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Travel Tip: Learn Photography!

August 28, 2012

Edit: Check out our new Facebook page, The Passport Epilogues! We will be updating it frequently with job/intern/career opportunities, photos, travel tips, spreading awareness about international issues, great opportunities, and news from around the world!

Competent travelers often spend plenty of time preparing themselves for their next adventure: learning some phrases in the local language, and customs, getting in shape if the region is especially hilly, saving money, and scanning travel blogs to learn how to pack light. But even experienced travelers often neglect one (in this author’s opinion) very important thing. A camera is on the packing checklist of just about every traveler, and few actually take the time to learn how to use it to its fullest potential.

The modern era has revolutionized photography as equipment is mass-produced, digitized, and incorporated into our mobile devices. Today, particularly among industrialized nations, there is high probability that any given person carries some sort of photo-capable device on them the majority of the time. Photo-culture has followed suit, and with social media and the convenience of digital photography it is easy to share your pictures within minutes of taking them. Now we take pictures of everything from a delicious ice cream cone to a funny hat we see at the store.

Photography has become such a part of many people’s everyday experience that I now take the same philosophy with it as I do with my native language: if it’s something I use every day, I might as well do it right.

When it comes to travel, this goes double. In this exotic environment, your friends are excited to learn about your adventures. And whether you are going to Malaysia or Disneyland, chances are you’ll be giving some sort of photo-slideshow when you get back. Sure, you can document what hostel you stayed at, but attempting to express cultural experience through a photo isn’t quite so simple. The purpose of the Passport Epilogues is Maddy’s and my attempt to turn our personal experiences into something more through awareness and communication, and photography can serve a similar purpose. So do yourself a favor and learn how to better capture the magic of the culture you visit!

Another reason I am an advocate of photo-literacy is because it’s a pretty easy skill to pick up. While becoming a professional photographer takes a lot of time, energy, and money, the fundamentals aren’t hard to grasp.  In fact, I could probably teach someone everything I know about photography in the better part of a day, if that. (Some of the sites I linked to below did it in less than a paragraph.) And while I have seen some exceptional photographs that don’t go by established conventions, it’s still better to know and understand these rules before you go about breaking them, so when you do, at least it’s on purpose.

I took this in Washington State with about the most entry-level digital camera money can buy. A picture is worth 1,000 words, but it doesn’t have to cost $1,000.

From a technical perspective, photography is a very simple art. The trick is that you need to know exactly when the moment appears and react quickly. It is much more timing-oriented than traditional mediums, and the process is not confined to a studio so you need to be ready to go at all times. Learning the rules is easy. The part that takes time and practice is training your ability to recall, apply, prioritize and disregard each rule in the fraction of a second that it takes to snap your shot.

A quick google search for “rules of photography” or “photography tips” will yield a plethora of websites giving away information. Here are three I pulled up after less than five minutes of poking around:

Rules of Photography Composition, from Lifehacker

Basic Rules for Better Photography, by Lorri Freedman

10 Top Photography Composition Rules, from Photography Mad:

Notice how the same sort of things keep popping up in all of them: Rule of thirds, leading lines, compositional balance, filling the frame, symmetry and repetition, etc. Photography is as fine an art as any, but it is by no means esoteric. I have spent years improving my ability so I can do it on a more professional scale, but I maintain that at a basic level it’s a skill that just about anyone can pick up with minimal time and effort.

I took this picture with a point-and-shoot camera (Canon G7 Powershot) during takeoff as I headed back home from a trip to Washington, DC. Flying is always an exhilarating experience for me, and a properly set up shot allows me to express that atmosphere. I wanted to be able to express my feeling at the time and say “Hey, look! I’m traveling!” instead of just “Hey, look! I got a window seat!”

Don’t worry if you don’t know about things like exposure time, leading lines and composition (the three main techniques behind the photo to the left). That’s not the purpose of this blog, so I won’t get technical. Besides, there are a lot of sites out there that do a much better job in that department than I ever could. The links I posted above are a good start, and I also highly recommend the video podcast “The Art of Photography” by Ted Forbes  (also available free on iTunes) for beginners and skilled photographers alike.

Art is a form of personal expression, and it is how I show others how I view a culture. Experience is the heart of a fulfilling travel experience, and that has all the more value when you can effectively communicate it with others. We’re doing that in part through our blog, but for me art is also an important way to tell people my stories. That’s one of the motivators behind our photo of the week, and the spirit of this blog is the same as the one that got me started as a photographer. So I think it’s only fitting to merge the two a little.

If you have ever written or participated in a travel blog before, you already know what I’m talking about when I promote the idea of communicating culture and experience. So take a little time and add another method to your toolbox. If you took the time to bring the camera at all, take the time to use it right!

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