Thanks to Bellingham-based Southside Living for publishing my first article about travel photography!
If you were in a position to sell your home, car, and other possessions to finance a dream, where would you go? Last year, I quit my corporate job and booked a one-way ticket to Ireland. My dream was to rent a cottage by the sea and explore the rugged Wild Atlantic Way with my camera, building a portfolio that could one day lead to freelance opportunities. Giving up a steady paycheck to take pictures may seem foolish, but I contend that travel is an investment in the soul, gold in your life’s vault of experience.
Seeing the world through a viewfinder also taught me valuable lessons about travel photography. There is an art to it, and whether you’re a seasoned photographer trying to catch the eye of a National Geographic editor or a casual tourist with a selfie stick, there are several ways to make your travel photos more memorable.
First of all, you are not at a disadvantage without an expensive DSLR and a bag full of lenses. A friend of mine used to say, “The best camera is the one you have on you.” I wouldn’t trade the quality and clarity of the photos produced on my DSLR for landscapes, but I could go without the inconvenience of lugging that beast through the streets of big cities. Not only did it attract attention, it was heavy and I got tired of carrying it around. A good point-and-shoot or cellphone camera would have been a viable alternative, something I could have easily slipped in and out of a purse to snap stealthy pictures of buskers and Dublin street scenes.
Whatever your camera choice, I recommend taking a walk through your destination before the first shutter actuation. Explore, gather a sense of the local ethos. What emotion do you want to evoke with a photograph?
I lived in Sneem last summer, a village in southwest Ireland along the popular Ring of Kerry. Say it out loud: Sneem. It sounds like a fictitious place, a hobbit stop on the way to Mordor. Pastel buildings line what passes for a main street, the corner store sells duck eggs that bulge out of repurposed cartons, and tourists wander in and out of ice cream shops in a trance. A river thunders down from Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, bisecting the village with waters the color of a freshly poured Guinness. I could have taken pictures of everything! But, I wanted to photograph the right subjects at the right time.
This meant getting up early and staying up late. For example, a castle I was particularly fond of filled with tourists during the day, and the sun cast harsh shadows on it—elements unfavorable for a good travel photograph. Instead, I woke up early before the tourists and caught the gentle morning light. The same castle was far more dramatic with fog rolling through its hollow shells, peaceful in a sleepy meadow.
For serious photographers, I recommend taking a tripod and capturing the same scene in the evening. The magic begins when the sun drops, bathing the earth in gold. The sky following a storm is also quite dramatic as rainbows push back the darkness.
Understandably, there are times when you will be taking pictures during the harsh light of day. In this case, use your flash. This will fill out the shadows in the faces of your families and friends, capturing a far more flattering image.
Consider the composition of your photograph. Don’t just stand there—move! Try out different angles or put an object in the foreground to show scale.
Get off the beaten path! When going to Ireland, everyone wants to visit the Cliffs of Moher, Blarney Castle, and the Guinness Storehouse. The Ring of Kerry is often so clogged with tour busses you can hardly make your way through Killarney during the daytime. And while there is value in going to those places, ask the locals for advice. One of the best pieces of advice I got was to visit the Beara Peninsula. It’s one of the well-guarded secrets in southwest Ireland. Between megalithic sites, sandy beaches, and passes, it’s heaven on earth for the budding travel photographer…and none of the tourists seem to have discovered it yet!
Above all, don’t be afraid to put the camera down and savor the moment. Talk to the locals and listen to the lilt of an accent. Enjoy the fragrance of a peat fire lacing the air with its earthy sweetness. Feel the way your nose tingles after a few sips of Guinness. There’s so much that can’t be captured on camera.
Of all the lessons I learned in Ireland, the most important was this: dare to dream beyond the borders of your hometown. Travel, if you can. Have adventures, big and small. Fall in love with the world and your one precious life. That’s the real ticket we should all purchase.