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Travel photography often requires efforts and planning, in addition to technique.
I am going to share with you some of the techniques for approaching people I have developed after years of experience of taking photographs with Nomad Photo Xpedition at the most remote locations around the world.
It took me three two-hour sessions at 5:50 am on the banks of the Ganges at Varanasi to make a Sony World Photo Awards finalist. In midst of the mud, of the fog and of masses of pilgrims...
Whenever I organize a photographic journey with Nomad Photo Xpedition for my clients, I reserve about five days, at the end, for my own photographic work.
On such a trip, a small oversight or lack of planning can ruin much of the adventure. The loss of a battery charger has spoiled the day for more than one photographer who finds himself just somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Not to mention shattered memory cards or the worst of all, a broken camera.
- Choose your destination; find out the best season and do some research about the place
- Look for the guide/photographer who will make your life a whole lot easier and point out locations for you
- Plan your future photos. Prepare a script. Search for a reason, an argument for your images.
- Make a daily record and save addresses and phone numbers. You never know.
- Organize your equipment so that it is easily accessible.
- Always make backup copies of your photos
- Don’t rush head over heels to “capture” pictures. Take your time.
What, how and when
When traveling, I always advise my clients to plan their future actions. Planning and preparing is the most important part of our activity at Nomad Photo Xpedition.
Technique obviously plays an essential role in obtaining the image, but deciding what to photograph and how to do it is what is most relevant: “Production”, the “creation” of the story is what really matters.
And how do we get ready to reap the best results?
1. Plan your theme. - What are you going to take photos of? People, places, landscapes, lifestyles, an activity?
2. Consider the location. - Where can you find what you want to photograph? Are there several possible locations? If it is a shoe shop, is there more than one possibility? Is entry easy?
3. Choose from several possible locations, establish a priority. Do different topics interest you? At different places?
4. Organize your stay. – Are you going to spend a lot of time taking pictures? Will you need to have things changed around? Will you be interrupting somebody’s work? Do you need permission?
5. Find the right moment. - If it is during the day: at what time will you find the appropriate light? At ten o'clock in the morning? In the afternoon? If it is a workplace or a park: what is the time of affluence? Where does the light come from?
6. Create an atmosphere. - Establish relationships that will allow you to do your job. Create bonds, empathies.
7. Consider the planes beforehand. - Horizontal, vertical, media, descriptive details.
Research. - For months before I set out I do a lot of research about what interests me: what other photographers have done, photos published on the Internet, in magazines. I look for interesting locations.
Search for local contacts. - I look for people or institutions that can open doors for me at the point of destination, contacts who can help me or who know somebody who can.
Sometimes I have to repeat a trip to gain access: I usually go back with pictures I've taken on previous trips, so we can get to know each other and things get easier. In Pasupatinath, Kathmandu, in Benares, in Remote India, I return with photos taken in previous years. Little by little you get familiar with the environment you are moving in.
The day by day program
When a Nomad Photo Xpedition ends, I usually spend a few days by myself for my own work. I approach new locations and destinations that were not visited in the previous tour, thus expanding the possibilities for future journeys.
Days one and two. - What am I going to take pictures of? - I go around taking pictures with my mobile phone and store them in an application called Evernote, which also copies all information to a virtual hard disk. This way I have the image, the location and interesting facts to be used or retrieved in the future; I also note the time and the position of the sun, something relevant nearby, the name of a contact. I try to make initial eye contact with somebody at the place, and sometimes I start a short conversation. I always carry with me a small Blurb book with my travel photographs. This allows me to show my work and allows the subject to see that the quality is adequate.
Day three, I get close. - I make a selection based on my previous notes. This is the day to establish a personal relationship. I calmly explain - sometimes referring to my visit on the previous day - what I do. I show previous work. In this phase, people sometimes ask to be photographed immediately. However, I do this very seldom; I tell them that I will return at some point in the future, creating interest and expectation, at the same time giving formality to my work.
Day four, first photo session. – I hold a first photo session that allows me to secure a personal relationship with the people I am going to photograph. I pay attention to how the day unfolds, how they go about doing their chores. I attempt to establish guidelines and anticipate occurrences. I talk about my work (they are usually interested in it) and I show interest in them, in their work and their lives. If I have seen something interesting nearby, I take a break in the photo sessions to get closer regularly, looking out for the best light for future outdoor photography.
Day five, final session. I take along some pictures from the previous day. People enjoy them. It is easier to take pictures, I move with more ease. I take mental notes about things I have missed, close-ups, details and the light at certain places, everything that is a complement. I try to take that picture that I haven’t been able to take the day before.