There’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Just having come back from a trip to Taiwan and China I realised that my style there was different from the images back home. Strolling through my Instagram feed I got the feeling that this happens to quite a few photographers once they hit the streets in an unknown country. You tend to forget what you want to express with your images or worse, you forget that you want your images to have a sense of art and tell a story.
The reason why this happens is obvious. You’re a tourist. You find yourself so amazed by all the different faces, buildings and cultural habits that you might want to just photograph every person that walks in front of your lens. And that’s great, however you shouldn’t forget to think about the message you want your images to have. Is it just an intriguing image for you as a foreigner or does it have a deeper story from a more objective point of view?…
Another reason your images might seem to have a different style is that you know nothing about the conditions in this new environment. I have been to Taiwan several times before, but this was the first time I went there with my camera ready to go crazy. Yes, I knew most parts of the city I was staying in, I’ve never thought about the direction of light before though. I have never been on the lookout for interesting backgrounds that might tell a nice story. So, I had to get used to look beyond the interesting things for me as a tourist and try to find the real qualities of my surroundings.
I think in order to create art that’s truly you, you have to dive in as deep as possible into both yourself and the place you’re shooting at. And that is what’s so hard to do when you’re nothing but a tourist.
So what to do?
The first thing you should do is separating your creative self from yourself being a tourist. Of course you want to visit all the sights and famous spots but once you’ve taken your travel images, take a deep breath and try to change your view on your surrounding. I even went as far to just use my phone for touristy images and just use my DSLR for street photography. This really makes it easier to separate the two different approaches for photography and the way of observing you need for each of them.
What helped me in addition to that was to thoroughly analyse my images every evening. You might not have your laptop with you but just dig through your images on your camera. It helps you to get a more objective view on your work. I even waited for one or two days until I would go through my images again to gain more distance to them.
The images I liked the most were usually the ones where I combined my style from back home with my touristy view on the new culture. I usually like to work with a lot of negative space for instance. So combining that with interesting faces, sights or for me unusual scenes turned out to be a great way to stay within my style of photography but also portray my fascination about this new place. Whatever the message is that you want to express with your art, try to add it as a layer over the scenes that amaze you. This way you can eat the whole cake with one bite.
Lastly: Don’t forget the fun
In the end though the most important thing is that you have fun photographing out in the streets. Just shoot whatever appears to be interesting to you and don’t worry too much about the end result. Be in the moment instead. Your style might be different from what you’re used to shoot at home but it would be boring if it was exactly the same, wouldn’t it?