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“The best way out is always through.”

Monday, May 11, 2009

Slow Down and Let the Shot Come to You

The best advice I ever got on travel photography was from the great travel shooter Catherine Karnow. Catherine has done dozens (probably hundreds) of wonderful travel-photo essays for magazines like Islands, National Geographic and National Geographic Traveler. I interviewed her years ago for a book I wrote on travel photography and essentially the advice she offered was to slow down and let the place and the moment come to you. She told me that often she'll plant herself in an interesting location (by a harbor, in a marketplace, etc.) and spend the day slowly exploring and watching as opportunities evolve. This doesn't mean she doesn't explore far and wide to find shots, just that once she finds a likely location, she slows down enough to let the moments happen. It's great advice.

I photographed the cow here on an Amish farm in Pennsylvania. I loved the background and the setting and the lightly overcast skies were creating a beautiful soft lighting. But the cows, thinking they were going to get a handout probably, crowded the fence whenever I got close. What I really wanted though was to do a portrait of one cow. I walked the perimeter of the pasture for an hour or more and while I was getting impatient and itching to move on, I considered Catherine's advice and just waited patiently. Eventually all the cows got bored except this one that seemed to take a particular interest in me and my camera and suddenly she was the only one in the frame and I had an almost panoramic view of the farm behind her. I later used this shot in my book The Joy of Digital Photography and in several online lessons.

It's tempting when you're traveling to see as much as you can--and that's definitely a worthwhile goal. But often the best shots happen when you give yourself time to know a place a bit better and when you wait for interesting moments to come to you.

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