Picture This… Professional Photographers Share Ideas Of How To Capture The Spirit Of Time And Place
It has often been said and most people find that travel is a rich learning experience. And the rewards can become greater, the experience keener, when you combine travel with photography.
Anyone who wants to enjoy the best of both activities will find travel photo workshops, seminars, tours and safaris available in a wide range of prices and types. They include luxury trips to exotic destinations, roughing it in the wilderness or just relaxing in a pleasant scenic location.
Programs are available to suit virtually any photographic interest: mountain scenery, historic sites, wildlife, urban action, unspoiled sea coasts or colorful folk festivals. , An experienced teacher and guide can help you make the most of these opportunities by finding the best places and times for shooting pictures. An extra benefit is the camaraderie among photography enthusiasts sharing a stimulating experience. And, of course, the most lasting rewards are the memories of travel preserved on film.
The best travel photographer-teachers not only know how to capture the spirit of time and place, but also have a gift for imparting their knowledge to others.
Of the many distinguished photographers teaching courses on travel or travel-related shooting we invited four to share their expertise: Lisl Dennis, Robert Glenn Ketchum, Frans Lanting, and Galen Rowell. All have completed many travel assignments for leading national magazines, published highly praised books and established reputations as outstanding teachers.
All the photographers were asked to select and discuss one of their own pictures that makes a strong teaching point and exemplifies an element they feel is particularly important in travel photography. Their choices: color, lighting, eye-contact, design and detail.
Of course, no single element makes an outstanding travel picture. That requires a totality of visual elements working together to express the photographer’s personal perception. However, the insights given here by these experienced photographic teachers can help you achieve that goal.
If you can arrange to participate in a photo workshop or tour that appeals to you, by all means do so. Short of that, the teaching points given by these four experienced photographers can help you take better travel pictures anywhere, on a 10,000-mile journey or a 10-mile trip from your front door.
LISL DENNIS: evocative details - Founder of the Travel Photography Workshop in Santa Fe, Dennis brings 35 years of experience as a travel writer, photographer and teacher to her New Mexico workshops and travel tours that this year include Morocco, Provence and India.
She covers just about all aspects of travel photography with her students, but particularly encourages them to “look for those evocative details that capture the essence of place.”
“We live in an ever-more crowded, cluttered environment,” she says, “which for me at least increases the difficulty in making overall shots. Parking lots, telephone wires and soft-drink signs surround historical landmarks. Scaffolding hides monuments. Dozens of kids suddenly emerge from a nearby village into a quiet landscape.”
“So, I keep moving in closer and closer to the essential details. This helps me in two ways: Pictures often have stronger visual impact, and they become more personal - more to do with my particular relationship to a travel subject.”
A good example is her photograph of a Native American woman selling jewelry on the crowded plaza in Santa Fe.
“I was taken by her fantastic, candy-striped dress,” Dennis says. “I went over to her, chatted for a few minutes, complimented her on her dress, and asked if I could photograph it.
“I did not want a portrait of her or to include the crowded surroundings. I was interested in her weathered hands and the turquoise and silver jewelry. Although the dress could be seen almost anywhere in the world, the jewelry tells us we are in the American Southwest.
“She had no objection, so I went to work with my Contax RTS, a 60mm macro lens and Fujichrome 100 film, making several bracketed exposures from a base of f/8 at 1/30 second.
“I’ve found that by looking closely, I become more aware of abstract color and composition, and that an exotic, surreal quality - a more personal style - emerges.”
ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM: the power of color - Ketchum is widely known not only for the excellence of his images, but the impact of his environmentalist efforts and contributions to photographic education. Recently returned from China, Ketchum will lead a photo excursion to Alaska later this year.
“The human eye is our most sophisticated color sensor,” Ketchum says, “and for that reason color is one of the most powerful visual influences that affect us.
“In photography, color is a way to engage the viewer, make the image more exciting and emphasize its content.”
It comes as a surprise to many that Ketchum rarely takes pictures in strong sunlight and only a few with just a touch of sunlight. “I find much richer colors working in more even light of a cloudy day rather than contrasty situations where I have to struggle with the busyness of highlights and shadows,” he says. Consider his “Upper Lake Cohasset, Harriman State Park, 1983.”
“I took this photograph on a rainy day with a completely overcast sky when there were virtually no highlights or shadows,” Ketchum says. “The composition is pure color.
“It had been raining for days, and when that happens, the dry leaves soak up water, turn limp and become more heavily saturated with color. Also, tree trunks become so wet they turn black.
“The rain was easing off enough for me to go out and work when I saw this particular tree trunk. I knew it would set off the strong vibrant colors surrounding it and chose an angle that would include it in the composition. The black trunk makes the red leaves seem redder; the red leaves make the trunk seem blacker.
“To make the picture I used a Pentax 6x7 camera with a 200mm Asahi lens and Ektachrome 64 film, exposed and processed normally. With the camera on a tripod, the exposure was f/22 at four seconds.”
He often utilizes the kind of “bad” weather in which most people don’t think they can make good photographs, and urges his students to do the same.
