Travel Memories: Are You So Busy Taking Photos That You Forget to See Your Vacation?

BlogHer Original Post

Take photos, but pay attention first:  A lot of tourists who go to the floating market snap photo after photo without paying attention. Trust me, you can't take the sound and excitement home unless you pay attention first. If you sit near the bridge area on the southeastern side, you can watch the vendors paddling back and forth, and sometimes you might see conversations, laughter, interactions that could tell you a lot about the local culture. -- .:passion and light:.

Woman with bicycle using camera on city street

I travel with a camera, no secrets there. It's a fancy Nikon with a compact all purpose telephoto. One lens only, an extra battery, and a pocket full of compact flash cards. I'm the last person in the tour group, dawdling behind because I've stopped to snap photos. I don't suck at photography -- I chalk this up to both taking classes and having, for a while, a retired architecture photographer serve as a sort of unofficial mentor. He taught me how to print my own pictures, how to focus, how to make sure things lined up properly, to pay attention to the edges of the frame. I also owe no small part of my handiness with the camera to my arts education. I'm mentioning all this not because I want to show off my shaky credentials, but because I've been reading about how travel writers are expected to be photographers too.

I consider myself lucky to have an education in photography. And I love to write. I don't suffer too much from having to do both in my preoccupation as a travelblogger because they're both fun for me. And I'm just learning to do video -- a whole new medium, a whole new layer of complications. Moving pictures aren't the same as stills and if you want to move a story along, there has to be some kind of narrative in the imagery, unless you're angling for the abstract. It's yet another thing to wrangle, another set of skills. Can I speak on camera? Do I look okay? How's the sound and the light? What about the editing? Video feels, at this early stage in my experiments, a weirdly passive medium, but I'll concede that I have truckloads to learn to make it work.

As much as I enjoy making pictures and playing with new media, all these things are distractions from observing. I suppose one of the things I like about writing is that it allows me to just observe. I'm not a note taker, I confess, but I'm also not a reporter, I'm not looking to gather facts. I'm looking for a feeling of place, for a way to take a reader with me without giving them altitude or Latin names or historical datelines. That's the goal anyway -- I'm far from successful at it.

The traveler, I decided one day, is part  photographer and part philosopher: His aim, as he sets out, is to catch  some aspect of his subject—a tilt of head, a glint of eye—that exists out of time, and so to show us, as a portrait-painter might once have done, that aspect of a place that was there when he was 8 and will be there when he is 80; and yet his deeper purpose, what elevates his mission, and makes it more worthwhile, is to take his subject out of  space, too, to explore those larger questions every place dramatizes and that apply to almost everyone. -- Pico Iyer on World Hum

If you want to capture a place -- not just in photos -- you have to pay attention to everything. The camera is a tool, words are a tool, video is a tool. It's all useless if you're not paying attention. You shoot into the sun. That inspirational landscape would have been so much prettier if you'd stepped left two feed and cropped out the garbage cans. There's a truck backing up and the beep beep beep of the warning is all you hear instead of that audio track. It's crazy making, this sense of attention, but it doesn't just make for better pictures, it makes for better stories. Sometimes, to get at the real stories, you have to stop clicking and observe.

In the end, I confirm that which feels most true to me as a photographer: some things are better left untouched, undocumented. I'm learning when to put the camera away, because en verdad, some things are better left to memory. -- Everything You Dream

Nerd's Eye View


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