Three great photography teachers share their wisdom.
Some people become interested in photography as a way to go on adventures and see the world. Not Nevada Wier. She was already working as an outdoor guide and instructor in places like Kathmandu in the late 1970s and early 1980s. After years of guiding for pay and taking pictures for fun, she realized that her photos were good enough to sell to airline magazines and stock agencies. Gradually photography took over, until Wier was shooting stories for publications such as National Geographic and Outside.
But the former Outward Bound instructor never stopped teaching. As her photography career grew, she found herself leading workshops in her hometown of Santa Fe (at the Santa Fe Photo Workshop) and around the world.
So what does a seasoned world traveler tell students? "It's really just about having fun," Wier says. "If you don't have fun, your pictures aren't going to be any good."
It's advice that may shock her students, some of whom are so involved in their gear that Wier warns they produce photos with "no soul." For her, good travel photography is often about people. That's part of what led her to change from guiding to photography. "I became much more interested in what was at the bottom of the mountain than at the top of the mountain," she says.
In teaching, "I talk a lot about photographing people, and about difficult lighting conditions."
The people part is challenging. "Approaching people is always a big question" for her students. And if you don't speak the language? Wier says it's all about how the photographer handles herself. "It's about you. You have to be approachable. Learn nonverbal cues. It's not like trying to shake hands with an elephant-it's not that hard."
Says Elise Widlund, who with her husband has taken both workshops and international trips with Wier, "She gave me the courage to step forward and approach people."
Widlund says that Wier's teaching has led her into amazing situations, like a recent trek into the backcountry of Myanmar. In a remote village where many of the people are tattooed, Widlund spotted an older woman whose face was completely covered with tattooing. Rather than snap a candid, she let her cameras hang and approached the woman to compliment her shawl. She ended up in a room with the villager, who demonstrated how she'd made the shawl herself-a scene Widlund never would have photographed if Wier hadn't taught her how to approach people.
As for those difficult lighting conditions, Wier sees this as a big part of the territory for travel photography. "Anybody can photograph in good light," she says, but in travel you rarely have time to wait for it. And even if you can, your subject won't. One solution: fill flash, which can get a good photo out of bad lighting.
In travel photography, difficulties are a given, says Wier. "There're so many limitations. There're always problems."
But she sees this as an advantage: Is there something in your way, or a lens you didn't bring, or maybe another jeans-and-sneakers clad tourist planted in the middle of your exotic view? Good! It will force you to be a little more creative with your approach to the image.
Travel How-To TipsTravel light. You don't always have to have all your gear with you. Carry one body and a single lens sometimes. Go light and be creative.Simplify. Don't let the gear you do bring get in your way-if you're too involved with it, you've brought too much. "You need to keep a balance of your gear with your skill level."Master fill flash. It will help you deal with the bad lighting that travel photographers face so much of the time.Beat the clock. When doing landscapes, you do need good light, so "get up early and get out."Use your head. "When you're not shooting, you should be thinking," she says. For example: What's this place like at another time of day? What else may be going on around here?Be flexible. Take advantage of the fact that things won't go as planned. If you've counted on sunrise but are met with rain, don't give up-put that rain to use in your photos.