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Catch the spirit (10/17/2004)
By Tom Hirsch


     
When people go to the Grand Canyon, what do they take pictures of? The big ditch, of course. One of my favorite shots at that location is of a scraggly pine tree along the edge of the canyon, but none of the canyon itself is in the picture.

We often travel to a specific location because of the prominent things that attract people to that region. For example, we associate the Eiffel Tower with Paris, the Empire State Building with New York City, and the Alamo with San Antonio. But these famous landmarks make up only a small part of each location.

Of course we want to take pictures of the Alamo, but San Antonio has many beautiful and historically significant homes and buildings that are also very picturesque. Be sure to take a boat ride on the canal in San Antonio so you can get some good shots of the city from that viewpoint, but also take a few shots of the boat, its driver, and some of the passengers - especially your family or companions.

Very often it is the ordinary, commonplace elements of a region that we recall after a trip. We might observe a religious festival that is unique to a region, buy souvenirs in a quaint little shop, take a ride by means of some unusual mode of transportation, or eat a snack in a charming little cafe. We can make these memories more vivid if we have them in pictures.

Don't forget to take photographs of people engaged in everyday activities. This might include shots of street vendors selling their wares, craftspeople making souvenir items, or local residents relaxing in a park or village square. These are the things that make up the mood and spirit of a locality.

When traveling (any distance), it's wise to have a plan that will provide you with good coverage of a region. One technique is the three-shot approach. This consists of long shots, medium shots, and close-ups. A long shot is used to establish the scene; it provides an overview, including the minute details, but not in detail. In this shot, try to include as much as possible in order to show the relationship between various parts of the scene. The wide-angle lens is good for this.

Let's return to San Antonio in order to illustrate the three-shot concept. You're standing along the bank of the canal, waiting to take a boat ride. As your boat approaches the dock, you see in the viewfinder the boat, both banks of the canal, and bridges and buildings in the background. You take the picture.

A medium shot provides a more detailed approach, showing one aspect of the overall scene. You might take several medium shots, each of which could be a picture story within itself. An example would be the boat in which you will be riding, including the boat driver and fellow passengers. Another possible shot would be the front of the boat with prospective passengers waiting to board. This would also be a good time to get a picture of your family or friends showing their excitement, or possibly even some apprehension.

Close-ups can finalize the impression of the setting, showing in more detail a single aspect of the scene, such as the driver helping a passenger onto the boat. You might get a shot of someone in your party as they take in the magnificent scenery.

Travel is a personal experience that enables us to see things beyond our immediate surroundings. Photographs help us renew and interpret these experiences at a later time. 

 

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