“How do you get these images?” you’ll get that a lot if your images are anywhere halfway to thought provoking and the thing is, it’s no big secret how to make better images and it’s certainly got nothing to do with your equipment, that said, it has everything to do with changing how you behave when you’re out and about with a camera in hand.
Consider this, we – the plural not the royal we – have been ruined by the notion of instant gratification. We move fast, get bored easily and move on, rather like small rodents or birds we flit from one shiny object to the next and you really have to ask why. So what if I told you that the best way to be a better photographer is to slow down and embrace your inner (latent) flâneur?
Look at it this way. If you’ve spent the time and effort to go somewhere interesting, having taken planes, trains and walked, isn’t it worth slowing down to make the most of it? Why on earth would you rush from one place to another and in all likelihood miss out of opportunities? You see it in the packaged tours, in the blank expressions of people in Tilly hats glancing nervously at their watches and queuing up to get back on the coach.
What if I told you, which I’m going to anyhow, so hold on to your hats, that you’d be a better photographer if you invested time not equipment in your images? It’s not new advice. Every successful photographer will tell you exactly the same thing; walk slowly, hang around, come pack over a number of days, weeks, seasons. See the place at different times of day, watch the people and trust me, you’ll end up becoming part of the backdrop even if you feel like you stick out like a sore thumb.
There’s no way you’ll get the perfect shot if you’re just passing through. Sure you might get lucky, but you really can’t count on that. What you can count on is being persistent. So how do you do that?
For a start, hire a fixer; someone local who can translate and be a guide, also someone to watch your gear and back in crowded places. It really doesn’t matter how light you travel, hiring a fixer is a must.
Spend a day or three just wandering around looking at the place. Sure you’ll make a few images and a few of them will be good, but you’ll learn where to come back to by talking with locals (with the help of your fixer) and you can come back at the right time of day to get much, much better images.
Hang around. Don’t be in a pointless much to be somewhere at the expense of where you are. Plan for one to two locations a day; three if it works out for light, activity etc.
Talk with people. I mean really talk. This is probably one of the hardest ones for a lot of people and it flies in the face of how some people work (the smash and grab street photographers mostly) but honestly, it can get you local insight and knowledge that you’d otherwise miss completely.
In total the advice I’m going to give you is simply this: SLOW DOWN and BE PRESENT. It’s not much harder than that, but based on what I’ve seen it’s probably the hardest thing in the world.
Now go. Get out there and be a flâneur photographer, not a picture taker.