I’ve learnt a thing or two following those upraised umbrellas like an obedient school child. Whom am I kidding! I was never obedient, but I was observant.
Here are a few things to remember while you keep an eye on the umbrella and one eye on what is happening around you.
• Be a laggard. Never be first in line unless it is to use a public WC. Trailing behind gives you more time to look around for compositions. Your choices in framing a composition will define you as a photographer.
• Be discerning. Know what appeals to you. I research photographs taken of the places I’ll be visiting, not to recreate those photographs but to find what appeals to me. Virtual reconnoitring will give you more time to seek and identify what appeals to you.
• Be different. Nearly every person I’ve seen on these walkabouts takes photographs from a standing position. Choose a different perspective by getting closer to the ground or finding an arch to frame the composition. Many DSLR cameras have a rear display that swivels. Make use of the display.
• Be parsimonious. It is easy, especially with a DSLR, to use it like a machine gun shooting hundreds of photos that simply record what you’ve seen but fail to tell the story of what you’ve experienced. You’ll be thankful later when sorting through hundreds or thousands of photos from the trip.
• Be respectful and ask questions about where you are. Engage with people and ask open-ended questions. If all seems to be going well, you may be able to get some fascinating photos of locals doing their thing.
• Be inspired. There are incredible photographers out there. Look at as much as possible and see if someone’s work sparks something new in you. Use another photographer’s genius as a starting point for your own.
• Be a local. Nothing will set you apart from the crowd and possibly set you up for unwanted attention, like a baseball cap or blue jeans and sneakers. Pay attention to what locals are wearing and dress similarly. Don’t carry a camera bag. I carry my camera and a lens or two in a leather courier bag with a shoulder strap. I use a smaller DSLR that I use as a walking around camera (Fujifilm X-T3) also a wrist strap that keeps the camera secure to my wrist. It makes me look less like a tourist and more like a local. Learn to say hello and thank you in the language of where you are.
• Be attentive to the light. Most walking tours start late in the morning when the best light tends to trail off. It doesn’t mean that you only have bad light. Follow the light and look for something you can put into that light. Something extraordinary will reveal itself.
• Be patient. Compositions will reveal themselves. There will always be better light, better subjects, and better moments. Robert Capa once said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough”. You’ve paid a lot of money to get to where you are. Put on a wide-angle lens and lean closer. You’ll come away with a photograph that gives you a sense of intimacy and inclusion. It’ll give you a real sense of being there.
• Be intentional. Slow yourself done and really be observant. It is too easy to get caught up in a rush to take a photo and move on.
• Be familiar with your camera. Before you set out, make sure that you are as familiar as possible with your camera settings and how to change them without taking your eye off the viewfinder. You’ll have a few hours during your flight or bus trip to READ the MANUAL or with your eyes closed to become intimately familiar with how to change your camera’s settings. Fleeting moments are gone in a flash. Don’t lose those precious moments because you’ve taken your eye off the viewfinder to change an aperture setting.
• Be a Flâneur. You'll have ‘free time on the trip. Use that time to just walk. You’ll never know when that magic moment will happen, so just start walking.
• Be one with your camera. It may be tempting to leave your camera in your hotel room when you go for dinner, but don’t give in. Some of the best light of the day occurs while walking to a restaurant. Magic is fleeting. We never know when it will happen. Don’t regret missing the magic because you left your camera on a nightstand.
• Be fully charged. Carry an extra battery and an extra memory card. I can’t tell you how often I’ve pressed the shutter on my camera only to discover my memory card is full or my battery has died. Remember the axiom ‘One is none. Two is one. Three is better than two.
Always keep your hotel address or business card in your pocket and have enough money to get you back to it.
These are some things I’ve learnt over the years. I hope that you have found at least a few to be helpful.