Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Road Trip

One of the splendid privileges of being focused only on landscape photography is the travel; incredible serpentine canyons glowing blue and pink, Hobbit-esque forests of ancient trees braided with moss, terrifying ice-carved mountains so big that they hold the earths weather hostage from an entire country. Even the most hardened portrait photographer has, at some point in their career, dreamt of capturing sun-warmed images of blonde models in the southern Utah desert or on a palm-lined sandy beach. Traveling, and becoming overwhelmingly immersed in uncharted territory, is part of the magic - the romanticism of classical photography, the quintessential combination of a camera, a free soul, and a willing body. And this formula of image capture and adventure is a powerfully seductive drug.

Travel photography can be broken into two separate factions: those with the means to travel – and those without. And those without - find a way. For the vast majority of us who do not have travel agents, or schedule planners, or awards cards for Four Seasons and Explora, our adventures are usually planned after a hard night of drinking.  Light beers and pale ales tend to create a soft open itinerary, often ending up in Yosemite, the southwest deserts, or the rolling planes of the Dakotas. Dark beers and bitters produce a desire for more difficult destinations such as the coastal rainforests, Canada, or the Tallulah Gorge where Deliverance was filmed. Anything swilled from a clear plastic jug will frequently find you entwined in some triple-distilled destination like Pakistan, Somalia, or the Tallulah Gorge where Deliverance was filmed. Stripped down to its most basic definition, you are simply a beatnik in a van with a camera, a nearly unemployed retail servant clinging to the hope of fame and fortune from one ‘killer’ shot.

Once you have committed time and money to a photo adventure trip, you must remember that even the most resolute plan is only toilet paper thin in its ability to bring your intrepid odyssey to its goal. The ability to deviate from any plan will be your most valued attribute, and to do so in the face of drooling adversity will only make you stronger - and grace you with images never dreamt possible. Be the willow, savor the tasty fruits of your flexibility, for it will be these twists of fate that will bring to you the greatest gifts of all – amazing images and spellbinding tales of exploration.

A road trip is nothing more than a theatre for some potential epic: flying into a hurricane in a three-seat Cessna to avoid the mandatory water closure, taking any taxi within the catacombs of Kathmandu to see the monkey temple at sunrise, fighting through a nighttime sandstorm in the Utah desert, lost, and trying to locate your car by using the remote key and watching for the flash of headlights, the old guy on the freeway threatening to kill you with a tire iron – these are all worthy ingredients for a good yarn. And, if you shoot enough images, capture every instance of amazing light and shadow, see every sunset, look for compositions that tell a story and routinely snap the random luck shot, you will be amazed at what you will end up with when you get home.

Even a shoestring budget can produce amazing images. Sure, ending up scribbling out pathetic postcards to your estranged family, relishing the dim warmth of a Chevron bathroom, and surviving on cold hot dogs and Meow Mix has its appeal, but the next level of travel hell is so much more comfortable. The Super 8 in Escalante has a great continental breakfast near the cigarette machine, any North Face tent can be a little slice of heaven – with the right partner, and to own your own Subaru means photographic independence within the North American continent. Add to this a smart phone with Google maps, a debit card with at least $217 available, a quality Gore-Tex jacket and a hankering to suffer, and you will see so many beautiful places. These places won’t be on cards and calendars, or posters at truck stops, they will be intimate slices of your life, off the beaten track and almost unknown to the world. These are the images that will mean so much to you as a photographer – and to others - mysterious places with grand arcs of story.

Get outside and shoot, and shoot often. Look at things from different perspectives. Learn the craft of exposure and light and Photoshop. Enjoy being patient standing in the cold or swarmed by mosquitos. Make mistakes every day. Travel to the next town or state or country, and when you do - be a good ambassador for this great nation.

We live in a time where almost anyone can travel, everyone has a camera, and everything is captured. Take the huge scary step out of your front door and don’t look back. Great pictures don’t necessarily come from the most elaborate and expensive cameras, but often from just the tiny lens of an iPhone. 

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