Shooting Travel Photography: Exotic Locations
What a great place to be talking about travel photography. Here we are on the far side of the world from our hometowns.
But they're not traveling here.
No, but this message is traveling right out there into all parts of the world.
Yes, indeed, indeed.
We even found out that your mum will watch this at some point.
Maybe, you never know. (both laugh) So we'll talk about travel. This is in Iceland, which is remote probably for all of us, Tony.
It is! Place called Landmannalaugar. (Peter tries to pronounce location)
They say that you can't pronounce any Icelandic words.
Landmannalaugar (Peter tries to pronounce location) It's a pretty place! It's a very pretty place. Shot from a Cessna Airvan, I think, or Caravan, which we had some people, we were both on that, we shot together with a couple of other instructors and 20 guests.
It was a big one, very cool.
And I just fell in love with that place, and the green on top of these hills. Travel allows you to see some amazing ...
You were lucky, Tony.
You didn't get that.
Because when my flight went, the cloud had come along, socked in and I didn't quite get it. That's my excuse.
I have certain control over certain things. (Peter laughs)
However, we talked about this one before, in eastern Turkey. And that was another remote location to go to. It's exotic, isn't it? It doesn't have to be exotic.
People come to Sydney and they think that's exotic. I mean, you go to Perth where you are, that's definitely exotic.
Well, it's different. It's different, yeah.
So exotic is one of those things that we talk about with travel as well. Whereas this, this is probably local for a lot of people.
Well that's a little town in Nevada, I think it is. And it was just shot as we were grabbing a coffee, as we were stopping on the way through. And just very Stephen Shore-like, Eggleston-like. Sort of urban historical landscape.
And for us coming from Australia, that's got a lot of travel in it. Whereas for you guys, from North America, you're probably saying "That's not a travel photo. "That's just down the backyard." but...
It brings back something. I take that back as a record of my travels because there's the pickup truck, a little bit older. And then we jump around and we end up in Iceland again.
And again, you say well, that's exotic, that's different, isn't it? So I think what we want to talk about is the where, when, and why. What to photograph. And also when it comes to people, there's this little challenge about, well, do you photograph them? Should you, shouldn't you? How do you do it? And all that sort of stuff. So we want to talk about how to approach people. So what we're doing at the moment is we're gathering the pixels in our camera so that we can come back and post-produce some fine art images at the other end.
Okay, so what's your favorite travel shot?
This is one of my, probably my favorite travel shot. A lot of people look at this photograph and think, hm, isn't travel something about personal experience? And this was a personal experience I had. It's in Jakar Dzong, which is in Bhutan. And there's a festival going on. And everybody gets-- well, everybody, not me, I was a tourist. I wasn't dressed up. But all of the locals get dressed up in their finery. And it's quite dark, so I've got a slow shutter speed. And you've got a little bit of movement of people going past. The girls there are all in their finest, and the color is just vibrant. We've got a prayer wheel in the background, going round and round, and that's blurred because it's a slightly long exposure. So again, that dragging the shot out, lengthening the exposure, creates a sense of irreality. And it's the color, and then the expression on the girls. I know they're blurred a little bit, but they're all looking out to where the festival is happening. And to me, it just says everything about my time in Bhutan.
So I'm gonna challenge you on that. You said irreality. And for me, I look at this picture and it's real. I don't see this as being irreality at all. I see this as being so real. But what you've done is, see, people sometimes get confused when they think that photography is about a single moment in time. Whereas for me, photography is a method of capturing information that's out there in the visual world and bringing it in and then expressing it visually. And you've just taken a length of time and put it into one moment. And you've done that by stretching the shot out. So for me it's real. Like it is real, because the prayer wheel does turn. And people are moving through, and yet some people are standing still. So yeah, I think it's a real thing.
So I'm a nature documentary photographer and everything I do is just a straight capture then.
No, sometimes you do, sometimes you do. But not always, not always. I was just looking at it, thinking how real it is. It really does give me a sense of if I was standing in the room. I feel like a fly on the wall, which is hard in travel photography.
