Ruminations on Travel Photography


Most of the time, my head is filled with random thoughts that are totally irrelevant to whatever I’m doing at the moment. These typically relate to certain recurring topics, as well as general oddities. One of the recurring topics is photography. As I have had these thoughts, I thought they might be interesting useful okay filler material for a blog post, so I started jotting them last week, and this blog post is the result. What’s here is my mostly random, possibly useful, in-my-head rants (toned down for the internet). I’ve tried to tie the random thoughts together to make the post flow…but really there is no connection. Depending upon the reception of this blog post, I’ll make this a regular topic. Believe me, I have plenty more random photography thoughts! Let’s get started…

For me, the most important thing about photography is how it emotionally resonates with the viewer. This has been the principle goal of photojournalists for years, as they attempt to convey emotion in the scenes they see and capture. Photojournalism naturally lends itself to this, as most news stories have some human-interest component, and depictions of humans are the easiest way to convey emotions. Obviously, it’s not as cut and dry as that may sound, even if the best photojournalists do make it look easy.

Conveying emotion is more difficult for a landscape photographer, as landscapes don’t inherently feature humans–even if a human in a landscape scene can add great context and scale, and give the scene more interest. However, landscape photographers have the advantage that their photos can more easily evoke feelings of awe and wanderlust.

More importantly, we landscape photographers have the advantage that we can use another tool to convey emotion: post processing. Due to journalistic integrity, photojournalists typically should not edit or alter their photos. Landscape photographers, and really any other photographers approaching photography as an art medium, have carte blanche in terms of editing.

The degree to which editing is “appropriate” has long been a point of contention with photographers. The divide generally seems to occur between photojournalists like newspaper, sports, and wildlife photographers, and “other” photographers like landscape and lifestyle shooters. The former group largely has its hands tied when it comes to post processing, and years of doing things a certain way themselves might lend itself to the belief that their way is the right way. The thing with art is that there is no single right way of doing anything.

To me, the comments made by some photographers who are entirely dismissive of certain styles or techniques are concerning. The pervasive sentiment that “HDR looks bad and shouldn’t be used” is incredibly close-minded. Now, this article is not another ‘in defense of HDR’ post. Those have been done to death by others. I’m merely using HDR for illustration, because it’s the most prominent example of the divide. My point is that anyone who dismisses of an entire technique that can be used in a wide array of manners–from realistic to wholly unrealistic–out of hand may not be offering reasoned or considered opinions.

In fairness, most photographers do offer more balanced views than this, and merely dislike certain applications of editing techniques. I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with this–there are plenty of styles I personally don’t care for. What I do think is important is recognizing that not all photographers have the same aesthetic inclinations as me. Wouldn’t it be a bland world if we all approached photography from exactly the same perspective and with exactly the same editing style? Variety is the spice of life, and although a certain style may not be for me, I don’t try to impute my own aesthetic preferences on others. Me not liking a style for my photography does not make that style “bad.” It simply means I don’t like it.

I think one of the biggest lessons of photography is that you should not care if others do not like your artistic style. The thing about photography or any art for that matter, is that you cannot please everyone. No photo in the history of photos has been loved by all who have seen it. That’s just the nature of the beast. Even if everyone on Flickr, 500px, or whatever photo sharing site who comments gushes over a particular photo of yours, you can be sure that some percentage did not like the photo, but just bit their tongue (or held their typing fingers?). This is true whether you receive unanimous glowing feedback from 3 people or 300.

I’m not a photojournalist for a reason. I view photography entirely as an artistic medium for self-expression, and as such, I want to have every tool that exists to convey my artistic vision at my disposal. Each of my photos are artistic finished products, and while others might argue that they are bad art, they are still art. I am well aware that not everyone is going to like my aesthetic style, or the degree to which I edit photos. I know more than a handful of people think I’m a hack, utilizing a gimmicky look. I also know that I don’t really care.

As a hobbyist landscape photographer, the great thing for me is that the words of critics do not really matter. I don’t work for an editor–I only answer to myself. I would prefer if more people liked my photography than hated it, but ultimately it only matters if I like it. Now, this is not to say that you should ignore constructive criticism, as we all have something to learn about photography, but there is little to be gained in ideological criticism. If someone flatout does not like your aesthetic, and you have chosen that aesthetic deliberately, what is to be gained? They are criticizing for the sake of criticizing, not offering beneficial critique.

