starts warming things up you will often find the umbrellas coming out to create some shade. This obscures your view and may prevent you from making the kind of image you really want. Getting to the market early also allows the locals to get use to me so I am less of a concern to them. Last but not in anyway least, when you are there early you beat the crowds.
Another nice aspect of being on your own is that you are not on anyone's schedule for other stops. Noting can be more frustrating than having to stop photographing something really wonderful because the group is scheduled to be at lunch at a certain time. The freedom to have meals when you want them and not when they are scheduled can really add to your photographic opportunities. Does this mean that if you are on an organized tour you won't get good images? No, of course not, but on a tour you need to realize you are not alone and desires of the group outweigh the desires of the individual. Even on a tour there are some steps you can take to increase your chances of good images. If it is a non-photographic tour you can simply talk to your tour guide and let them know what your photographic interests are. A good guide will always go out of their way to help you get the photos you desire. They may make special time just for you and get up early to take you to a good spot for sunrise; all it takes is a little communication.
You may even find that in some circumstances the organized tour may have access to special events someone on their own would not know about. This is often the case in Churchill, Manitoba, the polar bear capital of the world. Just outside of town there is a holding facility called bear jail where they house problem bears. As the bear jail fills up the local conservation officers airlift the bears outside of town by hauling them underneath a helicopter. This is quite photographic opportunity and if you were on your own you would never have any advance warning of the pending bear-lift. Somehow however all of the local bus drivers and guides always seem to have an hour or two advance knowledge of this event. Even though the bear-lift is not announced, tour groups always seem to be at the jail at the right time. I will talk more about the different ways to travel later on.
Books by other photographers about the places you plan to visit or the animals you plan to see are also a good place to look for information. Photos give you an idea of how other photographers have treated the subject and even what subjects are available. If you like what another photographer has done you can learn from them and use them as an example for technique or style. If you do not care for another photographer's work it can show you what to avoid. Often photo books give specific information about the difficulties the photographer faced and how they overcame them. You may get guidance on what lenses or film or other equipment to use in that particular situation.
One other point I want to mention about using other photographers as teachers or examples. There is a big difference between emulating and copying. If you like the style of a specific photographer and wish to use it as a way to stir your own creative juices that is complimentary and flattering. If all you want to do is to copy the exact photo another photographer took you might as well just buy one of the other photographer's photos. Your photography should be an expression of your personal experience not how well you can copy someone else's work. Now, with that said that does not mean you should not try to capture some classic shot that everyone is familiar with? You are bound to have some images that are just like many other photos that have been made. Just remember to put your own perspective in your images and look for new and exciting ways to make the image stand out from all the rest. Make it your image.