FRANS LANTING: designs in nature - A self-styled “professional nomad,” Lanting has documented wildlife and man’s relationship with nature around the world and won numerous awards for his widely published work. Just returned from a tour of Antarctica as lecturer and photographic instructor, he also will lead a photo safari to East Africa this year.
He advises wildlife photographers to look not only for a single subject - although that may make a strong picture - but also for the designs and patterns created by groups of animals, birds or fish. A vivid example is his photograph of a row of impala mirrored in a water hole in Botswana.
“To photograph wildlife, you need some knowledge of the animals you are photographing and some experience in watching their behavior patterns,” he says. “That allows you to anticipate where to be and when to be there.
“I try to put myself into situations where I can find design elements that make a simple composition with strong graphic appeal. This was the case at this water hole, which attracted groups of various animals and reflected their images in the still water.
“A basic mistake many wildlife photographers make in Africa or anywhere else is trying to do too much. It is better to limit yourself to a few locations with which you become thoroughly familiar.
“I returned to this particular location time and time again. This enabled me to get a much better sense of that spot, of the animal life there, and the possibilities for capturing the abstract patterns and designs I was looking for.
“I had the distinct feeling that the animals became accustomed to me, allowing me to get closer and closer as they went about minding their own business.
“It was important to get there early in the morning, just before the sun came above the horizon to get the warm, beautiful light of dawn.
“I placed my Nikon on a tripod and used a 500mm lens and Fujichrome 100 film at an estimated exposure of 1/125 second at f/8, composing carefully to capture the rhythmic shapes of the impala as they crowded together to drink and to combine that with their reflected images.”
GALEN ROWELL: enchanted light - Rowell’s much-published work has earned him a reputation as of a master of landscape photography. He conducts Mountain Light Photography workshops in California and will lead photography treks to Peru this year.
“You need to learn to see light as film sees it and to interact with it,” Rowell tells his students.
“Previsualize the effect you want and take steps to make a better picture than you find in front of you.”
Galen uses his majestic image of a cloud at sunset over California’s Owens River to make these points.
“This is not a found photograph, but a created one,” he explains. “I first put the pieces together in my mind and then worked out ways to achieve what I wanted.
“I saw these clouds forming in the afternoon and recognized them as a stationary type called lenticular (lens-shaped) that often form in the lee of a mountain range on a clear, windy day. From experience, I knew these clouds were likely to keep forming until sunset, giving me time to optimize the photographic opportunity.
“Instead of recording this cloud just as I first encountered it, I drove along the river until I found a viewpoint where the river’s curve repeated the cloud’s shape and reflected its light.
“I knew the foreground would go much too dark if I made a straight shot exposing for the brightly illuminated sky, so I used a threestop graduated filter that gave me more natural-looking shadow detail without washing out the sky and clouds.
“With my Nikon F4 on a tripod with a 20 mm f/4 lens, I waited for the ‘magic hour’ of sunset lighting - from about half an hour before sunset to half an hour after. I was lucky and the light kept getting better and better. Using Fuji Velvia film exposed for f/8 at 1/30 second, I made several exposures as the light changed. That gave just the effect I hoped for: a type of alpenglow, the enchanted light lingering on high mountain peaks or cloud formations.”
ILLUSTRATION: Four Color Photos
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Tours, workshops Trips, tours and workshops are listed as a regular feature in Outdoor Photographer, 12121 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1220, Los Angeles, CA 90025; (310) 820-1500. Information regarding programs by the photographer/teachers featured in this article may be obtained as follows: Lisl Dennis. Workshops: Travel Photography Workshop in Santa Fe with Lisl Dennis, P.O. Box 2847, Sante Fe, N.M. 87504; (505) 474-6552. Tours: Waters Travel Service, 888 17th St. NW, Washington, DC 20006; (800) 296-0071. Robert Glenn Ketchum, 696 Stone Canyon Rd., Los Angeles, CA 90077; (310) 472-3681. Frans Lanting. East Africa Photo Safari, Wilderness Travel of Berkeley, Calif., (800) 368-2794. Jackson Hole Photography at the Summit workshop, Jackson Hole, Wyo.; (800) 745-3211. Galen Rowell, Mountain Light Photography, 1483 A Solano Ave., Albany, CA 94706; (510) 524-9343.
This sidebar appeared with the story: Tours, workshops Trips, tours and workshops are listed as a regular feature in Outdoor Photographer, 12121 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1220, Los Angeles, CA 90025; (310) 820-1500. Information regarding programs by the photographer/teachers featured in this article may be obtained as follows: Lisl Dennis. Workshops: Travel Photography Workshop in Santa Fe with Lisl Dennis, P.O. Box 2847, Sante Fe, N.M. 87504; (505) 474-6552. Tours: Waters Travel Service, 888 17th St. NW, Washington, DC 20006; (800) 296-0071. Robert Glenn Ketchum, 696 Stone Canyon Rd., Los Angeles, CA 90077; (310) 472-3681. Frans Lanting. East Africa Photo Safari, Wilderness Travel of Berkeley, Calif., (800) 368-2794. Jackson Hole Photography at the Summit workshop, Jackson Hole, Wyo.; (800) 745-3211. Galen Rowell, Mountain Light Photography, 1483 A Solano Ave., Albany, CA 94706; (510) 524-9343.