It’s safe to state that most people with a digital camera in their hands are casual digital photographers taking pictures of family and friends, family events, travel, vacation, etc. Some of those casual digital photographers will cross the line between casual picture taking and a growing passion to become a serious photographer. This transition is not magical, as it is typically born from a desire to stop taking the same pictures, from the same angles and with the same lighting conditions as the “tourists.”
If you’re ready to take a first step towards serious digital photography, then an excellent learning experience is to assign yourself a specific project. In this case, it is using your head and your eyes to discover more unique ways to photograph any famous architectural or historical site. It could be the Empire State Building or Mt. Rushmore in the United States, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China or the giant carved heads on Easter Island. These are the places that the tourist have photographed millions of times, and generally bring home the same pictures. Your assignment is to select one of these or similar places and to develop a plan to photograph it differently, uniquely, creatively. A good place to start is the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Planning is the key to such a project. Once you’ve selected your location, turn your attention to learning about it. Return to those days of yesteryear when you were a student and research the location on the Internet, or even (heavens forbid!) read a book detailing the history and/or construction of the site.
It’s extremely important to gain this knowledge for a couple of reasons. First, your familiarity with the location before you arrive will help to “demystify” it, so you are not overwhelmed by the natural reaction to a world treasure. Second, understanding the layout of the site thoroughly will help you select the specific places you want to photograph. You can even go so far as to know in advance the best times of the day when the angles of light from the sun and moon will illuminate your target images. This information is available from Photographer’s Ephemeris and LightTrac.
Another important part of your planning is to study existing photographs of the location you plan to visit. PhotographyTalk’s Gallery section is an excellent resource as well as the travel & tourism Web sites for these world or national heritage sites.
A planning note: If possible, avoid visiting/touring the site as a member of a tour group. You’re apt to be led to where the guide wants to take you instead of the places you plan to shoot. Your shooting time will also be restricted, according to the tour’s schedule. If the rules allow it, then visit the site independent of any group, so you have as much time as possible to complete your assignment successfully. Make sure you plan for at least one extra day to visit the site in case of adverse weather conditions or other unforeseen circumstances that would cancel your shoot.
When you arrive at the site, allow yourself those few minutes to stand in awe of what you are seeing. If you aspire to become a serious digital photographer, however, then you must regain control and go to work. If you’ve planned well, then you may have a list of specific places within the site you would like to photograph. Before shooting, you want to visit those places/positions to determine if what you planned to shoot, and how, is still realistic.
Don’t be so single-minded, however, as not to spend a significant amount of time carefully walking through and observing the entire site (if possible). Part of becoming a serious digital photographer is being prepared to capture the serendipitous moment, the unexpected play of light and atmosphere on the location or any potential image that suddenly fills your eye and must be taken now, as it will never happen again.
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