Composition Can Save the Travel Photographer

A stand of trees on a beautiful sunny day in Harbin, ChinaCanon 5D Mark II camera and Canon 24-105mm f4 lens @ 24mm. Exposure Details: 1/160 second @ f11

How's your photography going? Are you out of sorts, feeling down. There's nothing like a walk to help set the body right. Likewise a stroll with camera in hand can really stimulate the senses. And you know what they say, "healthy mind, healthy body". But what's to be done when our first sojourn in a while leads us out onto a not too interesting street under not particularly interesting light? Remember composition, it can save you.

Photographers, like anyone else, get tired. Travel Photography, by its very nature, involves movement, excitement and the occasional dose of tedium which, if you're not careful, can be harmful to both body and soul. Changing hotels and near constant travel can sap the strength of the best of us. And don't start me on airport lounges, queues and baggage restrictions.

The above photo was made at around -20C while on a walk outside Harbin in far northwest China. A wonderful visit to this large, cosmopolitan city could easily have gone off the rails. It's one of the worst cities I've yet visited for downright fraud. And I'm referring to the town's infamous taxi drivers. Getting from the airport to my hotel took around 2 hours longer than it should have and involved a tag team of 4 separate cabs and 2 hotels other than the one in which I was booked to stay. Let's just say the tripod came out and was aired in a rather freewheeling manner before I was taken to the right hotel.

One another day I had enormous trouble getting back from one of the cities premier attractions on the edge of town. Getting out of the cab and going for a walk did enough to unsettle and embarrass (remember this is Asia and a loss of face can be tragic) my driver to finally get me back to my hotel.

While on this little walk I felt the need to keep calm. Out came the camera and a few quick pics were made, without the driver noticing, that contrasted the smooth and textured areas of snow and the lines evident in the stand of trees and the shadows they cast. Not a great photo, but a good way to calm my mood, remind myself of why I'd come to this remote part of the world and clear my head so as to be better able to resolve the issue.

I now have a good working knowledge of the city and it's amazing winter attractions. I love it and, by the end of this exploratory adventure, have all the contacts (including drivers and guide) to be able to include the city of Harbin in a photography tour. And because I've done the preliminary work, and suffered for my efforts, none of my customers need experience these more negative affects of travel photography. 

Given the choice I always prefer to visit a place first, so as to know the best times and locations for photography, before I'd consider bringing paying customers there. This also gives me the opportunity to build up the necessary working relationships with local folk that make all the difference to making the tour that much more special for those participating. I do not run 'out of the brochure tours' with the word photography added on like so many others seem to.

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Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru