I think the title says it all.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks to all photography, and especially travel photography, is to manage your expectations, and in the case of a photo tour leader it means managing not only your own expectations but those of your clients too.
We have all been there at some point. We are heading somewhere we’ve wanted to go for what seems like forever. We’ve seen a million images, watched a bunch of You Tube videos and listened to stories by other travellers who have been where your headed.
And with each image we look at, each video we watch and each story we hear we are slowly plunging ourselves into photography peril.
If we are headed to somewhere iconic then this is multiplied by a thousand.
The problem is we have seen these amazing images, we know what is possible from where we are going and now it is up to us to produce that magic ourselves. We can fall into the trap very easily where instead of heading to a place to capture our experience we end up running around trying to emulate someone elses.
We have to try and get past what we think a place is like and try to see it for what it is.
I always say you can’t go to New York and photograph New York. You can only photograph YOUR New York and that is a place only you will ever experience. How are you going to tell that story in images?
Of course we must plan our trip, our time off is too valuable not to, but we should be wary of planning our images too much because the disappointment of getting somewhere and finding it undergoing restoration, for example, is likely to crush your spirit as the images you had planned may no longer be possible.
Personally I somehow manage to time trips around scaffolding. I call it ‘Scaffolding Syndrome’ – wherever I go it seems someone is running ahead of me whipping up the scaffoldng.
This years photo tour to India was a classic example of expectations, disappointment and viewpoint.
We were heading to the Taj Mahal, scene of a million classic images, expectations were high.
A couple of days before heading to Agra we were in Varanasi and whilst waiting for the Aarti ceremony to start on the banks of the Ganges we (my photo tour partner Malcolm and I) got to talking to another tour guide who was leading a Chinese photo tour.
Low and behold a few days later as we are standing looking at the Taj Mahal with three of its turrets covered in scaffolding we bumped into our new friend again and he was ecstatic.
“How great is this?” he said. “They only scaffold them once every 5 years and we’re here to see it!!!” – simply a matter of perspective and making the most of what you are seeing rather than what you thought you would see.
We can only photograph that which we experience and it is up to us to have the vision to make this into interesting, captivating images.
Often when travelling it is hard to get accurate advice on timings and locations of the things you want to see. There is a lot of information on the internet and not all of it is accurate (I know right!!!)
This can be especially difficult when trying to attend festivals that don’t have fixed dates but are subject to things such as moon phase.
After our India Photo Tour this year Malcolm and I headed to a small town called Mathura to attend the Holi festival. We had read everything we could, we’ planned the tour dates accordingly and upon arriving we were told by a local friend of our driver that the event we had come to see….. happened YESTERDAY!!
To say I was devastated would be an understatement.
We countered him by saying ‘but on the internet it says….’ but no, it was yesterday.
Eventually, resigned to our fate, we asked if we could be driven to where we would have gone to another town called Vrindavan and into a small temple where the Holi festival reaches its highest fervour with thousands of worshippers throwing coloured powder, chanting and revelling.
We had built up this event so much in our minds we could already see the shots we had taken and now it was stripped from us. Let’s just go and shoot what there is, not what there was.
Amazingly, upon arrival we were thrust into a crowd of chanting locals and driven by sheer numbers into the temple and low and behold the event we were originally planning to shoot was unfolding in front of us.
In the unexpected pandemonium of it all we hardly managed to capture a single decent image…
Amazingly, the same event happened the NEXT day as well and this time we were prepared better.
If we had simply let our expectations lead us then we would have given up on hearing the news that the event was finished. Instead we went to shoot that which was there and it turned out it was amazing.
We must shoot that which is there, that which is happening and make these images truly our own and not just some imitation of those who came before us.
This weekend I am heading to Myanmar, first to run a photo tour with Malcolm but afterwards we are heading a bit more off the beaten path to photograph some areas far less visited in research future trips.
Whilst I know all too well that my expectations will get in my way often during this trip, I haven’t left yet but in my head I have a dozen or so awesome images already, I know I have to keep trying to push them to one side so they don’t cloud my vision of what is in front of me.
If you would like information on our 2017 Tours, feel free to drop me a line and I will send you an information pack.
Cuba Photo Tour – April/May 2017
East Africa – August 2017
India – October 2017