“Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.” ~ Neil Gaiman
In Hokkaido last month one of the guys I was traveling with made an astute observation, that no matter where we travel as photographers, we will always have the same creative struggles as we do at home because “we take that same photographer with us wherever we go.” Indeed. As I gear up to launch SEE THE WORLD on Wednesday, and to head to Kenya on assignment later this same week, I’m turning my own thoughts to one of the things I love most in this world: traveling the world with my cameras.
The camera, for me is only an excuse to travel. It’s a thing I bring with me to help me see the world and life as it passes, with greater attention and intimacy. If I make a photograph that’s significant for myself or others, then that’s a bonus. Every year people criss-cross the globe, strapped to their cameras, in search of amazing photographs; often those photographs are of exotic things, like camels, men with turbans, or Eiffel Towers. Often those photographs are little more than a poor copy of one or another of the hundreds of photographs of the same things that others before them have made.
It is worth remembering two things. First, it is very easy to get seduced by what is novel or exotic, and easier still to allow ourselves to believe that that is enough to make a good photograph. It is not. The things that make a good photograph are the same in Venice or Timbuktu as they are at home. The second is that while traveling can open our eyes to things we’ve not seen before and might therefore see them more clearly than we would at home, the photographer we bring with us is the same one we are at home. Don’t kid yourself: going somewhere else won’t make you a better photographer than you are at home.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said it well when he said, “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.” If you don’t see beautifully at home, you will not see beautifully in someone else’s home. The airplane transports us, it does not transform us.
If you want better photographs, no matter where you are, it comes down to that intoxicating mix of light and moments and lines and the choices you make about how you place those things in the frame. It is not good merely because you are in Paris. Over a hundred years of photographs made in Paris, and there are at least as many lousy ones as there are beautiful, compelling ones. You will still have to rely on having open eyes and on understanding composition. There is no such thing as “composition for travel photography.” I’m not even sure there’s such a thing as travel photography, per se. And there isn’t really, though I’ve used the words myself, such thing as a Travel Photographer. There are photographers who travel, but their work doesn’t move us emotionally just because they themselves are in constant motion. So what makes for stronger travel photographs? That’s the subject of the 20 lessons in SEE THE WORLD, but in short, this: that you deeply experience a place, that you learn to see, that you connect with people and spend time and abandon your expectations. And yes, that you make photographs that express those experiences, tell stories, communicate mood. It’s not about the camera, or your choice of luggage or tripod. How you do those things is the subject of the book and I can’t wait to share it with you.
The photographer you take with you will be the one making the photographs, so if you want stronger travel photographs, now’s the time to work on that photographer.
SEE THE WORLD is a downloadable PDF eBook. It launches on Wednesday, February 11. For the first week it’ll be on sale for $15 (regularly $20), and every one that picks it up during that first week will be entered to win a Fuji X-E2 and 18-55mm lens.