How to Stay Present when Traveling with a Camera
By Yesenia Bocanegra, Broadreach HQ
One of Broadreach’s guiding philosophies is to be a traveler and not a tourist, and we do our best to provide students with unique experiences that are different than a regular vacation or trip. No matter if you are in the middle of the Amazon, on top of an Icelandic glacier or at a temple in India, the time spent at these locations will certainly be worth remembering for years to come and, not to mention, sharing (on social media) for everyone else to see.
As you pack your bags and get ready for your summer adventures, I want to share some tips on how to avoid getting lost behind the camera while still documenting your adventures and being present no matter where you go.
TAKE IT ALL IN
It’s very easy to want to grab your camera or phone and start pointing at things, clicking the shutter and taking as many photos as possible. Before taking that first photo, take in the scene and the environment and analyze the situation. Are you in the middle of a busy market or in a plaza filled with locals and tourists? Are you at the end of a strenuous hike and as a reward, have a magnificent view of the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu? Is this where you are going to have a picnic style meal in front of a glacier lagoon in Iceland? By taking a moment to observe your surroundings, you are telling your brain to look for things that might spark your interest, things that are different or things that may be unperceived by many others but yourself.
ESTABLISH A CONNECTION WITH THE LOCALS
Try your best to be immersed with the locals, even if you don’t know the language. If you do, EVEN BETTER! If the local language is not one you speak, look up some phrases like “Hi,” “My name is…” “Can I take your photo?” and “Thank you.” Some people might say no, but others might smile and say yes! If they do, it is very likely that they will give your their most smiling pose. Go ahead and take that shot, and say thank you.
DON’T JUST LOOK, OBSERVE
As you engage with locals, observe what people are doing, or if you can, try to engage in a conversation. This will make them feel more comfortable with you and (after gaining their permission) take a couple more photos. This gives you room to take some nice candid shots which can be even better than your previous smiley face one. As a courtesy, go ahead and show them your photo. They will appreciate it!
SCOUT YOUR LOCATIONS ONLINE
As a photographer myself, I admit that it’s very easy to over pack gear because “just in case.” The best way to avoid overpacking is to do some research prior to arriving in-country and look for images of the places you know you will or might be traveling to. I find this really helpful because you can pre-visualize the places and maybe even plan “a shot” of the place. I personally love pre-planning shots when I travel because I want to maximize my time, and the less time I spend behind the lens, the more time I can spend being present at that location.
PHOTOGRAPH WITH INTENTION
Be deliberate when taking photos. In other words, just because you have a digital camera with 32 gb of memory doesn’t mean that you are going to click away all your trip. Before taking a photo, ask yourself if that photo is worth taking. In the age of film photography, you only had either 24 or 36 at the most, shots per roll on a 35mm camera. I’m not asking you to only take 24 or 36 photos of your 3 week trip but, simply be mindful of what it is you are photographing. Is it important? Is it the Eiffel Tower at night sparkling and being reflected in a puddle of water? Is it a smokey alley in a medina in Fez where everything is moving and life seems to happen at the speed of light? Is it simply an Icelandic sheep lounging on the side of the road? Is it a group photo of the boat that you have called home for the past few weeks while sailing and diving in the clear waters of the Caribbean?
TELL YOUR STORY
The world is big and there are many places to see, certainly many photos to take, but the only thing better than taking a photo is taking a photo and having a story to share.
A professional photographer who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, Yesenia Bocanegra joined Broadreach HQ full-time as an International Education Coordinator after leading the Panama Photography Adventure and Iceland Advanced Photography programs. She earned her M.F.A in photography from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and is fluent in Spanish, English, French and Italian. When she isn’t planning programs for Broadreach, you will find Yesenia with her two dogs and learning her fifth language, Arabic.