5 Common Mistakes of an Amateur Travel Photographer

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As a travel photographer and photography tour leader, Harry Fisch gets to see a lot of photographers and how they interact with their environment. Below, you will find the most common mistakes this award winning photographer sees amongst his students and other photographers while they are out in the field.

Confusing the Camera with a Machine Gun

On my photo tours with Nomad Photo Expeditions at least 30% of clients who accompany me will get sucked into a photographic compulsion; the pathological urge to glue their finger to the shutter release and shoot everything that moves in the long-shot hope of getting the perfect picture, something they can’t get with this kind of lack of attention.
It is true that by shooting frequently will give us more possibilities to work with, but persisting when we are in error will only give us multiple bad pictures to choose from.

Three boxers in Havana

The problem with over-clicking the release button without a sense of calm or the necessary amount of attention is that you learn very little from the shoot. There are occasions when the ‘burst’ mode is useful, especially when you find yourself photographing objects or people in motion, such as auto racing, sports shots, etc.

But we cannot forget that photography is in essence selecting one moment of reality and, except in the case of pure documentary, the idea is to get a photo that has a certain beauty to it.

We are accustomed to seeing reality in terms of motion. And so because of this we find ourselves as photographers facing the difficulty of freezing one tenth of a second of our reality, doing so in a pleasing way, and also transmitting an emotion or a reminder of that moment. Also, if we can tell an entire story in one image, that’s peaches and cream.

If you want to learn or make your photographs better, the best thing you can do is be conscious of what is going on in front of you so you can ‘select’ your moment. Don’t wait for luck or statistics or firing off as many shots as possible to make up for lack of attention.

Bringing Too Much Equipment

During my last Photographic Tour to Ethiopia, I couldn’t count the number of times that someone told me, ‘I don’t have a suitable lens for this.’ Or, ‘Well, the thing is I didn’t bring my zoom.’ And also there is the photographer who feels obligated to make an arduous trip under the harsh July sun in Varanasi, India with an enormous, 25 pounds backpack, because he is absolutely convinced that

Priest in a temple at Lalibela  Ethiopia

everything in said backpack are the keys to him winning the National Geographic Photography prize this year.
In order to get a good, magnificent, or even extraordinary photo, you only need a camera and a lens. The saying ‘photography is done with the mind and heart’ continues to perfectly define the dividing line between an aficionado of the craft, and an artist.
The fascination with equipment and lenses is understandable; the same goes for passion for watches or cars, but all the best equipment or the best range of lenses in the world won’t do much to transform you into a great photographer.

When people argue over the grain of the photograph, or the lens that you really must use for this or that, they are losing sight of what is actually important: the content of the image, and the way in which the photographer sees his or her own reality. The first and essential thing needed to be able to argue above a photograph is to know what is actually being made. And in order to get something worth discussing, all we need is a camera and a lens, not the best camera and twelve lenses.

If you are burdened by twenty five pounds of weight all day it will be difficult to be in the right mood or state of mind to get that photograph of a lifetime. The majority of professional photographers carry their gear to a spot in advance, where they know they want to set up for the day, selecting only what they need depending on what they are going to shoot and how.

Not Looking Further than What’s In Front of You

Animals react to stimuli, and our animal nature is that we are easily distracted by and almost abducted by whatever catches our attention.

As photographers, one of the first disciplines you need to learn is how to train up your ability to discriminate, observe, choose, and analyze your situation before taking the photo.

On a photo tour and especially when we go to a new destination, the stimuli around us are continuous. The sensation of confusion, the colors, the sounds all vie for our attention and it is difficult to focus on what we should really be interested in once we are calm. Unfortunately, most of the time, we just resign ourselves that this is how it is and we return to our country of origin and see that the majority of our photos don’t correspond to what we believed we had immortalized in them.

Women in Varanasi after the prayers

The mental coach of a Formula One driver defined the driver as ‘someone that plays chess while being chased by a tiger.’

This is what I repeat to myself mentally when on occasion I feel overwhelmed by new surroundings, or a new location manages to make me lose my calm and objectivity so that I can’t well decide what would be the best aspect of the scene before me to immortalize in my photos. Taking the few minutes to repeat that phrase and calm myself makes all the difference.

Another bit of advice that I tell myself is the necessity of looking further than what is directly in front of me. I look to the sides and behind me, and on occasion I find that what is happening in the margins of what is directly presented to me is what really represents a magnificent photographic opportunity.

Not Getting Close Enough

Yes, I know the famous war reporter Robert Capa said this long before me, but it bears repeating. Contrary to the popular belief of many photographers, the zoom was not invented in order to take photographs of people from far away. The majority, if not the totality of photographers who specialize in working with people and street photographers use short lenses; that is to say focal ranges that normally go from 21mm to 50mm.

I understand that this carries with it the necessity of getting up close and personal with your subject, and, we are shy. We don’t want to bother people, we might even be a little afraid or uncomfortable of getting that close to a stranger.

Budhist wheel with boy

But by the same token it is impossible to make an omelet without cracking a few eggs. It is complicated venture to take photographs of people without getting close to them.

This is one of the ‘subjects’ that I give the most importance to during the photo tours that I organize. The way to get reasonably close to people in order to take those photographs that communicate, and put the observer right in the moment and place the photographer was in the second he or she took the photo.

It isn’t that I don’t understand the utility of the long objective lens, or the zoom, but I maintain that it is difficult to establish visual contact and a connection with someone that is being photographed from two hundred fifty feet away.

Forgetting to Communicate

This connection that we are talking about is greater the greater relationship you have with the person you are photographing. I am not talking only about speaking with people. Unfortunately there are circumstances that, when – like me – you are traveling the better part of the year in seven distinct countries, so obviously it gets complicated to speak seven languages well. I only speak five, by the way…

What we all need to develop in situations where you are traveling so much to such a wide variety of places and cultures, is nonverbal communication. Gestures, smiles, and eye contact, even magic tricks.

Boxer training in Havana

Looking for an intermediary who can act as your ambassador for this shoot. There are a hundred other avenues to take besides talking.

Learn to say ‘thank you’ – it is important. But much more important is to have an open and friendly attitude despite your inability to use the language well.
One of my clients, an extraordinary landscape and animal photographer, commented on the difficulty he had taking photographs of people. ‘It’s just that’, he told me, ‘I don’t really like people. I prefer animals.’ It’s an understandable attitude but it can transmit the wrong impression, a lack of empathy, which makes it very difficult to relate photographically to a human subject.

About Author

designs and leads photographic tours with his company Nomad Photo Expeditions. His photographic work has been recognised with several International awards. You can join one of his Photographic Photo Tours at Nomad Photo Expeditions. You can see some of his personal work here. His Cuba Photo Tour will be the next of his destinations.

Great article… Sadly, photography has been dominated to a large degree by technologies and egos, as of late, obscuring the underlying human foundations and spirit of capturing moments in time.

Harry, I completely agree with you. I liked the part where you have mentioned getting confused on location with too many interesting and new things around.
I could relate with almost everything in the article.

I come across many such situations during the photo tours and workshop I conduct for individuals with varied backgrounds. I have had some different experiences too. Would you mind if I share those with you?

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