The Goals and Practice of Travel Photography


I'll admit right off the bat, that I'm not a very good travel photographer.  I don't take many 'memory' photos of myself and friends having a good time, and I sometimes can't see the forest for all the trees as it were, giving too much attention to looking through the viewfinder instead of just experiencing the place for it's own sake.  I think John Mayer said it well in 3x5:

didn't have a camera by my side this time
hoping I would see the world through both my eyes
maybe I will tell you all about it when I'm
in the mood to lose my way with words

I'm currently in the planning stages for a 2 week trip to Japan late next month, and think it'll be quite the experience. I like being other places but I hate getting there, so that 14 hour flight is going to suck, and I'm not big on local cuisine, so it'll be noodles for me. That said, I can't wait just to see some of these places and experience these cities.  I've always wanted to visit Hiroshima, so that's going to be quite special.

I've been feeling a bit depressed and burnt out lately, so part of me was actually considering taking a break from photographer and just not bringing a camera at all.   <gasp!> I know!   But, maybe what I need is to see the world with both my eyes. But then I think about the visual opportunities over there and I just can't help myself. I don't take travel pics as a record of my trip though, for me it's about taking pretty pictures along the way.

Now, there's also the question of equipment.  You want to be able to carry it all day long while walking around, but you also don't want to forgo quality.  Again, I'm not much of a cellphone snapshot for facebook kind of guy.  There was an article on Luminous Landscape recently where a guy said he ended up using his Canon G9 much more than his Leica M8, because it was always in his pocket.  And that he was astounded with the quality when he had decent light.

For my many trips to europe in the last 5 years I went with both digital and medium format film. Say my 5D body, 28mm prime, 50mm prime, the 24-104L that I once owned.  And then my Hasselblad with a dozen or so rolls of film.  I really love the Hasselblad for travel. It folds up small, the quality is unassailable, you take your time when shooting so each shot counts more, and the images just 'feel' like memories.  Chromes especially; looking at my slides from Paris on a light table at Duggal a couple years ago was one of those sublime moments. That said, dealing with film when flying can be a giant pain in the ass.  Security people who don't speak your language don't always have the same idea of the importance of not putting your film through the x-ray machine as you do.

My current idea is to bring the 5D2 with a couple primes (35? 50?) and then borrow Meg's 24-104 as a general walk around lens.  It's got IS and the 5D2 is great at high iso, but f/4 is not exactly a lot of light coming in, so that worries me a bit.  But I don't want to leave myself stuck with 50mm as my longest, and the extra weight and annoyance of swapping glass.

Or maybe I should go the LL route and bring a little pocket camera and don't make a big stink out of it all.  People really love that Panasonic LX3. Damn, this should be easier.  At least I have a few weeks to think about it and collect your thoughts.  So if anyone has any experience in Japan and would like to give me some advise, please do.

Damn, now I'm looking through photos from paris and am thinking of doing just the hasselblad. <sigh>