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Travel Photography: Portrait of a City Neighborhood
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Embracing variables, time, family, and the unexpected


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Travel Photography: Portrait of a City Neighborhood

with Mikkel Aaland

Video: Embracing variables, time, family, and the unexpected

Jim: OK. So, I've arrived at my destination, I'm ready to go out and make some travel photos. How do I start? Male: Well, for me, it really depends on (LAUGH) the time zone I'm flying from because, I remember a couple times, landing in Tokyo. Because of the time difference from California, I'm wide awake at like four in the morning. Just now what do I do, I can't sleep. and there's a couple, there's locations in Tokyo that are open at that time, and one of the most famous ones is the the fish market in Tokyo.

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Travel Photography: Portrait of a City Neighborhood
1h 19m Intermediate Aug 07, 2013

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When you're traveling, you sometimes want to spend a day or two exploring the neighborhood where you're staying—just walking around with your camera, absorbing the neighborhood's personality, and assembling a collection of photos that, together, form a portrait of the neighborhood. These photos are a great way to bring your experiences home to share.

In this course, photographer and teacher Mikkel Aaland explores one of the oldest and most beautiful neighborhoods of San Francisco: North Beach, home to iconic architecture, beautiful vistas, delicious food, and more than a few interesting people. He explores the area on foot over a three-day period, taking you up hills, inside restaurants and shops, and into encounters with people on the street. Along the way, learn how to take advantage of natural light, shoot a city at night, pack and prep for travel shoots, and enhance your images in post-production.

Subjects:
Photography Cameras + Gear Night + Low Light
Author:
Mikkel Aaland

Embracing variables, time, family, and the unexpected

Jim: OK. So, I've arrived at my destination, I'm ready to go out and make some travel photos. How do I start? Male: Well, for me, it really depends on (LAUGH) the time zone I'm flying from because, I remember a couple times, landing in Tokyo. Because of the time difference from California, I'm wide awake at like four in the morning. Just now what do I do, I can't sleep. and there's a couple, there's locations in Tokyo that are open at that time, and one of the most famous ones is the the fish market in Tokyo.

And so I you know, I just pack up my equipment and I head off to the fish market, when I'm there because it's an incredible place to photograph. And I'm awake anyway. now when I go to Europe from California it's the other way around, I don't (LAUGH) wake up at four in the morning. It's like 10 o'clock, 12 o'clock, so so, what I'm trying to get at is (LAUGH) you're going to land, and you're going to have to adjust your own rhythm to the rhythm of the place that you're going to be in.

then, you know, each and every place is going to have it having it, it's own kind of the way, the, the, the way the day unfolds is going to vary. some place like I said in Tokyo your going to be able to find places that are up and at four in the morning. Other places you may land and there's this, there's nothing open but then, then you could go outside and maybe shoot some moon shots I don't know but, but, but each place is going to have kind of an ebb and flow and you're going to, you're going to, you're going to need to kind of get in sync with it.

Jim: So once I've synchronized my body's clock to the local clocks Do I just go out and start shooting? Should I lay back and observe for a couple of days? Male: Oh, OK. So, absolutely. I'm shooting almost when I get off the plane, I'm immediately shooting, there's always something to photograph. You know, that should be your mind set when you land I'm taking pictures on the plane for God's sake, you know, because it's, that's what I do. I mean I have a camera with me wherever I go, so, it's not really, it's not a function of, there's no planning, you just, you arrive, you start shooting.

Now, everybody's going to be a little bit different in terms of you're you know, what you're interested in. I mean, some people are morning people, and they're going to want to get bright and early and go out to a coffee shop and start shooting in the coffee shop, right? Other people are going to sleep in and they're going to be on the other end shooting the nightlife. (INAUDIBLE). It, it really depends on a little bit of your own your own make-up. whether you're going to be shooting you know, it the morning or late at night. And some people they're going to be shooting all the time, you know, you, you just get passionate about it and don't stop.

So I, all I would just say is that you're there to shoot so you just, you just sh-, start shooting,there's no, you don't have to you don't wait. Wait I, I do, Jim, I do what, there is another side to this and I've actually heard people say that some photographers have said that they really preferred to go some place and not shoot and they go there and they just want to observe and, and just absorb.d And I respect. I mean, every, everybody's a bit different this way but I've heard some, (INAUDIBLE) people I respect a lot say that they really can't shooting until they get a, a sense of the place.

And, and that may be you, that may be some, you know, something you respond to that's not where I come from. I come from, like, I'm just shooting because that's who I am right away and but having said that is it I do notice that over time over the day or two my pictures start to change. I, I do get more in sync with the place and, and I think my pictures do get better. But it's not predictable, because I've had some times when I just got my best shots right when I got off the plane.