You're calling me a fly now.
No, I'm the fly on the wall. (Peter laughs) You're the wall.
All right, so it's my turn to ask you, Tony. What's your favorite travel shot?
Well, mine's a hard one. What happened? Where did yours go? Well, I do travel backwards on occasion. Travel can often be just something closer to home. It doesn't have to be a big grand holiday. It doesn't have to be part of a project. It doesn't have to be something you're doing for another reason. It could just be where you're getting away from it all. This is a little place in the southwest of my state called Karri Valley. And I've been going there for a long time. I've been there a few times with my wives... Wives (laughs)
I just got in trouble. She found out! (both laugh) I've been there a few times with my wife and my kids. But it was just one of those places that I like to go to because there's a lake, there's a couple of cabins on the lake, there's always fog in the winter just sitting on the lake. This is about as close as we get to the sort of scenery we see up in the Rockies or Yellowstone. There was this little pontoon this year I was there. I walked out in the morning, looked at this, and there was something about it. I love swimming, I love the serenity of it, there was an ambiance. I didn't actually have a real reason to capture it for anybody else. It was for me. So often your travel pictures are just for you. Just because there's something about it that reminds you of something you want to remember. It may not be one moment. It could be a series of moments, a place you go to quite often, and you get that shot. Exotic can be used for different reasons. In a way, that was personal.
Okay, so exotic locations. I guess the question we've really got to ask, well a number of questions, is, what is your interest? So if you want to actually go somewhere else, travel's a great excuse to go there. Who's your audience? I'll come back to that. And what will you do with the photos? But the question with, who is your audience? I mean, here our audience was going to be an exhibit in Australia. But the little story I wanted to talk about was, I did a series of black and white hill towns, way back in the days of film. And I also had some black and white outback photos of Australia. And when I showed these audiovisuals to an Australian audience, everybody resonated with the Italian hill towns. Wow, they're romantic, and different, and fantastic and all that. And then I went over to Italy. And we were in this wonderful old castle, had a big audience. They all lined up and had their photos taken with us afterwards. But I think it was the Mambo shirt I had on. And they looked at them, and they loved my Australian stuff. Yawning politely to my Italian hill towns. And I talked to one of them afterwards, one of the owners. I said they didn't like my hill towns so much. And he said it much more colorfully than this, but he said, well Peter, when you live in Italy, every town has a hill on top of it.
With a town, yeah.
Did I say town has a hill on it?
Yeah, I was just gonna say... That was a good one.
Every town had a hill on top of it.
Every hill has a town on the top. (Tony laughs) And so it comes back to where you live and who your audience is. So when we go overseas somewhere far away and bring it back there is an interest automatically for our viewers. So you could take a shot like this, which is in the north of my state. It was just that moment when the cloud coming over looked like it's coming out of the hill. I wasn't that excited about it, and yet we put it in the exhibition because so many others were, particularly people who hadn't been to that area. So travel is different to everybody. This I think you would look at... This is a photograph taken in Papua New Guinea. And when you get off the ships... Well, I did one job with the tourism authority up there, but this was I think with a ship. And so you get off, and the local village puts on a show, and you buy artworks, et cetera, and that helps put the kids through school. So it's a good symbiosis. And this I think says "travel" immediately for most of us unless of course you live in Papua New Guinea, of course. It's different, shot with a very wide-angle lens, and getting very in close. Getting very close with the subject.
So you go to other places, and sometimes your audience... I mean we have a great good-looking audience here, very interested, very passionate. Quite tall, some of them. (Peter laughs) But I understand you sometimes deliver to a different type of audience in other parts of the world on your travels.
Are you talking about these gentlemen?
Well, I understand they're not that tall. One's trying to be tall. But they did make you feel special, didn't it? To lord over these little characters?
I actually got down to their level, Tone. This was taken with a telephoto line on my belly. It's sunrise at Fortuna Bay in South Georgia.
Lying on your belly? Around penguins? Tell us a little story about that, Peter.
