Preparing for a Travel Shoot: Research
When you go to a place, what do you research? I mean, do you research, is possibly the question. There are two approaches: no research, and lots of research.
I'm a kind of a none guy, in some ways. Ah, that's not fair, I do some.
I like the idea of getting to a place and having fresh eyes and no preconceived ideas. Sometimes I've gone to places, and somebody said, "This is what you'll see and you'll go here" and you have these expect ... "Ah, the waterfall's gonna be there," "it's gonna be blue sky," and you get there and it's overcast, or it's something completely different, or the trees have grown up. You know, we were in Yellowstone, looking at the Snake River shot, Ansel Adams. We went to that one spot, and the trees have all grown up, and you can't get it, you know? I feel like, sometimes when you do too much research, the expectation can disappoint you and throw you off your game. Having said that, there are times when maybe research is the wise thing to do, but ...
I do enjoy the benefit of having fresh, virgin eyes when I approach something.
And, of course, the downside about that is that, if you don't do any research, and then you went along to points A, B, C, D, and then you got back, and someone like him says, "Did you go to F and G, though?" "It's just five minutes around the corner," and they're amazing and you didn't, you go, (grunt), why didn't I do a bit of research? So I agree with you. I think that, as much as you can, what makes a place exciting to photograph is the fact that you haven't seen it before, and that's possibly why we don't photograph at home as much, because it becomes commonplace. So, don't do too much research. On the other hand, I think we do need to use things like the Internet, Google Earth, our travel agents, books, all that sort of stuff, to give us ideas about what is already there, because, certainly when we're doing it professionally, you need to do that. I think, professionally, when you're doing an assignment, you've probably got a series of images that you have to fill, and so it's a different matrix. But, for most of us, who are just gonna travel to create artwork, no dramas, you can choose how much research you choose or choose not to do.
Well, you know, I'm, a number of times, and you've probably all seen this, when you go somewhere for the first time, you get off the plane, even the drive through the streets with the taxi, and looking and, you get mesmerized by a different type of architecture, a different style of building or whatever. And I've been picked up by friends, I'm sure you guys have as well, and you'll be driving along, and they're just taking the road they've taken a thousand times. And you're going, "Ah, man, look at that!" "Ah, that's amazing, oh wow, look at that shot!" And I remembered meeting a guy down in Florida, I was coming down to do a talk down there, Orlando. He ... that wasn't his name, that was the town. And he picked me up and he said, "We've just gotta go past the studio," and on the way there, I'm having kittens all the way, "Ah, this is beautiful, oh look at that, it's amazing!" We get to the carpark and he says, "My studio's just at the bottom of that, over there," and as he got out, the building was there, beautiful glass, sky was being reflected, the color and everything about it was fresh for me. So I said "Oh," I think it was Curt Littlecott, and he's probably gonna be hearing about this at some point, I said, "Curt, don't move!" He said, "Why?" I said, "I wanna take your portrait." He goes, "What, in the carpark?" I said, "Yeah, just come over there," boom-boom, took a couple of shots. He goes ... Looked around a bit, and Curt, if I'm not telling the truth, if my memory's changed, don't get in the way of a good story, all right? But that's how I remember it, and he looked at me, and he says, "You know what, I never thought" "of photographing here," and that's the thing. Sometimes, when we go on travel shots, travel locations, if we've been there before, we dismiss something that's just in front of us.
That's why you've got that stop sign. Stop and look around, is that right?
Stop, take a look, look right, look left, and this was, obviously up in an industrial area. That was a good segway pic. I kind of saw it coming. This was probably one of the very first times I shot this style, and it may be a little bit of inspiration from an artist, an Australian artist called Jeffrey Smart, who is actually a painter, not that dissimilar to Steven Shaw in the American West.
So, you know, sometimes travel isn't about the pretty hill or the sunset or the trees or anything like that. It's something totally different. It's about the more urban, more man-type of built landscape. There's a whole ... To me, travel is just so big, anything's possible.
