The Challenge of being a Travel Photographer

Travel photographer
There is no lack of color but it is hard to get it right.

Indulge me while I write about my favorite topic: photography. I used to leaf through the fancy travel magazines thinking what a cool and easy job it must be to be a travel photographer. One gets to go to really neat places, all expenses paid and walks around all day¬†casually taking pictures of people. Well, in reality I didn’t think it was quite as easy but I never realized how hard it really was until I got here.

One thinks of Mexico and photography and color comes to mind: brightly painted houses, people in interesting colorful outfits, markets ladden with fruit, trinket sellers with colorful toys, souvenirs, hats, hammocks, blankets – all there for the eager photographer to snap away. Reality is so different, especially when traveling with a child and without an assistant and/or local guide. There are several challenges associated with people, most importantly they never hold still – damn it. Running around, turning their heads, looking the opposite direction, leaning partially into the shade partially into the sun (no camera can deal with that range of light and dark), making silly faces just when you push the button or – if everyhting seems perfect there is this guy walking into your picture the instant you are pushing down that right index finger.

Travel photographer
Did they really all have to look away or hide behind a bush the instant I pushed the shutter?

Also people are – strangely – not always enchanted by the idea that some random person is taking pictures of them (being a woman helps, I think, if I was a guy I’d probably be in jail by now for being a perverted stalker). A less shy extroverted travel photographer than me would probably walk up start saying some smooth thing, get a model release signed and the opportunity to take life altering pictures of that really strange looking old guy with one tooth. I haven’t quite figured the saying-something-smooth-in-Spanish part out.

And then there is the lense thing, maybe its just me but I never seem to have the right lense mounted, I got the tele on and a wide angle situation presents itself, I fumble, unscrew protective lids, rescrew others, put on the short lense and by the time I am done the siutation has come and gone but now, over there, is that cool thing happening – if only I had the tele on I could actually take a picture.

Travel photographer
Almost, but not quite, the priest should be a bit further into the picture and slightly more gilded towards the camera and a little splash of color is missing. Maybe I have to crop and make it black and white.

And the light, it’s never right. The midday hours are useless – super-bright overhead light fades the colors and makes everybody and everything look washed out. In the morning and evening the light is nice, the colors are intense but so are the shadows. Faces are hard to photograph in that light – not that I don’t know how to deal with that situation, a reflector and the above mentioned assistant to hold it (and I am not talking about a fidgety 3.5 year old) would remedy it quite nicely but then, I only got that fidgety 3.5 year old plus his father who already has his hands full trying to keep said 3.5 year old from throwing himself into either pigeon poop or in front of a car. And then there is the night when everything cool happens in Merida and the light is a “beautiful” intense orange from the nearest street lamp.

So when I first read, that a lot of travel photographers pose their shots, using hired models (often people they meet on the street, but posed carefully and paid for) I felt smug. This wasn’t the real thing, this wasn’t doing it right, one was supposed to capture the moment, unspoiled, untinkered with. How happy I would be to have this local guide and the paid for models now, and pose them exactly the way I want them, make them look natural they way they never would look in real life, without the shoulder of that guy in a red shirt in the lower right corner, the overflowing rubbish bin in the middle of everything, and unattractive shadow hiding 2/3 of my model’s face who is squinting anyway. While we are at it, a nanny for the fidgety 3.5 year old would be nice, too, because it’s really hard to concentrate on taking award winning (or at least reasonably decent) pictures while your son is jumping up and down wanting to grab your camera because now it is his turn to take a pic.

I guess in the end I am just making excuses that I have been here 10 days alreay and haven’t taken a single picture I would be proud of. But tomorrow is the children’s carnaval parade at 4 pm – I just got to get those perfect pics then.

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