Book review: The Photographing Tourist: A Storyteller’s Guide to Travel and Photography
As bloggers we are often offered books for review and now and then I pick a book that interests me and is relevant to the food and travel theme of this blog. When notice of this award-winning book came across my inbox I jumped at the opportunity to receive a copy and see what I can learn about travel photography and pass on to the readers of this blog.
The author, David Noyes, a graduate of R.I.T and Harvard University, is a travel writer and a photographer based in buffalo, NY. Over the span of his career he visited near and far corners of the world and has produced work that received numerous awards for both the photography and travel writing. These awards include the North american Travel Journalist Association (NATJA) Travel Photographer of the Year for three consecutive years and two prestigious Lowell Thomas Awards for excellence in travel journalism.
“As a photographer and travel writer, I have been fortunate to visit some of the world’s great places and witness both the beauty and tragedy of the human condition” says Noyes, “The book…was written for travellers who want to use their camera to explore a destination, culture, environment, or landscape in more depth than a simple travel snapshot can reveal. It is intended to educate and inform while also taking you on a journey to remote corners of the world.”
The term “tourist” if often used to describe a selfie-snapping foreigner with superficial interest in connecting with the destination. A traveller on the other hand is at home in the world and travels to immerse themselves in local cultures and search the “story” of the place. It is interesting that the title of this book refers to a “tourist” rather than a “traveller” and Noyes explains that his travel experiences have mostly been on organized tours with planned itinerary that he participated in as an organizer, a professional or a guest. While this style of travel can be insulating and superficial, it also offers many conveniences as everything is preplanned and arranged for the traveller.
One of the struggle in writing about travel is taking photographs that capture the essence of the scene in front of you. It’s not an easy task for many reasons, not the least of which are the time available, lighting, crowds and whatever else is happening at the scene in that moment. Without control over the situation most people point the camera and shoot. “This is why most tourists are usually disappointed when they compare their snapshots with local postcards shot by professionals under perfect conditions” says Noyes. “A snapshot is the product of the mind, not the camera. It represents an emotionally detached record of an event with little or no effort to compose a more interesting image”.
Throughout the storied and visual narrative Noyes explores techniques that you can use for taking pictures when travelling, with concrete examples of how this translates into images.
Considering composition and becoming aware of elements of good composition will make the difference between a snap shot and a photograph taken with a trained eye. Where you place the subject in the image, the lights and shadows that come into play and the arrangement of the elements in the frame are some of the things to consider. He explores the “rule of thirds” in composition, where you divide the frame into into three equal parts horizontally and vertically and place image elements in the intersection of these lines for maximum impact, vs. the “bullseye effect” where you place the main subject smack in the center of the frame where it dominates the photograph and perhaps misses the opportunity to create an interplay with secondary details.
He discusses “writing with light” and suggest to consider where the light comes from (including sidelight and backlight) and how you may use it. The standard “sun behind you” approach may not create the most artistic images and he urges you to explore the impact of the light on the scene before taking the picture. “Understanding how light works and how to use it effectively is one of the surest ways to improve your photography” says Noyes.
He also explores the angle of view, noting that novice photographers tend to take pictures from normal eye level and therefore miss an opportunity to see and explore things from an unexpected perspective. Low or high angles can create an element of surprise in your images that otherwise may be missing.
Noyes acknowledges that creating meaningful photographs takes time and he suggests that rather than rushing into shooting snapshots, take whatever time is available to observe the scene, the light, the elements and shapes and enter what he calls “the zone” where the camera becomes an extension of your vision. Unless you are in “the zone”, you won’t be able to capture the world in meaningful images.
The photographers “point of view” is also important and is distinguished from simply angle. Your point of view is your way of telling the story through the image and communicates to the viewer how to interpret the image. Your point of view is meant to elicit a response to the subject in the photograph.
Photographing people when travelling is a complicated subject and Noyes tackles it in chapter 3. Here, intuition plays a role and he quotes the French humanist photographer Henry Cartier Bresson: “Your eye must see the composition on an expression that life offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera.”
“A successful image is not boring”, says Noyes, and he discusses the elements of design that make an image relatable and meaningful. Consider lines, shapes, colours and textures to provide the narrative that will trigger an emotional response to the image.
Throughout the book Noyes explores many of the techniques he uses as a travel photographer, including principles of design, natural and artificial lighting, how to photograph crowded landmark sites and controlling the image through depth of field. All of these principles are demonstrated through many of the beautiful images that are contained in the book.
Travel photography is not only about technique though and while the book explores most available tools for using art and technique to produce more meaningful photographs, Noyes says that travelling in different cultures requires consideration and navigating the gap between what is acceptable in your own culture vs. what is acceptable in other cultures. It requires making yourself aware of consequences of your action and travelling with empathy and respect to local customs.
Noyes takes you through remote and exotic corners of the world with a fascinating personal narrative and more than 300 images to match. Whether you are a tourist, a traveller or an armchair explorer, in this book you will find adventure, stories and personal anecdotes that will keep you captivated through the 200 pages of this book. If you are not inclined to travel to India, Kenya, Nepal, Guatemala or Peru this is your chance to experience these places through Noyes gift for storytelling in prose and image.