Whereas, in comparison, going to Bhutan, for instance, Bhutan is known for its prayer flags. It's also known for its yaks, I mean, there are a lot of other things that it's known for, but these are a couple of the iconic ... I guess ideas, concepts, subjects that I wanted to photograph, and so, you have that as an idea, and we were there, well, I'd been there three trips, but on one of the trips, we'd just had that as an idea, and then we come around a corner. There's a yak, there's beautiful sidelight, and the prayer flags in the background, and so, yeah. Screeched to a halt and away you go. So, shooting out of the car. So, other places, I mean, people laugh at me when they say, "Souvenir shops, and airports?" "Is that where you get all your ideas?" But, hey, those postcard shots, those chocolate box shots, give you great ideas. It doesn't mean you have to photograph them the same way. Although, interestingly enough, most people do go and photograph those iconic shots. It's almost like a rite of passage, that you go and photograph the standard shots of every location, and you collect them. And I guess we're all collectors. I take those same photographs. What I hope I do is, I also take some slightly different ones where, the different ones become my own.
Yeah, I'm just thinking that places like souvenir shops and airports are almost a market research done for you, because the postcards that they're gonna be selling are the bestsellers, and the bestsellers are the things that people like the most, which tend to be the popular locations. And we were talking about this to some of our students on our recent workshop, where, basically you get to a location, a big grandiose mountain scene, or lakes or rivers and, you stand there, and they say, "Well, your type of style," my style might be a long lens, taking out a section of the landscape, but I'm still shooting a wide shot. I said, "Look, it's beautiful." "If I don't take that back, my wife's gonna say," "'Where did you go, why did you, what did you do?'" But I still want that shot, but that's not enough for me. There's the shot that everyone else got who stood here, but I wanna take home the shot that nobody else got.
So when do we travel, Tony?
When? Holidays? Public holidays, work?
Yeah, well, we're obviously, we get our holidays, so, if we're working, if we're employees, we sometimes have to fit that in with our work. Sometimes we're completely free when we go. If we're going when everybody else travels, then there are going to be lots of people in your photographs, that's for sure, maybe tourists, which is not what you want.
And it's a bit more expensive.
That's right, public holidays can be a problem. So that's just one thing to think about, that often, out of those public holidays or those different times, I mean, when I went to Europe, I've been to Europe many times, but the first times were always in winter, because I loved the fact that there weren't so many people. When I went there in summer, it's pretty, and it's lovely and green and leafy.
And it's busy.
It's busy as hell, you know. And so I much prefer that solitary, maybe I'm just an isolated sort of individual.
Well, no comment.
Pass on that one.
So, when we're talking about ...
Just go back one. I'm just gonna say, you know, there are other, sometimes you go along to a, travel to a space for a specific event or a specific happening, something's gonna be occurring there, you know? You could travel to a location, I mean, even just before we came to the States, you had the eclipse, and I know people that were traveling from Australia to be here to get that total eclipse, so there are a lot of significant events that can happen that you choose to be in place for, so travel can be driven by a lot of things.
Well, this was one when we went to Iceland, one of the things that we hoped to see was the aurora.
Yeah, it took a few nights, but we got it.
You got it. And so, again, there's no point going to Iceland in the middle of summer, because it doesn't get dark, almost, hardly dark at all, so you've gotta pick the time that you go there to make sure that you get what you want to achieve. Similarly, if you want to go to Bhutan and see all of the festivals, they're on at particular times, and so you pick when you want to go. So we're normally going October or November because we know there will be festivals on in that time. Interestingly enough, in Bhutan, the festival time gets determined by the astrologers, and so, they know that it's gonna be roughly in this week, but the specific date, they don't necessarily know. And so, yeah, you often, you go for two weeks and you know at some time you're going to get to see the festivals, which adds, I guess, to the sense of adventure that you get.
