The Most Powerful Tool in a Travel Photographers Toolbox
Every month I share a photography quote and my thoughts and feelings about the quote. Good photography quotes surface an idea in a few well-chosen words. I love the fact that some people are so skilled with words.
A photo quote can confirm what you already know to be true. Or it can clarify what you’re not sure about. It can also be the starting point of a thought process. That’s what I like the most about photography quotes. When they get your brain working and become an inspiration to stretch yourself.
I choose the quote for this month because it’s a belief that is infused in my photographic blood. Because of that, it’s the basis of everything I share and teach at the Photography Playground.
“A camera didn’t make a great picture any more than a typewriter wrote a great novel.”
– Peter Adams, portrait – and reportage photographer.
The Roof On My Wardrobe
Years ago I lived in a house with an attic and our bedroom had these small swivel windows. Every morning I would wake up in a natural phenomenon. Through a crack in the slightly open window, a little light would fall in the dark bedroom. Across from the window was a large wardrobe.
Projected on the wardrobe was the upside down image of the orange colored roofs of the houses in our street.
I was waking up in a camera obscura.
Seeing this natural phenomenon when I opened my eyes first thing in the morning has had a profound impact on my relationship with photography.
We, humans, think we invented photography but we didn’t.
It has been there since the beginning of time. We’ve discovered ways of capturing and preserving the image. But the sheer manifestation of the image itself has got nothing to do with us. It will be there whether we hold on to it or not. Whether we’re there to witness it or not.
It is pure magic and that is a humbling realization.
About the Roof on my Wardrobe.
What you see here is the foundation of photography. Somehow the light falling through the crack of the window is projecting the outside world of the street in the inside world of my bedroom.
You can see the wooden panels of my wardrobe. When you look closely you can see my white bathrobe hanging on the left side of the wardrobe.
But the most interesting aspects of this picture are the orange roofing tiles of the houses opposite our house and the chimney stretching itself into the blue and white of the sky.
This is as I saw it and how I recorded it with my camera. I did not photoshop this picture.
The Camera Doesn’t Care
The way the camera preserves the image has gone through many changes. By now the quality of cameras and lenses is far beyond what the ‘inventors’ of photography could ever imagine.
But ultimately a camera is nothing more than a machine like a typewriter is. It’s not even a tool.
The camera itself doesn’t care what it captures.
It doesn’t distinguish between what’s important and what’s not.
Cameras don’t recognize beauty.
They can’t see when the perfect moment is approaching.
Nor will they get excited when a beam of light is falling through the trees.
The camera records whatever is in front of her with an obsessive precision and perfection. It’s an indiscriminating device.
Who We Are
No, the camera is not our tool. Our most important tool is the piece of equipment between our ears. Our brain, heart, and soul.
The only tool of significance is who we are.
Of course, it starts by knowing, understanding and loving the machine to become one with it.
But only by mastering the language of photography will you be able to create something that is yours and yours alone.
You need to become aware of the visual elements in the frame that convey a story, an emotion, a mood.
The most powerful tool of photography is understanding its visual language.
To write a great novel you need to have a deep understanding of language. In the same way, you need to know the language of photography to create a compelling photo.
When you know the language of photography you’ll be able to shoot with intent and develop your voice. And when you shoot with intent and vision your pictures will be great. But only then.
Shoot With Intent
This is true for every form of photography but especially for travel photography. Because we’re not always able to bring the equipment we think we need to make a great photo. Then we need to rely solely on our vision.
We’re challenged to improvise and experiment. As a result, we’ll step out of our comfort zone and that’s when we sharpen our intent and vision.
The photos in this post are a witness to that. I shot them at one of the most touristy places in Europe, the Florence Cathedral during summer. It’s one of the most photographed spots on earth. And I imagine most pictures taken there look more or less the same. They’re taken with the intent to document the architecture of the building.
My motive was a little different.
It was my intention to tell little stories of stillness in an overcrowded tourist attraction. The intent was to highlight individuality in a mass of people.
I could have told any number of stories. But I choose this one.
The Language of Photography
The photos I shot that day are different from the pictures other people took. But not only that, I am the only one that can take them.
Because every time I press the shutter I bring myself to the table. By doing that it becomes an expression of who I am, of my vision, and my experiences as a human being. And that’s the discriminating factor in photography.
To stand out as a photographer you need to concern yourself with discovering your intent and your vision.
Study the language of photography instead of spending a fortune on gear.
Because buying more gear won’t make you a better travel photographer.
Understanding your intent and developing your own voice will!
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They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But sometimes we need words to give expression to what we think and feel around a single photograph or photography in its entirety. So I actually feel that pictures and words go hand in hand most of the time. When we see a photo there’s an infinite number of reactions to that single image. We need words to articulate our reaction.
Whenever I feel lost, I pick up my camera and start to photograph. The simple act of picking up my camera in the midst of what feels like chaos creates a little overwhelm free island of time. I’m focused on creating something and when I’m photographing there’s not much else that can enter my mind. It’s what I call the mindful nature of photography and it’s healing.