Tag Archives: Camera

Ten Ideas About Travel Photography and Filmmaking


Empty Tree

By Siddhi: 

Much to my dismay, I’ve been largely absent in the Paupers world because of an intensive film course that has been consuming every ounce of free time I want to devote to writing on this site. But surprisingly, the class that has prevented me from blogging actively about travel has taught more about exploration and how to approach understanding the world through a camera than I could have ever imagined.

My incredible professor, a blunt, no-nonsense, experienced Soviet filmmaker who understands the intricacies of the medium with astonishing mastery, constantly reiterates a series of philosophies that will ensure our movies are worth making and watching. And every one of these ideas has in my mind translated to how I can take my travel photography and filmmaking to the next level.

1)   Empty trees are cinematic – On the first day of class, we saw black and white slide projections of some early European photography. In the midst of the excited bustle that filled the frames, the single image that stood out as the most haunting and memorable was a photograph of an empty tree, its lonely limbs drooping ever so elegantly over a bed of thick white snow. In travel photography, it is easy to get caught up in the frenzy of crowds and action. There is nothing wrong with that, some of the most dynamic images are the active ones. But there is very special beauty can be found in the simplicity of emptiness.

 2)   Establish what is overwhelming- Show us what is emotionally or physically too much to handle. It seems to counter to previous idea that beauty lies in simplicity, but overwhelming in this case doesn’t equate to busy. It means shooting what consumes us whole, looking for extremes. Audiences love extreme situations, it’s why we are caught hook, line, and sinker by so many of the dramatic scenarios in cinema.  Shoot extreme beauty, extreme ugliness, extreme heights, extreme lows, extreme everything. Burn “everything in moderation” out of your shooting vocabulary.

 3)   Irregularities are interesting- It seems very obvious, but even the slightest quirks in space can significantly alter the impact of a photograph. You’ve seen lots of fields in pictures. But not a lot of cabbage fields. There’s a huge difference between shooting swimming horses and standing horses, cookies on a bakery shelf and a broken cookie on the side of the road. Hunt for oddities. The eccentric is intriguing.

 4)   Levels give way to development- When there are levels in a frame, there is instantly room for enrichment. Adding physical dimensions to the camera’s plane of view has already provided you with space for development. Think about the difference between shooting lovers on a bench versus lovers on a flight of curving stairs. The possibilities are limitless.

 5)   A shot is lighting- First semester of freshman year, one of my assignments was to go out and shoot a single setting at five times during the day. Before sunrise, as the sun rose, afternoon, sunset, and night.  That one location took on a completely new life each time I shot it. If you are looking for something specific from a setting that doesn’t seem to click, go at a different point in the day when the light has changed. It can make a world’s worth of difference.

 6)   Birds and flowers are boring- This isn’t to condemn either subject in any way, but if your goal is to be original with the camera on your travels, look for birds and flowers with a spirit unlike anything you’ve seen before.  What makes this specific flower something you can only find in Amsterdam? What makes this goose specific to only New York City? Use your setting to make the uninteresting irresistible.

 7)   A pan is information in progression- Pans are some of the most misused and abused camera movements in travel documentaries. Why? Because the purpose of the pan is compromised for how easy it is to perform one. A shot is advancement. Every second of a pan should reveal something new or interesting about the scene or setting. Panning across a field with static information for 20 seconds is a waste of a shot. Information, information, information. Think about why you’re using the pan.

 8)   Walking is walking, not filmmaking- Shooting someone walking is alright. But why capture it when you can see the same thing every, single day anywhere in the world? But dancing, jumping, spinning, twirling, sprinting….these are all dynamic actions worth capturing that you may not be able to replicate the same way ever again.

 9)   People act in situations- The frame is all about directing and organizing experience, and people are interested in strangers. The best way to show strangers in unique experiences is shooting situations. Festivals, holidays, unusual weather conditions, etc. If you want to shoot raw human reactions to environments, choose those environments thoughtfully.

 10) Don’t rush- In class, we saw the wonderful scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious where Ingrid Bergman steals the key to her husband’s wine cellar. There is almost no cutting in the entire sequence. It worked as well as it did because it took its time to unfold on the screen without manic splicing in the editing room. Our professor compared the success of a good, slow scene to the success of great Asian poetry, which finds it beauty in its slowness. In travel filmmaking, a long, single take has the power to reveal so much more about the internal life of a person of place than ten cuts.

Of course, these are merely ideas. But ones that have already helped me grow tremendously in my work as an aspiring travel journalist and filmmaker.

The B&H Superstore New York City: A Media Lover’s Fantasy

By Siddhi: (Updated Sept 23, 2014)

Who? Anyone who loves photography, filmmaking,  music, or the media arts in general and wants to experience a one-of-a-kind, over the top shopping experience in the Great Apple.

What? The B & H Photo and Video Superstore in New York City.

