During my last workshop in Morocco, Hannah, a great student and an even better person asked me: What does photography mean to you? “Good question” I told her and I gave her my answer, an answer that has been circling my head ever since.
A huge percentage of what street and documentary photography is, goes far beyond the final result, which is the photo itself.
The most obvious and perhaps the simplest part is recognition. When you publish (regardless of the medium), you have an instant gratification just because your work is being seen by other people, and that is a very powerful feeling. However, you don’t become a photographer or have this hobby just for that.
For me, photography is the whole process that culminates in the end result. From thinking about a destination, to planning my trip, to the preparations, to imagining walking around the place with my bag over my shoulder and my camera around my neck while I hear the afternoon prayer over the speakers of a mosque, and above all, the time I spend in a place exploring and meeting extraordinary people.
In the end, photographing is not only to press the shutter-release button, it is the whole experience, the emotions and all the little tricks that you learn over time during each trip.
Since I will soon be travelling to India I am currently making preparations for the trip and thought I would share some useful tips for when you go on your next photographic journey.
1. Travel light.
During my first assignments I would go out loaded with equipment, partly out of paranoia and partly due to inexperience. I took everything I had along with me and that’s a big mistake because first, it is exhausting; it weighs a lot and your body ends up aching and secondly, you tend to be more worried about which lens to choose rather than observing your surroundings. The best thing is to do is what the great masters do: one camera, one lens, and if possible, a fixed one.
2. Always carry a clear plastic bag.
Lately people are quite concerned about having sealed cameras and how delicate their equipment is. However, you’d be surprised at how resistant they can be. You can obviously have bad luck and you must be “careful”, but I have taken my Fuji X100 from the freezing cold of the Himalayas to raging sandstorms in the Sahara desert and nothing has ever happened.
A cheap and effective way to protect your camera is with a clear plastic bag and some adhesive tape, and the best thing about this is that you can save your money for experiences, not in things.
3. A small carabiner/snap hook
Street photography is walking and walking, having patience and walking some more and when you do this, even if you are out with a light camera, your neck will eventually start to ache. Throughout my travels I have tried everything from “blackrapids” to neoprene straps and wrist straps, but in the end, what works best is to take a small carabiner and hook the strap to the handle of your backpack. In this way the weight of the camera will be distributed between the shoulders which is much more comfortable as well as safer.
4. Nike Free.
OK, they do not necessarily have to be Nike or Free, but they do have to be comfortable. One of the most important things that the traveling photographer must possess is a pair of very comfortable shoes. I promise you that it changes your life and it’s something we do not think about as much as we should. Having a pair of good and comfortable shoes will allow you to spend more time on the street and stay focused on your photography (rather than your aching feet).
5. Notepad and pen.
One of the most interesting parts of this type of photography is undoubtedly the people that you meet and the experiences that you have. Even if you are not one of the most extroverted people in the world, talk to people, show an interest in them and their life and jot down in your notebook everything that crosses your mind while you travel, your thoughts, the times in which the light in the place is particularly beautiful and of course, the e-mails of those you photograph to send them the photos or portraits that you have taken of them.
Over time, these notebooks will be almost as important as your photos.
To finish, an extra tip: always take something that makes you feel like you are one of those intrepid National Geographic photographers. In my case, I always wanted to have one of those Domke canvas bags that are used by so many of my heroes. It is not the most practical thing in the world and it does not have the best protection for my gear, however, when I am walking through some alley in a strange country, my camera hanging from my neck and my shoulder bag by my side, everything bathed in the light of the golden hour I think to myself: this is what I always want to do, and that for me, is photography.
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