Ask any photographer out there where they would love to travel and spend time making photographs and you’ll get bombarded with suggestions. But can those trips actually harm your long term creative vision?
A little back story
I’ve really been wrestling with this thought for the past couple of weeks and fair warning, I have no specific answer for you. What I have is some thoughts I want to share that will hopefully give you something more to think about from both sides of the aisle.
This thought first occurred to me from a question posted in I believe an Instagram story on my friend Bryan Minear’s Instagram feed, or possibly in a chat that we were having in our group chat. He posted something to the effect of “If you could travel anywhere in the US to photograph where would you go(avoid any tourist/Instagram hotspots)”. I had to chime in with my thoughts, because well, why not! He asked, right?
Trust me, I’ve got a LONG list of places I’d love to spend time with a camera. Especially because I just don’t get the opportunity to travel much at all. As I thought about all the places I’d love to go I wondered how going there would impact my photography when I came back home.
THEN I was listening to an episode of In Between, with Jeffery Saddoris and Jon Wilkening. They were talking about how Jon had a huge trip out west that left him coming home feeling more than a little crushed photographically. To the point where he hadn’t really photographed anything in weeks or months. This thought started gnawing deeper.
Finally, I was scrolling my Instagram feed and saw a post from the fantastic David duChemin in which he talked about how he couldn’t wait to travel back to Kenya. Here’s his Instagram post.
View this post on Instagram
This is the first year in many that I’ve spent January away from Kenya. Right now it’s snowing at our new home in Nanoose Bay, and downstairs it’s an apocalypse of dust and paint and flooring and compressors and table saws, makes me yearn for the quiet warmth of the savannah. I miss it. But in a week this home will finally be ready to live in and I’m so ready to have a place of our own, a place to put down creative roots and chase the muse without getting on a plane.
I couldn’t help myself and finally put the question out into the wild, you’ll find it in the comments of his post. The only response was from another individual saying essentially “Great question, probably one that requires a blog post of it’s own”. I instantly thought, SHIT, he’s right! And that, as they say, is how we got here.
Travelling for photography can totally revitalize your creative juices.
I know that many of you are going to be rolling your eyes at me for even daring to think that being able to travel and make photographs could ever be a potential negative pitfall to your long term creativity. I get it.
For many of you, the ultimate boost of creativity is being able to travel to cool places and come back with amazing photos from all sorts of places and experiences that you just can’t get at home. The exhilaration of being able to freely explore these amazing places with your camera is a creative high like no other. I know the feeling from the handful of trips I have made over the years.
So yes, travelling the world, country, or even your state can be a tremendous kick in the creative backside and leave you feeling totally energized. Though for Jon Wilkening, his trip left him feeling a bit defeated because he had built a lot of hype in his mind prior to leaving and ultimately the trip didn’t quite work out as planned photographically and he came home feeling pretty discouraged with his photography.
But that’s not the danger that I’ve been wrestling with.
Travel photography may just become an addiction.
I have made one hunting trip out west to hunt elk and mule deer in the mountains of Colorado. It was many years ago, just out of high school, but I remember vividly the feeling of coming home from that trip at the end of October and then jumping into whitetail deer season here at the beginning of November. It was hard to be excited about hunting at home.
It wasn’t that I enjoyed hunting any less. Much the opposite, I had a fantastic time on the trip to Colorado and felt like I wanted to hunt more than ever. The problem was that hunting in Colorado, hiking mountains searching for elk and deer, is VERY different than hunting here. There isn’t much opportunity to hike around because the landscape is so different. You just can’t see far enough to do anything other than scare the deer around to other hunters with very little hope of actually getting your deer. I hunted that year, but for the next couple years the let down of hunting here when compared to the more exotic(at least in my mind at that time) Colorado Rocky Mountain hunting was a huge deterrent to me. I just couldn’t get excited about our deer season back home with the high of that elk hunting trip still pulsing through my veins.
Now exchange hunting big game for hunting photographs and I hope you can see where I’m coming from.
Sure it’s awesome to travel all over the place and see these spectacular locations. You feel like everything you look at has so much more photographic potential compared to what you see all the time back home. Of course you do, it’s all new and exciting. Your creative juices are running high as you return home and start the process of culling, editing, and ultimately sharing this new amazing work.
You can’t wait until your next trip when you can create more and more of this fantastic work.
You’re planning, budgeting, and scheming how and where you should go next.
Yet, your camera sits relatively unused in your bag next to your desk. The few times you HAVE picked it up you’ve casually snapped a few frames but the photos just don’t satisfy you like your travel photos did.
Without even realizing it, you have become addicted to travel photography. Not a terrible thing by any means, as long as you can afford to continually travel. What you probably also noticed is that you aren’t inspired or motivated to create new work as much now that you’re at home. You’ve lost, or willingly given up, a big part of your creative vision.
How can you maintain your love of travel and creating at home?
That’s the million dollar question now isn’t it? Because I don’t do very much traveling I tend to really enjoy being able to slow down and appreciate those small moments in my proverbial back yard. I get immense satisfaction in creating a photo or collection of photos from the “mundane” day to day stuff that most people just pass right by. It’s a difficult part of the craft of photography, being able to really see. Only with a lot of patience, practice, and study of your craft will you learn to truly appreciate the amazing beauty in the familiarity of home.
The ability to take time to really look at your surroundings, let them speak to you visually and tell you their story, doesn’t come without putting in hours upon hours of practice.
So what is the secret to being able to do both? How do you allow yourself the exhilaration of travelling to new places and letting your camera roam free and then coming home and keeping your vision for day to day life at home sharp. Is there a way to remain passionate and creatively satisfied with the work you create at home when you begin to travel for “destination” photography?
If I had the answer I’d be a gajillionaire probably. I don’t and I’m not, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on it! I have a feeling this question will find it’s way over to my podcast, Adventures in Creativity, in the near future as well.
In the mean time, enjoy a few more fantastic images from this last fall season. All made in the mundane, no exciting travel required, familiarity of my familiar “stomping grounds”.
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