How? The store is located at 420 9th Avenue at 34th Street in Manhattan. Several subway lines stop at 34th street. The most convenient method would be taking the A, C, or E line to the 34th Street station at 8th Avenue and walking from there.  You can also take the M34 bus which stops at 9th Avenue right in front of B and H.

Why? The first time I walked into the B & H superstore in New York City, I think my high-school self probably experienced some sort of an adrenaline-induced heart attack. The “super” in the store’s title was in no way overstating the grandeur of the place. This was my birthday, Christmas, and every other exciting holiday of the year combined in the glory of a single multistory building. Sheer wonder for the media junkie.

As I looked above me, conveyor belts carried packages in the air in a labyrinthine motion, as if I was part of the workings of intricately designed clockwork. And that’s exactly what it was.  The mega shop has so many background workings to keep it running that you can’t help but look around you in complete awe when something  as ordinary as purchasing batteries at a register turns into a complex series of belts, chutes, and complex machinery snaking up and down floors.

If you’re looking for something you haven’t been able to find in other media stores, especially obscure photo and video accessories, chances are B&H will have it (and that too, in abundance). I recently set off to begin shooting a documentary on a rather minimal budget and was looking for specialized audio/video tools that I couldn’t find in any local photography shops. When I walked into B & H, I was led by the first class staff to shelves of accessories manufactured by different brands and suddenly went from fearing for the production of my film to being overwhelmed with just how many possibilities there were.

Walking into the store can most definitely be intimidating, but the staff will work one-on-one with you to tailor your store experience to what’ll most benefit your creative endeavors.   It all sounds a bit geeky, but if you’re into any sort of production, the B & H superstore is a nirvana.

Just make sure you have a solid block of time in your schedule (and maybe some money). Because once you walk into the doors of this enchanting domain, leaving is no easy task.

24,901 Miles A Second

By: Siddhi (written after a trip to Lhasa, Tibet in 2007) 

The globe spins, rotating effortlessly beneath the twirl of my fingertips. The blur of colors surge in a whirlpool motion, fascinating, but incoherent. 24, 901 miles flash before my eyes every few seconds.  I just saw the entire world twenty times in a single minute.

Our jeep rattled forward on the rugged, mountainous terrain of Lhasa– the sacred origin of Tibetan Buddhism. The landscape was a living still-life painting; the beauty I had only seen in museum art splattered on a canvas of reality. It was exactly how the travel books had described it – dreamy. My camera’s shutter snapped every few moments as I reveled in the sight.

That was until I saw the walking scarecrows. They were haggard, bent over rails of bone. They were emaciated, barefoot corpses with cloth satchels. They were children on their daily three-hour walk to school. Almost suddenly, the majestic beauty of the Himalayas was reduced to nothing but those languished faces. The yellow mustard fields, the snow-capped plateaus, the skies of white gold – everything felt hideously out of place. The earth our tires tread belonged to a class of peace-driven people who for generations worked to uphold their beliefs in karma and nonviolence. And these same people were now, in front of my own eyes, walking a deathly walk, only hoping that the Chinese soldiers that infested their land wouldn’t beat them to the ground.

I was numb. Somehow I managed to bring the camera to my eyes, and clicked.  This time, it wasn’t just a digital image I had saved onto a card, but a fresh wound in the flesh of my conscience, a permanent scar in my naivety.

One month after I returned home, mainstream news channels flashed with clips of violent Tibetan uprisings against Chinese soldiers. The families of those skeletal kids, who walked under blazing furnaces every day to be educated, were portrayed as the savages. They were greedy, selfish monsters that were unwilling to sacrifice personal freedoms for the “better good”.   I felt irascible desperation. I was there. I had seen through my viewfinder those same impoverished villages, living in raw fear.

The naked, poverty-stricken children selling flutes for food in the heart of Cambodia; the Chinese freedom of expression being squashed by the oppressive fist of communism; Thai citizens in constant limbo between life and death. Unlike most teenagers whose vista of the world is based on reported realities in the media, I have been fortunate enough to experience these global truths firsthand. From the moment the plane scrapes the runway, what I know about the world I live in is mutated, enlarged and ultimately diminished. The more I see, the more I realize I’ve seen nothing. Whether that’s a blessing or a curse, I don’t know, because my innocence is gone. I don’t believe things at face value anymore because I know there’s something beneath the surface.

I need to help tear down these walls. Countries have stories, people have stories; truth, that is subdued by bias and ignorance. These realities lurk beneath the filmy surfaces of the piles and piles of photographs I’ve taken over the years. Going back and looking at some of these pictures almost always unleashes that same feeling of discomfort and angst I felt when I saw that slanted view of Tibetan uprisings. With my camera, maybe I’ll be able to do a sliver of justice to the human condition. Before I can do anything though, I have to know.

The globe slows down, the mar of colors gradually forming a fluid image. But it’s still incoherent. I don’t see the familiar oceans, continents, islands- I see a vastly uncharted map, an enigma that I have yet to completely understand. Luckily, I’ve got a camera. And I’m only eighteen.