You love Bhutan. I mean, one of the things about travel is, some people go to a place once and they say, "Well, I've done that," and then there's other places they go to and think, I could go back again and again, and I know you've been to Bhutan quite a few times. What is it about Bhutan as a travel destination?
It's so completely different to what we experience here, you know. They all wear their national clothes. I'm sure they put their phone, they have their iPhones in there, they put their hand in their phone and they call their New York stockbroker and say "sell, sell, buy, buy," after we go past, but, when we go past and look at them, they're just there like they were 50 or 100 years ago. Bhutan limits the number of tourists that can come in, to a certain extent, but tourism is a big part of their economy, and that's why everybody is encouraged to be friendly and contribute and to wear national dress, and that sort of stuff. So it's like stepping back in time, and that's what I love about it. And, going back multiple times, you can go to these same festivals, but they're different people, different things happening, and the fact that you go back a second or a third, fourth, fifth, sixth time, means that you will refine the photos, and yes, I'm going past stuff that I photographed 20 times on the first trip, and I'm not even worrying about it now, but it's building up your portfolio of work, so, I feel that if I go to a location once, I can have a smattering of photographs. If I go there three, four, five times, then I might be able to create a book.
And would that be part of the, almost part fits into that research element that you've been a few times, you kind of know where you want to go?
It does, that's very true, yeah.
So, what's the difference, what would be the reasons you might go to a place, and say, 'look, I've been there, I've done it,' 'I've seen it, I don't need to go back?'
I don't know.
I mean, for me, I think it depends. I mean, some places perhaps aren't as interesting as others, to you, personally, but I can't think of anywhere that I don't want to go back to. (laughs)
Well, yeah, that's true, very true. I'm just thinking, there's, you know, there's so many places in the world, you'll never get to all of them. And I look at some and I go, well, I've been there, I don't need to go back, but there are other places I think, I would love to come back to, you know. Like, I'd love to go back to the Rockies, and yet, for someone from North America, they go, "Well, really?" But when you come from a state that has one bit of snow every ten years and people get their kids out of bed at 2:00 AM in the morning and drive four hours to take them up to show them a couple of little snowballs, the Rockies is an interesting place, I'll go back. So, who do you travel with?
Who do I travel with?
You get stuck with me a lot.
It is my greatest honor to travel with you so often, Tony, I'm just so lucky.
Seriously, all jokes aside now, who do you travel with?
Well, I travel with all sorts of different people. We've got options, haven't we? So we travel alone ...
Do you do that much?
I don't travel much alone, no.
I don't either.
I travel with the family. Travel with the family is great. My family is wonderful, I can't say anything else because they might watch this at some stage. But my family is very forgiving of me stopping and taking photos, and they're all very much into photography and what I do, which is wonderful. So it allows me to have some flexibility, but I have to say, there have been family holidays where I've only taken my little camera and not my big camera, so there we go. Because it's a balancing act. So I think that if it's pure travel photography, then it's not fair on the family to make them wait for five hours to have their next toilet break or coffee because you're waiting for the light to change.
Yeah, I mean, it is, I think this is a challenge for a lot of people who are into travel photography and landscape photography that it does take a lot of time, getting some nods from the audience, that people are sort of associating, and yep, I can see you guys out there, all nodding. What's some of the strategies you can use? For instance, several years ago, my daughter came to me with a project. She was about 16 at the time, and she was talking about Australia and how big it was, and I could tell by her language, that she did not know how big Australia was, and Australia is the size of the United States. There's not much between my city and his city.
In terms of population.
In terms of people, yeah. Well, there's not much, I mean, we have a part in the middle called the Nullarbor, which, translated from indigenous language, means No Trees. It has an 180 kilometer stretch of road that is arrow straight, the longest stretch of road in the Southern Hemisphere. Anyway, I digress. So I thought, I've gotta speak in Tasmania, which is on the other side of the country. What if we drove across the country, and that's a way for the kids to get a feeling for where, for how big it is, and we'll go and do the talk, and they can see Tasmania, then we'll come up to Sydney, and I'm drawing on here and then can't see. And then, what I did is, I made a promise to myself and I said to my wife, "What about on that trip over," "I promise you I won't drag everyone out" "for five hours and take a photo," "but when we get to Sydney and they've gone across once," "I'll put you all on a plane, and you can fly home," "and I'll drive home." So it's just a little strategy that people could use, that, split it half and half.
