Monday, May 7, 2012

How Photographers Document Travel

Today's guest post is from my friend Pat Jarrett, one of the best photographers I know. He writes about how photographers capture their travels without forgetting to relax! He recently visited China and travels solo on his motorcycle. — Amber

The Lama Temple, or the Yonghe Temple, was built by the Qing Dynasty in the 17th century in Beijing. It was saved during the Cultural Revolution and was used for official business under both the ruling emperors and the communist party. It is now a government-approved buddhist temple staffed with government-approved monks who live and work past the ticket counter near the many gift shops. Shot on Fuji Velvia, 50mm lens. Photo by Pat Jarrett

For most people the camera is one of the most important factors in vacation planning. For me it's a bit different. As a professional photographer, I try to use my minimal vacation time to get away from making photos. I like to think of it like giving my eyes a set of hammocks and cold beverages. 

My dilemma: I still want photos from my vacations, so how can I make photos to capture memories and still have fun and be in the moment? The answer, my friends, is in camera choice. 

Last year I traveled to China to visit family. My wife had no problem getting a visa, but because I am a professional journalist, it was a big struggle for me. No joke, I literally had to send a letter from my boss in Virginia telling the Chinese government I would not be shooting photos for the newspaper while in country.

In order to keep a low profile while enjoying my family vacation, I only shot film on an old Nikon FM the entire trip. To cut down on lens bulk, I packed prime lenses — a 24mm, 2.8 and a 50mm, 1.8. I had a great time seeing and making photos without the back end work that comes with digital. 
View of the Great Wall of China. Photo by Pat Jarrett

When traveling to South Carolina a couple of years ago by car, I had space to bring a professional rig and no permission slip was required. I packed a pro body, three lenses and three flashes. The upshot of taking so much professional gear is that I licensed a vacation photo to an interior decorator. Probably wouldn't be possible if I were traveling light.

Members of the Photographic Society of America take photos of Fort Sumter from the ferry in Charleston Harbor. Taking some much needed R&R with the family in Charleston, South Carolina. Photo by Pat Jarrett.

Unfortunately my favorite mode of transportation dictates light packing. Long motorcycle trips can yield some of the most amazing scenes, but usually I'm too into my ride to even stop to get a photo. I minimize weight by shooting with the camera on my phone and sometimes bringing a digital rangefinder.

Fog enveloped my bike-a 1982 Honda CM250- on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Buena Vista, Virginia. Photo by Pat Jarrett.

The great thing about cell phone cameras is that they're all a bit weird. This last photo was shot as I left Cleveland last summer on my old Honda. Just prior to taking this shot I'd dropped my phone in a heaping pile of cream cheese frosting on a carrot cake muffin-hence the streaking on the lens. 

You can see more of Pat's photos on his website, his blog and his Flickr.

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