This also doesn’t mean you should never get outside of your comfort zone and never deviate from ‘your style.’ I think a good practice from time to time after editing a photo is to do a ‘second edit’ of that photo in a manner you otherwise would never consider. If you normally do HDR, try editing a photo in black and white. Instead of a gritty photorealism, try a minimalistic photojournalistic approach. If you typically don’t do much in the way of editing, go all out for a photo. It’s important to push yourself when it comes to photography, and trying new things is important. I’ve found myself feeling a greater emotional connection to one of my recent ‘second edits.’

Editing is only one part of this, it’s also important to push yourself in the field, when actually clicking the shutter. For years, I’ve been a wide angle and fisheye shooter, with over 66% of my photos coming from 2 lenses (out of 6) in my camera bag. This year, I’ve put more of an emphasis on using my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. I’ve been using it not just for more reach, but also in situations when I normally would use a different lens.

This forced me to use a different creative approach, and many times it worked. I still prefer changing lenses to accomplish my creative vision rather than forcing myself to think differently, but sometimes being forced to take a different perspective can open your eyes to something you wouldn’t otherwise have seen.

A sunset photo of a bull moose enjoying an afternoon snack in Rocky Mountain National Park. Read more: https://www.travelcaffeine.com/rocky-mountain-national-park-bull-moose/

Speaking of lenses and ‘second’ things, don’t use a single lens too much. In fact, if you see a scene that you really like, photograph it with at least two lenses. As I sit here looking at my library of potential photos to edit, I’m wondering why on earth I didn’t photograph one scene I liked of the Grand Canyon with a ‘standard’ focal length.

At the time, getting creative and using a telephoto seemed really original, but now that I look at the photos a couple of months later, the more obvious shot with a 24-70mm lens would’ve been much better. I can’t count the number of times where I thought I was being so clever trying to get creative by using an atypical lens, only to later dislike the “clever” photo and wish I had a shot with a standard focal length.

In addition to serving as a “back-up” of sorts, it’s cool to see the same scene photographed in two ways. What is not cool is where people share numerous, consecutively-taken photos of the same scene shot virtually identically. When sharing photos of any trip, be judicious in what you share. No one wants to see 10 photos of virtually the same thing. Viewers fatigue, and the more similar photos you have of the same thing, the more impact is lost. Remember sitting through road-trip slideshows with your relatives and being bored out of your mind? Same idea.

Okay, that’s it for now!

Your Thoughts…

Do you have any random thoughts on any of these topics? Would you like to see more articles like this? Share your thoughts and questions in the comment section below!

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8 replies
  1. Dave
    Dave says:

    I agree with previous posters. I would love to see a walkthrough type post on your photo editing choices, including before and after examples. You’re probably thinking that would bore us, but I think many readers would love to see this process. I’ll admit, it does seem like a very difficult type of article to put together. Maybe a video?! Either way, we appreciate what you give us already. As far as feedback on this type of post, I enjoyed it.

    Thanks,
    Dave

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      I don’t think that it would be boring at all. There is certainly the demand for it, so I will look to doing it in the future. I just need to strike the right balance of content for this blog, because I want it to be “travel photography” and that skews heavily just towards photography.

      Reply
  2. Ashley
    Ashley says:

    Hi Tom,
    I am a big fan of your photography! I studied Fine Art in undergraduate school, and have heard the photography editing debate so many times. I normally fall into the “less editing is better” camp, but I absolutely love what you do, and think the way you edit your photos enhances the subject matter beautifully, while maintaining the authenticity of the original subject. All that to say, I am really curious to see some of your photos before they were edited.You may have done a post like this somewhere along the way and I have missed it. I am just curious to see how different the before and after images look. For some reason I feel like if I might learn something about cropping and editing from seeing this haha. Anyway, I love the blog and am always excited to see your work! Thank you!!
    Ashley

    Reply
    • Sariah
      Sariah says:

      Yes, yes, yes! I agree. All I know is I love your finished photos, but I think I would learn so much from a post showcasing a variety of photos before and after edits, with maybe a short description on what you did. Also, how do you decide how to edit a picture? Too often I find myself opening PhotoShop just for the sake of editing, with no goal in mind at all.

      oh, and by the way, I greatly enjoyed this post, and I, for one, would enjoy more like it! 🙂

      Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      There have been a lot of requests for that, and I really ought to do it. The problem is that a video is probably the best way to do it, and I’m sort of video-averse. Anyway, it’s something I will definitely do in the future–thanks for the feedback!

      Reply

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