Travel with open eyes and ready camera

The best pictures happen when you bring all that you are to the moment, whether you are an experienced photographer or an absolute beginner. Life experience is not wasted, no matter how apparently far afield from photography. Your life is a resource.

The most important suggestion I, as a veteran photographer, can make to someone interested in travel photography is to use all the special resources you have - including the richness of your own personal experiences. Any further suggestions are simply what I do.

One idiosyncratic thing that I do on trips is to run every morning that I can. By so doing I have seen a Shanghai neighborhood by the docks waking up: small cooking stoves on the narrow alley sidewalks, coupons changing hands at the traveling milk cart, tiny public kitchens turning out twists of bread with a few sesame seeds, old women with bound feet doing slow tasks amid the quiet bustle.

At an early market in Juijiang, China, some middle-age housewives, fascinated by a tall, friendly, strange-looking counterpart, gave me a gardenia, and we laughed together as they felt for my muscles. A group of three young girls took up my pace at Malindi in Kenya, led me through beautiful countryside for three miles, and invited me to their home.

The key is curiosity. A will to adventure - to meet and talk with people, to enter small vignettes of their lives. A love of learning and a genuine interest in and affinity for people.

Trust and confidence in yourself and your instincts is vital. For one thing, it is important to know that you can intuitively assess people and gain from and manage any situation in which you find yourself.

You must also believe in your ability to get the image. For me the answer is to engage totally with the moment, to connect with person and place, and then to take pictures without conscious thought or planning - to shoot solely for myself. And to believe, to know, that the results are there.

Photographs must have a quality that goes beyond factual recording. However I am not certain what a picture says until I see it developed - and frequently not until I live with it. The process, of course, takes enormous energy. Without intense involvement, the photographs will be mere records, without life.

Travel photography sounds like the ultimate glamorous profession, but it is very hard work. If you don't so love the experience, so savor it, that you don't feel fatigue until afterward, it might not seem so glamorous.

Determination is also mandatory. And it, too, is wearing unless you enjoy the challenge. It becomes almost second nature to think quickly of alternatives and to be ready to act on one. Things rarely go as planned.

For instance, I once planned to go to the Lake Baringo area in a fairly remote section of Kenya to see the famous concentration of flamingos at nearby Lake Bogoria. Because my host in Kisumu on Lake Victoria politely insisted that I travel partway by his friend's private car (which broke down) rather than by matatu, the crowded and wonderful communal taxis in Kenya, I was late arriving at the junction city of Nakuru. The last bus had left, and requests for a taxi to take me on met with blank stares and refusal.

I had only two days left in Kenya, and I could have simply stayed in Nakuru and gone on to Nairobi the next day. Instead, I haunted the block-long concentration of taxis until it became clear that I was not going to give up. Finally two men who had stood on the periphery the whole time agreed to take me. By then it was dark, and it had started to rain.

The reason for all the refusals soon became clear. The dirt road almost ceased at several points. We mired down in the mud and came close to unanticipated precipices in the confusion of darkness. I was out in the rain with a flashlight, searching for road signs and guiding the car. But make it we did - finally.

It would have been easier to have gone on to Nairobi. But I would have missed the desolate wild marvel of Lake Bogoria and the flamingos, as well as hippos at night on the lawn of the old-fashioned Lake Baringo Club.

Most of all, I would have missed walking among the Pokot, a reserved tribe virtually untouched by Western civilization.

For me, being a travel photographer-writer is living at the heights. How else to describe the opportunity of walking alone down a red, rutted lane in Colombia and seeing for the first time the huge river, replete with symbol and power - the Amazon. Or being welcomed into a north-Kenya home constructed of mud and dung with a gracious elegance lost to much of civilized mankind.

Entering the richness of human experience, past and present - meeting history and legend face to face - is a priceless reward.

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