By PAT HARTMAN
Okay, we’ve talked about plenty of cool travel writing, but let’s take a look at travel photography. Or rather, let’s look over the shoulder of Karen Walrond, who has compiled a pantheon and titled it “Through the Gadling Lens: 5 of the best travel photographers of all time.” It’s nice how she shares some of her own experience:
I’ve been diving in some of the clearest, stillest water possible, but still — the water never seems still enough to get a sharp image, it’s difficult to hold the camera steady while you’re floating, and the diffused light through the ocean totally distorts colours.
Walrond chooses Ansel Adams, who, in addition to being a photographer, was also a dedicated environmentalist. She is most impressed by the way he processed images, and by the way he shared his knowledge in a series of ten tech manuals. He was a big believer in having a picture come out looking the way he wanted it to look, rather than the way it might have really looked. He wasn’t into making documentaries. The surprising thing is that Adams didn’t take up painting instead, a form in which it’s relatively easy to make the picture come out looking like you want it to. Using the scientifically based methodology of the classical photograph as an expressive medium requires a kind of brute-force approach to art that not every creative person is comfortable with.
Remember the National Geographic cover with the Afghan girl? The one with the eyes? Steve McCurry made that picture in Pakistan, in a refugee camp. And then, many years later, he went back to find the girl with the eyes, Sharbat Gula, who was by then living in Afghanistan with her husband and their young children. In Walrond’s opinion, light and color are McCurry’s strong points.
Her next pick is Jim Brandenburg, another National Geographic photographer who specials in animals and landscapes. Julius Shulman was a very original photographer of architecture, with the ability to make buildings look their best in the same way that Hollywood studio photographers in the old days were able to make movie stars look their best. He could bring the magic. Walrond’s fifth choice is underwater photographer Chris Newbert, yet another National Geographic veteran.
Over at The Society of American Travel Writers, Bea Broda and Rich Grant have compiled a handy list of “Top 10 tips for better vacation photos from travel writers & photographers.” They advise shooting outdoors in early morning and late afternoon. Patiently wait for the right moment. Shoot in the highest resolution you can. Be creative with points of view other than eye level. Let the subject fill the frame. Remember to take vertical pictures as well as horizontal. Attend to such details as whether a human subject will appear to have a tree growing out of his head, and don’t let it happen.
There are plenty more great ideas, too. One of them is, take a lot of pictures and then later discard the losers. There are folks who go someplace and take literally thousands of pictures, and then feel compelled to load each and every one of them into Flickr. People, please, let’s use a little discrimination here!
On the other hand… maybe not. Maybe it’s good that someone should upload a dozen practically identical photos, and none of them inspired. Maybe there exists a fan for each and every one of those repetitious images.
In The Third Tower Up From the Road, Kevin Dolgin says, “I don’t take pictures. Ever.” (He can’t stand looking like a tourist.) But he likes to write about people who take pictures, for instance of each other in front of the door to hell, at the Rodin Museum in France. He says:
You have to wonder about this. It’s quite possible that they don’t actually know what the sculpture represents; there are no devils or pitchforks or anything. Or perhaps they like tempting fate, or are proud of the fact that they are on this side of the door (for now). Who knows?
Going back to Karen Walrond, her column ends with the words, “Greater minds may differ, though, so I hope you’ll challenge me in the comments.” And we feel the same way. It would be splendid to hear some opinions on the top travel photographers.