Developing the experience of travel through photos isn’t all that difficult but it is something that has to be learned. I prefer to tell stories in photos and it’s just as easy to be lazy when composing a story with photos as when doing it with words. When I started sharing photos I had no plan other than to use my photos to say, “I’ve been here, I did this and I saw that. Don’t you think it’s neat.” Does the single photo sharing format work? Um, yeah, Instagram is pretty successful last I checked. Many photographers have made a personality for themselves in that manner as well. Before I started traveling I had been exposed to other photographers one image at a time so I was looking to emulate what I had seen others doing. While iterating on a proven model can be a good starting point, when I began sharing photos and writing about my travel I knew that I needed to grow out of that model into something unique to me.
Usually there is more going on in a location than just a single pretty frame, and to call myself a photographer I had damn well better be able to find interest and beauty in even something ordinary. So I have been adapting my process to craft better stories that say, “this is what this corner of the world is like,” First, here are a couple of examples where I was taking just a single image and not thinking about the rest of the story. I had this single photo from a street in Beijing.
The photo is from a trip I took before I even started to think about what kind of photos I would come home with and the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind to share the photos publicly. If I’d had in mind talking about architecture in Beijing, I could have easily grabbed four or five more frames even from the very spot where I was standing when I took that photo. Here’s another really good example. The Chua Tran Quoc pagoda in Hanoi is part of a temple complex. It’s not a particularly large or impressive temple, but this pagoda stood out as the most interesting point. Why would I have taken just the photo of this pagoda and only a couple other lazy snapshots around the temple? Well, because I didn’t have a plan and I didn’t really know any better at the time.
I can’t tell you that I improved all that much on my next travels. I definitely took more photos and better photos, but I still had no concept of shooting to storylines or coverage. I was still just looking to take one good photo without considering how it might fit into a story or a series of stories. So I started to think more critically about what I would do with the photos after I returned home.
I paid attention and took better notes on a recent trip to Cuba. I started out with no stories in mind; just taking photos of whatever I found interesting like I always had before. What I did next is something new to me. I copied photos to my computer each day during the trip. As I reviewed them each day I made rough categories of what I was seeing in my shots, and then made a mental note of filling in the storyline with other images. I also take down names of places and people and how they relate to the events so I can more accurately recall the experiences and tell a story. That’s what my little pocket field notes book is for. Here’s what a couple pages of that chicken scratch looked like from the Cuba trip.
Identifying why I’m taking the photos and what I plan to do with them is as important as mechanically making a good photo. A writer would have pages and pages of details about names of people and places, moods, smells, random thoughts and lots more. For me, these simple notes are enough. After importing the photos I organize them into collections in Lightroom as I edit them. For those who don’t know and use Lightroom; it’s a perfect tool for this because it makes virtual copies in a collection without moving the photo itself and also without making another copy that will take up space on my hard drives. If I decide to delete the photo from a collection (from a storyboard) the original hasn’t been deleted.
The goal of this effort is to put together stories with more depth and more actors in them. I’ll still post single photos to Instagram and Pinterest and other sites. While I’m not trying to be a photo journalist or documentarian, when I share something here on my home site there should be more to sink your teeth into regarding a real experience of the place.