Limited Travel Photography

As some of you know, on Sunday evening, I returned from a nine-day trip to Shanghai. Aside from being the city with the most number of skyscrapers in the world, Shanghai has a lot to offer for the urban photographer. Perhaps that is why any traveling enthusiast would be able to recognize even the silhouette of the infamous Oriental Pearl Tower amid the city’s skyline. However, few photographers use to their advantage the rich offerings of such a diverse community.

Picture this…

When you see someone on the subway with a black bag, perhaps a tripod in their hand, leaning onto the rail because of the weight on their shoulder, you immediately think, “that’s a photographer. They’re carrying a lot of equipment; they must be good.” But that poor photographer is suffering from a sore shoulder, they’re constantly checking the time to make sure they’re not late for the sunset, and they’re worried their camera battery will run out. All to live up to your immediate stereotype of them as “a photographer.”

My experience in Shanghai made me think about this situation a little bit differently. Yes, I am a photographer, and yes, I do look for your feedback on my photography. However, if I keep taking the same shots as every other photographer — tweaking it slightly, using a longer exposure, or a different composition — who am I but another average young adult with a good camera and a scoliosis in my lumbar spine? No, that’s not what I want to be.

Maybe it was the fatigue talking, but after my first day walking around Shanghai with all my equipment on my back, I decided to challenge myself. I reluctantly chose one lens, my 16–35mm L-series wide-angle, to put on my camera, and one lens, my 85mm USM portrait, to keep in my backpack. I left two lenses and my external flash in my room. With just a long exposure remote and a couple UV and ND filters, I went on out to explore the city.

I found myself in moments of despair. I wanted so desperately to take pictures of a local stranger in the distance, but I didn’t have the lens to do it with me. I wanted to take a better portrait of a street vendor, but moving myself back further would result in another one added to the list of Chinese traffic deaths.

And then, I looked at it all differently. Instead of seeing the world through my general travel photography eyes, I started to see it through specific lenses. I framed the environment around me in particular sizes, according to the lenses I had on hand. Not that I didn’t do this before; I had the option to change to any one of my lenses because I would carry them with me. Now, I only had two options: wide-angle or portrait, or simply put, landscape/architecture or an individual.

I may have missed out on some pictures I wanted to take at the time, but I also took unique pictures that I never would have taken had I kept all of my equipment with me. You can see a few of these on my Flickr and stay tuned for more as I upload them gradually.

This is a challenge for fellow photographers — especially travel photographers. Show me what you can do when you are limited in your tools but not your abilities.

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