This is how you get rid of your family, is that what you're saying? (laughs)
And then I had a mate fly in on a 6:00 AM flight, so I put my wife and daughters on a plane at 6:00, and at five past six, another plane landed from Perth, it was my mate who'd come in on the midnight flight, and he got in the car with me, and we traveled home. We had two weeks to go from Sydney to Perth, three and a half thousand kilometers, and no fixed agenda. And that was one of the best trips I ever did. So for travel photographers or people interested in, whether you're a full-time professional or you do something else, if you can work a holiday where you give the family what they need, and then, the other thing was, when I said to my daughters, how far across, you know you're not driving back, it was like, "Thank you, Dad, thank you, thank you!" Because they got sick of it, but they knew how big the country was. So that's just a strategy for family.
So other photographers, is probably a great way to travel.
And we do that a lot.
And we do that a lot. Pick someone who has a similar propensity for hanging around and doing nothing much in particular while you're waiting for the light, that's always helpful. And then, of course, there are tours and photo tours. I mean, the advantage of a photo tour over a general tour, general tours tend to be in place for breakfast and dinner, when the light is best, and also there are limited hours that their drivers can do, and that sort of stuff, so you might not get to the locations when the light or the weather is the best. Photo tours are sometimes a lot better than that, certainly ours are, and generally speaking, you're with other people, like-minded. Yes, there will often be other photographers in the photographs that you take, but these days, a little bit of post-production can get rid of those photographers, so I don't worry anymore, "Oh, you're walking into my photo!" That's okay. If they stand right in front, okay, that's a problem, but if they're 30, 50 ...
You should have said, I would have stopped doing it ages ago.
(laughs) If they're 30 or 50 meters away and they're a little thing over there, you just get rid of that, and life is pretty good. Obviously I take photo tours, so I might have a biased view, but I do remember my first tour ever, which was to Africa, and what I remember was the fact that I sat down, someone else drove me there. When I got there, I was fresh, took photos, and they took me to great locations, and so a lot of that research and planning was done for me, and I found that very useful. It's just a thought.
And I think it's important for people to understand that you don't have to do the big overseas, you know, once in a lifetime trip, to get good pictures. Mix it up. Some of your travel could be just a weekender away, and it might be a photo tour with a local photographer that can take you there, look after the logistics, and you go along purely to just experience and enjoy and take pictures.
So I just moved on from the photo you took of Christian, and this is what Christian looks like when he has his clothing on.
We're talking about Christian Fletcher, who is a landscape photographer, and won the inaugural International Landscape Photographer of the Year, I believe.
Indeed, he did. And this is in Papua New Guinea, it's a composite image. I couldn't get the Tuk Tuks, the three men, the dancers, onto that plain at the same time, so I took them another location and dropped them in, whereas a friend of mine, David Kirkland, did indeed do the real shot, and it's a long story I'll tell you afterwards, just to our live audience.
On that, you just tapped onto something I think is really important, story. You said it's another story, so, why do we take travel pictures? Why do we want to put them in a book? Why do we want to put them on our wall? Because we want to be able, in the future, to relive those memories, to share those memories, to tell those stories. Sometimes it's not so relevant that the shot is pure. Sometimes it's okay to put together the elements, to tell it the way you experienced, because when you went to shoot it, it wasn't happening.
We'll get on to that, too.
But for me, I'm looking at that and I'm thinking, it doesn't bother me whether it's composited.
No, it doesn't bother me either.
Because you can still tell the story.
And I'm still alive.
There you go.