Friday, April 14, 2017

Take better vacation pictures

     By the time a man is in his 50s, he's lucky enough to hold onto his oldest friends, who have a tendency to drift off, move, die, embrace loathsome political beliefs, or otherwise become inaccessible.
     Never mind making new friends. 
    However, unusual, traumatic experiences can forge new friendships, even in the gathering twilight. Floods. Earthquakes. Writing a book together. Thus I was pleased and surprised that, even though the rigors of collaboration passed, that my co-author Sara not only didn't part enemies, shaking our fists at each other in mutual creative disagreement, but actually seem to be keeping in touch. 
    She returned from touring Japan a few weeks back, and shared some of her excellent photos—readers with steel trap memories might recall the post I did on her charming cat portraits, done pro bono for New York City area shelters, trying to help find their kitties homes. But these travel shots are even more impressive, and they offer insight into how to take better vacation photos.  

   1) Three salarymen taking a selfie: Here Sara masters a concept that is very difficult for many of us to wrap our heads around even when we're not taking photographs: other people. How many vacationers feel the need to obscure every landmark they come across by including their own precious selves? Who would no sooner take a local person's photo than they would pick his pocket? Why photograph strangers, they exclaim, not realizing that is very close to asking: "Why travel at all?"
    When the truth is, you know what you look like, and being in the midst of a trek around the globe doesn't really improve matters. Forget the Kilroy Was 
  Here documentary proof and keep an eye out for people who live there, especially when they are concentrating on doing something else, such as this trio. Caught at the moment of saying chizu which is Japanese for "cheese" and what they actually do say over there when snapping photos. 
     2) Mom and schoolgirls (left). When you do want to take a photo of your traveling companion, try to get them doing something rather than just standing there, as in this picture of Sara's mom, who she went through Japan with, taking a photograph for a group of students.
      3) Bamboo trees (atop blog). The flip side of the Other People concept is the No People at All Concept. Look for patterns, for interesting juxtapositions, like these achingly straight bamboo trees crossed by a perpendicular fence.  Be aware of colors, and when you realize that chalk white and brush brown are colors too, you'll be on your way.

     4). Branches in water (right). Look up. Look down, to find unusual perspectives, like these branches reflected in water  Trees reflected in water along the Philosopher's Path, a serene retreat near Ginkakuji in Kyoto.  This one is intriguing because it takes a moment for the eye to grasp what you're looking at—not up, into the sky, but down, into a channel of water, reflecting branches and clouds and blue. It's almost like a little riddle, a koan, waiting for the viewer to come along and solve.
     5).  Look for details, like these kimono buttons at a flea market (below) Details bring you into a location, make it very tactile and real, and will show how far you've come from the tiny-people-standing-in-front-of-a-distant-monument Kodachromes of our parents.
    6) .Don't mug for your selfie. There's nothing wrong with taking your own picture, but that doesn't mean you have to offer up an expression like Betty Boop trying to blow a bubble. I like how Sara isn't looking at the camera here, in front of a temple gate, how she manages to get a bit of the ancient wood in, and goes for an interesting angle by holding the camera up and away. 
     Not everyone would be willing to share their vacation pix with the world, so thanks to Sara for allowing me to show them off while I'm away, taking my own vacation shots, which I'll no doubt be sharing soon too.



  1. at your best Neil. thank you for soothing , satisfying subject matter, presented in a highly professional manner. such a nice start to the day

  2. Charming pictures.

    I've always enjoyed Neil's photos, but just now connected his photographic and his writing skills. Both require the ability to frame the subject matter in an interesting and often unusual way, which somehow captures and encapsulates the flavor of the moment.



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