Well, the first time I went to South Georgia, I said "There's no mud on South Georgia." South Georgia is an island just above Antarctica. It's reasonably cold. A most amazing place, with looks like the Himalayas coming down to the ocean. And you wear Wellington boots when you get off the ship, and you go squishing around in all of this brown black stuff. And I'm told it's not mud. But there are a lot of penguins around (laughs) I did fall over once. And when I fell over on my back, I got up, and I just had penguin gunk all over my hands and tripod and absolutely everything. And as I wiped off one hand, it wiped more on than it wiped off. This lady walked past, and she said, "Oh, would you like some Wet Ones?" Which are the little napkins. And I said, "Oh, that would be great." She said "$50 each." (both laugh) I paid her (laughs)
So let's come back to... Just so the audience and our viewers out there get the clear picture as you explain this picture. I just want to bring everyone's mind back to Peter lying in the mud (audience laughs) with a telephoto lens. Carry on. (both laugh)
Thank you, Tony. So what are you going to tell me about your Icelandic picture?
You skipped that one in pretty well. (both laugh) So some of the things you go to, it's about not so much the literal sense but the experience of standing in these amazing places. So on this beach on the south coast of Iceland, watching and just standing under these massive balsite. Balsite, I think they are? Basalt cliffs, they come right over the top of you. They almost overpower you. Something with a wide-angle lens, you sort of work away from the distortion. You try to minimize the effect of it. In this case, I actually enjoyed it because it accentuated the feeling I had of being under these magnificent sort of pieces of rock structure. And then, as you can see, it's black and white. And was there much post-production? Well, I'm glad you asked. (Peter laughs) There was a little bit, because you know what, in order to get the black and white in digital I had to get rid of the color so it's not real. There you go. And there was a person standing in here that was in the way. Now, the thing about travel photography in a lot of these places you go to, if they're really worth capturing, sometimes there's 10, 15, 100, or 1,000 people that agree with you. And if you sit there waiting for them to get out of the way, you're just not gonna get your shot. That's where post-production can help, because you can capture--
Content-aware film, it's wonderful.
(laughs) So waiting for people to move, there might be multiples, and you can create a couple of images of the same thing and working them in Photoshop or post-production, Capture One, Lightroom, you can sometimes get rid of that effect and get the original intent. Because my intent was just to show this in its native raw form. Hence the black and white and the bringing out of the texture using midtone contrast.
Well, in this next shot, I kept the color.
I notice that! It's kind of, woo!
And yet when you're standing there, if you were standing there, you would have a green color cast coming up your front.
That's because I would be in Greenland.
That's exactly right. It is in Greenland, very good. Are we gonna have these jokes all the way through the session, or are they gonna get better?
Oh, are they getting kind of soft, Peter? (both laugh)
So again, when we're traveling, I think that iconic images. Greenland for me was all about icebergs. This was a great-looking iceberg and we got in rather close with our Zodiac and it was shot with a very wide-angle lens. That gives you that intensity and makes the background mountains a little bit smaller than they actually were. We move over to, again you're back in Lord Howe Island.
Yeah, so this is Lord Howe Island. And often when you're at a place, you're looking at it, and you think well, palm trees, Pacific or Atlantic or whatever tropical island you want to be near. And one of the things that symbolizes that for a lot of people is just swaying palm trees. And that was the simplicity of intent that I had. I just wanted to minimize distraction, put a box around that section, show the palm trees and the way they're condensed, the way they're sort of very solid up against the bank, that's what that picture was about.
And so that's an exotic location for all of us in many ways, because it's a...
It's a stereotype.
Whereas this photograph is literally just a couple of minutes away from my home in Sydney. And yet for other people, it's oh, well, Sydney is a great destination for a lot of people in America. And most of the people we've met here have said "oh, I want to come to Sydney some time.
Yeah, it's a pretty broad area, you know? You think about our competition in Australia with our Australian professional photography awards. And Pete, you've been a past chairman of those awards. And I'm the current Australian chairman. And within travel, we make a point of pointing out to potential entrants that travel can include images taken within your own street. I mean, travel is a very broad-based topic really.
It is indeed, it is indeed.