I recently went on two photographic vacations, and the outcomes were drastically different. Aside from one photograph of portfolio quality, the results on the first trip were largely duds. The second produced a large number of publishable photos as well as photos for my portfolio. It caused me to ponder the very definition of a successful photographic trip.
Let me share one of my all-time favorite photography quotations before I immediately respond to that question. Twelve significant images in any one year is a decent harvest, according to Ansel Adams.
For one of the greatest photographers of all time, that seems like a fairly low bar. Just one excellent image each month? However, it still holds true when looking at Ansel Adams’ own work. A collection of his professional work spanning roughly 48 years, 400 Photographs contains an average of slightly over eight images year. It is clear that this is fewer than one each month, demonstrating that even the greatest artists did not consistently produce works of art.
But since the time of Ansel Adams, the world has advanced quickly. If you want to keep the algorithm well-fed and your audience interested, the new gold standard is to share one excellent photograph on Instagram every day. The majority of the most well-known photographers on that platform, which despite its several shortcomings continues to be the meeting place for photographers, satisfy the criteria.
Additionally, it is true that customers have gradually increased their demands for quantity and speed across all industries, not just photography. (The trend for quality expectations is not the same.) If you take pictures for customers, you’ll encounter this attitude no matter what subject you choose to photograph.
This brings up the two recent travels I took. The second, and the one where I got the most good pictures, was the workshop we held in the UAE, Jordan, and Turkey at Photography Life. Getting a lot of publishable photos from a journey that covers so much ground shouldn’t come as a surprise. But this time, the demands of a client were also a consideration.
In particular, we collaborate with the Jordan Tourism Board every time the workshop is held, and part of our agreement is to give them high-quality images at the end of the trip. They requested roughly 50 pictures this year. (Without being too critical, but that’s roughly 200 times the speed Ansel Adams would have chosen.) In order to avoid having 50 shots of the same mountain, I had to constantly switch between other subjects while on the journey, one after the other.
My photographs from Jordan have good width but poorer quality per photo, which would be appropriate for this post. The truth is a little more complicated because I still like a lot of them and think some of them are good enough for my portfolio. Even so, I tended to move on to the next subject without giving those 4-5 shots the greatest amount of editing (which is my preferred technique for taking better photos). That, in my opinion, left each of the portfolio images with a small window for enhancement above and beyond what I actually photographed.
Those are my top five images from the workshop’s Jordan section, and I’m happy with them both for the client’s display and for my own use. That’s a bigger haul than typical for me for a week of shooting.
The second trip I’ve mentioned is the one I previously wrote about, when I foolishly (or not) traveled to Iceland in the dead of winter with two of my best friends to commemorate significant occasions in their lives. Since I wasn’t traveling with any customers in mind, I was free to move more slowly, use my 45 rather than a digital camera, and take pictures exclusively for myself.
As a side aside, I’ve discovered that this is my favorite aspect of using big format film for photography. I prefer the thought process the best, not the image detail or colors or even the adaptability of lens motions. Every picture I take with the wooden camera is researched, planned, and made with more care than I can typically muster with a digital camera. I only brought back one picture that I really like, but it’s a crucial one to me.
I did take a few other publishable photos during the week, but this is the only one worth printing or putting on display in my portfolio. I’m sure I covered all of them in my post on the trip. It closely reflects my aesthetic objective and, in my opinion (and more so than the other photographs I’ve taken this year), conveys the mood of the trip. My conviction that if you take a photo you like, even if you missed some opportunities and were frustrated along the road, you’ve done well, crystallized after seeing this photograph.
Learn more: 11 Travel Photography Tips When Traveling with Young Children