Random Thoughts on Travel Portraits

December 10, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Christmas is a lively two weeks away, gift-wrapping paper sits untouched, and here at the studio I’m gearing up for just a last few folk to grace the styled sets for their classic portraits. And beyond that, what’s on my mind is… travel!  And I ‘go there’ because I think you’ve already done your exhaustive research online for “what to wear for family holiday photos”, chosen your photographer, done the deed, and your cards are swiftly en route to friends and family, wrapping up the rattling year of 2020!

Like the Sears catalog “Wish Books” of the 1950s, folk peruse travel adventure sites, ’50 must see places before you die’, bucket list travel, ‘best use of your travel miles/points’, ‘top ten wildlife experiences in the world’, and which countries will be open for travel in 2021.

My guess is that, as a portrait photographer, I think a bit differently about my “I was here” snapshots than many travelers. Not that I, too, wouldn’t be tempted to hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, or kiss the Great Sphinx of Giza. But I also like to think about something a bit artsier or more akin to Location Portraiture. I consider clothing, lighting, pose, location, and how I will get the photo, i.e. am I using a tripod, camera timer or person to click the shutter, and setting the camera correctly with regard to exposure and focus (so that I’m in focus and not the trees or penguins behind me). A lot of the travel portraits are still quite casual, though I feel they raise the bar a bit from simply standing under the giant ‘South of the Border’ Pedro guy (good times, haha!).

The various aspects of making good travel portraits require more than a ‘random thoughts’ post, obviously, but just to get you thinking before your next trip, I give you a few examples from my past travels and how I thought about how I would photojournal my trip to share with family, and in particular, my grandchildren, and hopefully inspire them to see the world and the amazing experiences available on this blue marble we call Earth.

I knew I would find myself in snow in Antarctica, so I brought this red jacket to stand out in the crowd of cute Gentoo Penguins. I had a tripod with me, so I set the camera up and took turns with my travel mates making portraits, which I sent to them after the trip.

The familiar mountainscape of the Grand Tetons in Wyoming and this fence set the stage for a fabulous example of composition, leading lines, foreground interest, and the side lighting which brought out textures. Camera is on tripod, I made all the settings, even focus, and my friend pushed the shutter button.

I was traveling for a week with a small crew of photographers, and had this nitegown with me. Brought it along when we visited Tintern Abbey in Wales, changed in one of the many nooks in the abbey and the other photographers helped me get this classic portrait.

The hills of Tuscany, Italy, so perfect for chilling, repose, and the outfit? I found in a street market in Venice. When this experience presented itself to me, I wasn't going to let it go without photos. Quickly changing the settings on my camera for someone to shoot and not have to worry about anything but hitting the shutter button, I handed the camera to my guide, Martin, and for this shot I paused and said to Martin, "are you ready?". Yep, he replied. And I took the pose. Great memories from an amazing trip to the Masai Mara of Kenya.

Here again, this experience must have some cool shots – I'm also a wildlife photographer, and holding this wedge-tailed eagle on Kangaroo Island, Australia, was a real treat! I set the exposure and most important, the focus points so that I was pretty confident my friend would get good focus on me and Tilka, NOT on the woods in the background. Clothing – Australian-made Akubra hat and typical safari clothing colors that I most often wear on safari and general wildlife travel.

Canon 5D MarkIII, 500mm lens, Tilley hat, Columbia shirt and pants in safari colors, Range Rover, Masai Mara, Kenya – hand my other Canon to my guide with proper settings, have to have this shot during a breakfast break on the Mara, between lion sightings, and way more!

Visiting one of the last farms in Norway that hand-produce gjetost, and the goats that give the milk for that cheese, and since I am 100% Norwegian and most of my family lives in Norway – well, had to capture the moment in a scene rather than a closer-up photo. I purchased the umber-colored knickers outfit on that trip in Norway.

Aboard the MV Fram, an ice breaker ship in Antarctica, had my tripod, am mostly a solo traveler, so resort to camera timer occasionally for portraits, and focus on spot where I'm standing. Lime green thermal, black fleece vest, black cozy pants – I generally stick with solids for travel, easy mix and match for less to pack in consideration of camera gear.

Grand Tetons in Wyoming – fence on an angle – leading line, rule of thirds, foreground, midground, background, boom.

Then again, when you're traveling with someone who knows how to handle a camera, as in this case with my daughter, make sure you get those fun and slightly unusual shots. A blue-footed booby poses for my daughter in the Galapagos, and she moves her camera over a skitch to capture me on the other side.


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