Roughly every quarter, I write a piece for the APS Focus page in Australian Photography magazine. This is my latest piece, published in the July 2021 issue now in newsagencies.
‘Experts’ often advise us to research as much as possible before visiting any new destination, so that we have some idea of the best locations and times to get photos. They say to capture images that tell viewers about the places, rather than just showing what they looked like.
A few days before writing this, I attended a presentation at my local photographic society entitled ‘Travel Photography with a Focus’. The speaker explained how he identifies a number of themes before traveling, with a view to taking images that fit each of those themes. He acknowledged that it doesn’t always work out; but illustrated how successful it is possible to be.
I’ve had the good fortune to visit numerous places in Australia and overseas, usually arranging my own itinerary. Even on two group trips to India I was with mostly enthusiast photographers from the Australian Photographic Society – and I organised the tours myself directly with a company that had considerable experience taking enthusiast photographers around. We made it clear to our guides that, when anyone wanted to stop for a photo opportunity, that is what would happen – even if it meant arriving at our next destination well behind schedule. We were also able to determine the times of day we would visit particular locations and how long we would spend at them.
However, when I travelled to China it was as part of a group tour organised by a company I’d not previously dealt with – and probably won’t again. So, I had no control over where and when I would visit places, nor over how long I would be at any one place. I had to wing it and really not think about it as a travel photography opportunity, but just as a glimpse of parts of China during which I would be able to get some images to remind me of where I had been. With around forty participants, I couldn’t always get a window seat on the coach and the windows didn’t open so were quite unsuitable for shooting through anyway.
When we visited the inevitable ‘factories’ to be exhorted to spend money on pearls, jade, silk and even Chinese medicines there were some photo opportunities, but I was always itching to get outside and find other subjects. When we went to the 88th floor of a tower in Shanghai, I was more interested in finding interesting shapes to photograph than in the views.
When we went to some superb indoor performances – Chinese musical theatre, Kung Fu and acrobatics – I was delighted that photography was always permitted. It was especially great when I was seated in one theatre’s second row and had terrific opportunities to shoot the action.
Inevitably, I captured plenty of typical tourist shots and some of cute kids in the streets. I was also a subject myself several times when Chinese men wanted their wives to photograph me posing with them! However, I was determined to get some images that would not be taken by any of the non-enthusiast photographers in the tour group. Looking again through all the images I brought home, I’m quite pleased with a number of them.