Category Archives: travel inspiration

Travel Photography: Portraits

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Here’s a young guy I met at the Walker Art Center Sculpture Garden in Minneapolis.  Love all those rings.

While I’m on the topic of travel photography….Portraits–don’t even get me going on what a challenge I have getting good portraits of people I meet while traveling. Yet, there’s nothing more interesting than faces. Portraits are worth the effort because photography lacks a greater sense of place without them. Sure there are beautiful landscapes, artistic still lifes—food!—and some fun shots of people from a distance but those close-up photos of faces are what really tell a story and give an impression of the folks who inhabit any place—from Minneapolis to Morocco.

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A resident of the Acoma Pueblo, “Sky City” in New Mexico.  This face tells a thousand Native American stories.
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The concentration on Chuck Berry’s face shows what a challenge it was for the aging rock n’ roller to play his famous tunes.

I’m kind of chicken. It’s hard to get right up close to people you don’t know, but that’s what it takes for a good portrait. Up close, the subject may become more stiff and self-conscious so sometimes I take the photo from a distance, maybe when they’re not looking, and just crop the heck out of it later. If I’m lucky it won’t be blurry.  Ultimately, it just takes a few extra seconds–and a little bravery–to get a better shot.

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Not the best portrait, but I want everyone to know I really was this close to Girard Butler.

Also, there’s the etiquette and ethics of portraiture. I’m getting better, but it’s a challenge to ask people that may not speak my language if I can take their picture. Some people just hate to have their picture taken, sometimes for religious reasons. Often, the more exotic looking (or sometimes the more downtrodden looking) the person, the more dramatic the photo.  Am I taking advantage of them or invading their privacy? In Morocco, I was told not to pay children for their pictures because it encourages them to forego school for money-making photo opps.

 

One way I’ve found to get good portraits is to buy something the person is selling or simply put a few coins in a street entertainer’s music case. And, if my potential photo subject is in business, like a bartender or shopkeeper, they’re usually happy to cooperate.

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The folks at Lake Drum Brewing in Geneva, New York, were happy to show off their bar and their beer.
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The owner at Prison Brews in Jefferson City, a delightful brewpub right next door to the infamous Missouri State Penitentiary.
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I always question how much of a person’s environment to show….

 

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…more or less? as with the case with Giuseppe, an artist from whom I purchased a little Leaning Tower painting in Pisa, Italy.

When all else fails, animals are usually very eager to pose for a portrait, no questions asked.

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A noble hound at Chateau Cheverny in France.

 

Travel Photos- Composition Comes First

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Colorful pottery in Sienna, Italy.

I’ve been traveling a lot lately and have many stories and pictures to share since I last posted.  I’ve had adventures in quite varied places including the backroads of Missouri on the Katy Bike Trail, around central Italy, and a few spots right here in Minneapolis (more on those soon).  Every time I return from a trip, I pour over my photos, delete the junk, crop and perfect the good pics and relive my experiences in the process.

I use these photos in my blog and sell them as part of article packages or slide shows, but I take pictures on the fly, more like a tourist than a professional photographer who camps out for several days to get the best light.  I’m too small to lug all that equipment–several cameras, lenses and a tripod and more.  Plus, I’d rather pay attention to the experience than gadgetry.

That’s why I try to keep a few basic ideas in mind to elevate my photos several notches above “snapshot.”  Sherry Ott, a photographer and travel writer who as far as I can tell is completely nomadic, which fascinates me, just posted a great summary of what to keep in mind while taking pictures as a traveler. On her blog, Ottsworld, she says, it’s not about the equipment, its about composition.  In fact, many of the travel writers I know take great pictures with their iPhones, though I have to say a good digital SLR makes a difference.

I’m sharing a link from her blog, my fellow travelers, for your own use and inspiration: How to Take Better Vacation Pictures.  No matter what your skill level, her tips are a great reminder that it just takes a little extra thought to compose more satisfying photos.

And please share any tips you have with the rest of us by commenting here.

Why is Polar Explorer Ann Bancroft Paddling the Ganges?

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Polar explorers Liv Arnesen and Ann Bancroft. Now, they’re adventuring in India.

Need a little travel inspiration?  This explorer, teacher and environmentalist’s example will get you out on your next adventure.

Ann Bancroft became the first woman to arrive at the North Pole on Unknown
foot and by sled in a 1986 expedition with Will Steger, six other men and 49 male dogs. After that, she tallied other firsts, including being the first woman to cross both polar ice caps to reach the North and South Poles and was part of the first group of American women to ski across Greenland.

I had the fun of interviewing Bancroft for an article as she was about to set out on a new expedition, a surprising trip for someone who is typically associated with cold and ice.  She and her frequent expedition partner Norway’s Liv Arnesen, are leading an international posse of women who are paddling the length of the Ganges River, from the source of the river in the Himalaya Mountains to the Bay of Bengal. They’re doing it to to call attention to the crisis of fresh water around the world.

Bancroft is an inspiration for anyone who yearns to get outdoors for some adventure travel.  You don’t have to go to the polar regions or the Ganges, but she encourages everyone to push themselves for new adventures and experiences. “We’re all on a journey,” she says.  “What’s your expedition?”

Read more about the Access Water expedition in this article for the Minnesota Women’s Press. And, follow the group online as they paddle the Ganges. www.yourexpedition.com

A Great Indy Bookstore: Ann Patchett’s Idea of Heaven in Petoskey Michigan

McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Michigan

Travel and reading.  They go together like cherry pie and ice cream….

Back in May, Ann Patchett, author of book club favorites such as Bel Canto, Patron Saint of Liars, and Truth and Beauty, wrote a great travel article for The New York Times about her love of Petoskey, Michigan, and in particular a bookstore there called McLean & Eakin Booksellers. She says that, while some people center their travel around baseball stadiums, museums or Civil War battle grounds, for her the focal point of travel is the independent bookstore.

This article was updated August 20, 2019. For a list of Ann Patchett’s newest books, see The Dutch House. And see my other post on Hemingway in Petoskey.

Her article, “As American as Cherry Pie,” will resonate with book lovers, particularly when she says,  “It is just so thrilling to be around people who read, people who will pull a book off the shelf and say, ‘This is the one you want.’ People who want to know what I’m reading and will tell me what they’re reading so that while we talk, stacks of books begin to form around us. It’s my own personal idea of heaven.” Check out the full article