Making vs. taking – Part 1

Cat on street in San Gimignano, Italy
Great moments and images occur most when we’re prepared and open

As we saw last time, making a photograph (versus taking one) or making a meaningful journey (versus taking a vacation) require intentionality. But they both share in a number of other commonalties such as the following:

    • Anticipation. You’ll likely get more out of your trip and your photo if you think ahead of time about what you want to get out of each.  You may never have thought before about anticipating a photo, but knowing what you want to accomplish beforehand and waiting for the right pieces to come together (say for the colorfully dressed local to pass in front of the building you’re waiting to photograph) can make all the difference.
    • Preparation. As Louis Pasteur noted, chance favors the prepared mind. Similarly, discovery favors the prepared. With photography, preparation means knowing ahead of time how to use your camera and having all your gear ready. With travel, it means taking care of the details you need before you leave. This doesn’t mean you can’t wing it, but it’s important to know before your trip when you’ll need reservations (for example during a major festival) and when you can get by without them.
    • Openness. Discovery is often enhanced by your preparedness, but nothing beats being open, present and ready to respond, both for great images and great trips. With photography, that means paying attention to changes in light or the people around you. Similarly, your best trips will be the ones where you are most present to yourself, to those around you, to the place itself and to the subtle ways God makes himself known there.
    • Experience. With photography, the more you practice, the better you get. That’s the same with travel, but how you “practice” matters. I recall this statement about work: If you do the same job for ten years, at the end of that decade you don’t have ten years worth of experience. You have one year’s worth repeated ten times. The same holds true for meaningful travel: If you go to the same types of places doing the same types of things, you won’t really grow as a traveler. You may have fun, but it won’t stretch you and you won’t return home much differently than when you left.
    • Story. I’m constantly reminded that sometimes the worst trips, the ones where nothing goes as planned, make the best stories. Every trip is an opportunity to create a new chapter in your life’s story. Some stories, however, are better than others which brings us back to intentionality. Knowing the purpose or theme of your trip helps greatly. Maybe it’s a quest to find some collectible or a pilgrimage to a site that has deep meaning to you. Perhaps, it is a reunion or a comparison of “before” and “after” that looks at how a place has changed from when you visited it years before. As one photographer noted, when you don’t know your story or what you’re looking for, you end up taking photos you think others will like. And those rarely are the best. So with your photos and your travels, think about what story you want to tell and be part of. You can learn more on this point in “How to Photograph Machu Picchu.”

Be sure to come back next time for five final points on making vs. taking.

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