I just saw things fresh and new and boom boom boom boom and then a top couple days later, that fantastic view was just kind of mundane because I'd been there so I didn't, I didn't have those eyes any more. Everybody's going to be a little bit different but you know You know, find your rhythm.b Find your, find what works for you. But don't forget that you want to get some pictures out of what you're doing. Jim: Are there certain times of day that are better than others for getting certain types of shots? Male: You know, there's, we always talk about the golden light of the morning or the early morning sunrise, sunset.

those times, they, those are certainly great times to shoot scenics and, and when you're dealing with outdoor shots absolutely. The, the, there's something about that the light quality. I, one of my favourite places to photograph is Iceland in the summer time, or actually Norway, but, I'm just thinking of of Iceland right now. we went up there once, and that golden hour that, you know, we have here, in Northern Cali, Northern California and North America. In Iceland extends for hours, hours and hours and hours in the evening so you can just run around, just bathed in this wonderful midnight s-, light act-, midnight sun.

It, the sun is up at midnight and it, that's a photographer's dream place for l-, for, for landscapes. Now having said all that, you, we're not only shooting landscapes when we, we're shooting travel we're shooting inside, too, you know. So there, you know, it doesn't matter what what time a day,it really just matters about access, if it's open or what you're trying to do you might bring strobes and then shoot with a high ISO. So, in those cases there, it doesn't matter what time of day it just matters what's going on it depends.

Jim: So, a lot of people don't travel alone, they travel with family, with friends and a lot of times you'll see someone take the vacation photo of a friend or family member waving, smiling at the camera in front of a landmark. Are there any insights you can pass along that would help me get a better photo than just that? Male: Oh, yeah, I mean first of all, I love travelling alone and photographing that, that, that's something, it's, it's special. But I'm always (LAUGH) there's times when I really miss my family, I, because I, you know I use my kids, my poor kids.

Oh my gosh I've used them in so many shots. because I there's just times when you want to put something into the shot that's you that's your personal vision. And that its hard to get a stranger and just pull them off the street and say okay I want you to you know jump up and down click your heels four times and then do a cartwheel. Because I really need that kind of shot to make this more interesting, it's hard to get a stranger to do that. so I love it when my kids are there and my kids are always giving me great ideas. Like I think one of my favourite shots, really one of my all time favourite shots is in this fjord the bottom of a fjord in Norway.

And I was trying to get just a feeling for the place and then when the kids were over there jumping up and down on the trampoline. And, and at one point, my oldest daughter says, hey, come here, take my picture, dad, you know. And I go over there and I realize, oh my gosh, if I just frame this in a particular way, them jumping up off the trampoline, you won't see the trampoline. They're going to be literally like, flying in the air, and all around them will the, be this fjord, this great scenic shot. And then, you know, there, boom, and then I got it. And, and so, when you have somebody along with you that you're familiar with, you can have them Jumping (LAUGH) or trampoline.

You could have them doing cartwheels, you can have them, you know, carry props around. I, I love bringing the red umbrella (INAUDIBLE) or red shoes. I don't know. You know what, everybody bring a prop that makes it makes it special, makes it unique, makes it yours. And when you have your willing models or, not always willing, my kids sometimes say, that's enough dad. but it makes it easier. Yeah. So, yeah, use your models, I mean, use your, excuse me, use your family.

Jim: Family as models. Male: Yes, (LAUGH) Jim: (LAUGH) A lot of people say, it wouldn't be a vacation if something didn't go wrong. Can you pass along some stories about that and what you've done or what you might do? Male: Oh boy. You know, I must, it must be like childbirth, you block out all horrible experiences, there are plenty of them. I mean, I mean there's, mostly for me, my horrible experiences are technical. You know, the, something goes wrong, the camera just doesn't work the way it's supposed to, the autofocus is broken or or your exposure meter is off.

And you, and you don't really realize it until you've, you've shot a bunch of shots so a lot of it's technical, but when you're travelling, any time something goes wrong, and I'm, I'm really trying to think if there's been, there's always something wrong. Where you, you miss a plane or you miss a you know, you're, you're, you know, you're, you're locked out of your hotel, I've had that happen before. Those things can almost always be turned into an opportunity, if you're, if you're prepared, if you're, if you know that this going to have. We call it the black swan phenomenon. Jim: Black swan phenomenon? What's that? Male: The black swan phenomenon.

Okay, so, this, this, it's the name of a book, and a guy wrote this great book based on based on the fact (LAUGH) that things, the unexpected, should be expected. Jim: Murphy's Law. Male: Hm, it's a little bit like that. The title comes from that for many years nobody knew that swans could be black. They were all white. And then, maybe a hundred years ago, somebody discovered a black swan in Australia and then overnight everything changed in, in terms of people's view of, of swans.

And, and the black swan phenomenon is something that instantly transforms something from this to that. So this, when I, when I travel, or when I'm actually working on just about any project, I'm always watching for the (LAUGH) the black swan, but I, the unexpected thing that's going to happen. And it, and it, by its nature, it's unexpected and by it's nature, you don't know what it will be. However, you can have a frame of mind that says I'm ready for you when you come.

And when it comes, however it comes, and it will not be something you expect, you go, there you are, I was waiting for you. See, you're not off guard and you can jump into it and see it as an opportunity. And if you do that, if you, if you, truly have that frame of mind, most everything that comes at you, you can handle it, and get something interesting. At the end of the day, even if you don't get a picture, you can make a great story on it.

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