“Focus on Travel Photography” by Haje Jan Kamps. Published: 2013/Focal Press; paperback/292 pages.
Mac and cheese. Chevrolet. Leno. Nothing edgy, but all have their place and all fill some sort of basic need for a significant portion of the population. Similarly, “Focus on Travel Photography” adequately introduces the advanced amateur or weekend warrior to the challenges and rewards of shooting on the road without going into too much detail on any particular facet. And that’s OK: if you’re just starting out at something, the last thing you want is to be burdened with a lot of complexity. So, as a simple, straight-forward text that’s written in a breezy, just-two-buddies-chatting-about-photography style, it works. But this is not for the pros, and for the same reason I tend to look just slightly askance at some other travel-related photo books: too much time is taken up on photography basics that could instead be devoted to more in-depth, nuts-and-bolts detail about how you actually create great images in foreign environments. Possessing knowledge about depth of field, setting ISO and how the rule of thirds aids composition are all tools that any successful photographer has to have, not just travel shooters, so is it really necessary to go over that stuff again in a book like this? Perhaps I quibble too much, since Kamps certainly attempts to relate these and other basic concepts directly to executing travel photography, but for me when a book reiterates ideas that should have been learned back in Photography 101, that’s a pretty strong clue that it’s primarily aimed at the amateur crowd rather than professionals.
As long as I’m in carping mode, I’ll also take exception to a statement on the book’s back cover: “Pack Focus on Travel Photography in your suitcase and you’ll learn how to capture travel photos that are the envy of all your friends.” Uh, no. First of all, the book measures 8.25 x 7.5 inches and weighs in at a pound and a half. Rule #1 of travel photography: travel light! If you were actually going to take a book on travel photography along you’d be far better off with Michael Freeman’s “The Photographer’s Eye Field Guide” (also from Focal Press) which is a third of the weight and half the physical size. And Rule #2 of travel photography is: do your research before you leave. What, you’re going to get to the Great Pyramid, pull out Kamps’ book and quickly read his section on “Capturing historical buildings and photographing architecture”? Hardly.
One of the strengths of “Focus on Travel Photography” is that it is profusely illustrated with both the author’s images as well as a number plucked from iStock, and they’re run large (many taking up a full page). These photos truly run the gamut: some are outstanding, a few are just so-so, and a handful may have you asking yourself, “Is this really a travel photo?” They all have accompanying technical data, though, which is helpful in answering that time-worn question we often ask about photographs, “Who’d he get that shot?” And, I love Kamps’ idea of encouraging readers to think of their photos in terms of maintaining a visual travel diary: “You’re training yourself in telling visual stories.”
The tone of “Focus on Travel Photography” is unceasingly positive: as you read along you find yourself saying, “I could do that,” which I guess is the whole point of this genre of book in the first place!
reviewed by phh
”Photo Trekking” by Nick Onken.Publisher: Amphoto Books (2009).
Is Nick Onken trying to inspire us to take great travel imagery by showing us how it’s done or by telling us how to do it? That’s the challenge for most photographer-writers: striking a successful balance between the written word and the pictures that illustrate the text.In Onken’s case, he has succeeded at the latter while perhaps not putting quite as much effort into the former.That’s not to say that aspiring travel shooters won’t find frequent kernels of wisdom within the pages of Photo Trekking, but overall the impact of his photos will probably teach you more about what travel photography “is” than the how-to stuff that accompanies them.
Although Nick Onken has shot for commercial titans like Bank of America, Reebok, State Farm Insurance and Leo Burnett, his shooting style is decidedly un-corporate.His message to travel shooters? Be “in the moment.”And, of course, in order to be ready for the moments when inspiration hit, Onken implores his readers to hit the ground running wherever in the world they may land: “One thing most travel photographers have in common is a sense of being short on time. Get out there immediately.Your goal is to make every second on location count”
nken’s own wanderings have taken him to such exotic ports of call as Colombia, Nepal, China, Brazil, Mongolia and many more, resulting in a deep body of work that’s exemplified by the more than 150 of his images generously displayed in Photo Trekking.His style is often a bit gritty, with an emphasis on real moments and real people rather than the glossy versions you see in airline posters.The best of these pictures are generally the ones that include people.He points out in his writing that “The presence of people adds human interest to a landscape.Interaction is essential for travel photographers, who need to connect with people.”
The best of Onken’s text covers the reality and practicalities of being a travel shooter.Insight into how he prepares for a shoot, what he packs (and how!), how to tackle logistics and deal with post-production workflow cumulatively help to dispel the glamour myth that many people believe is intrinsic to travel photography.As he wisely points out, “When you’re not on the road shooting, chances are you’ll be sitting behind a desk.This is where much of the work of travel photography happens, from editing and archiving images to pitching stories and working on your website.To be successful, you need to be as serious about the business side of ravel photography as you are about equipment and technique.”
It becomes obvious as you read Photo Trekking that it is the product of someone who truly loves what he does and is highly motivated to absorb both new experiences and cultures, and by recording them with his cameras he’s able to vividly illustrate that passion.As Onken says, “At its essence, travel photography is about inspiration – being inspired by what you see in the world and having the talent and skill to transform this inspiration into good photographs.”
ess successful? The pages devoted to photographic basics (the rule of thirds, lines, movement, pattern and texture) strike me as somewhat cursory and only useful to the rawest of photography newbies.Likewise, he barely makes mention of stock photography (the lifeblood of many travel shooters) and when he does, what he has to say is a bit curious: “In general, you sell your work to a stock house under one of two arrangements: rights managed or royalty-free.” With rare exceptions, stock agencies aren’t “buying” stock travel images, they’re merely marketing those pictures while the creators retain both copyright and ownership.Further, he makes no mention whatsoever of the numerous niche stock agencies that specialize in travel imagery (wouldn’t that be useful information?), and in his “Resources” section only lists three companies, all of which are general subject stock mega-agencies: Getty, Corbis and Masterfile.
Well, OK, so Photo Trekking isn’t going to be much help to you in getting rich in the stock photo marketplace with your travel shots, but on many other levels it’s an easy and enjoyable read, punctuated by often arresting images, which will be helpful to anyone considering leaving their day job behind to indulge their photographic wanderlust.