For NZMCA member Craig Robertson (#45548) there’s nothing better than combining two of his favourite passions – photography and travelling – and says some of his best shots have been captured during trips around the country in his motorhome.
Craig’s day job is all about photography (his official title is Fujifilm X-Series Product Specialist), but he’s just as keen to get behind the camera on his days off. He loves getting in his van and heading to the South Island, Tongariro and the Coromandel. He has recently moved to Auckland and is looking forward to discovering more of the Far North.
Both in his current role and during his years as a freelance commercial photographer, Craig has noticed that many motorhomers list photography as one of their pastimes, so he agreed to share a few pointers with members to help get the best possible images whether they are taken on a phone, a point-and-shoot, or complex photographic equipment. Here are some of his tips:
The early bird gets the shot
Whether it’s a spot he’s been to many times so knows the picture he wants to get, one he’s researched beforehand on Google, or just wanting to see what he can find, Craig says the best shots are often taken first thing in the morning.
“I recall on one particular occasion I was in the Coromandel, got out pre-dawn, walked to where I wanted to go, got what I wanted, and was back at the van having breakfast, when I noticed the neighbours just leaving their motorhome with their tripods and camera bags. They had missed the best time of the day,” he says.
However, the late bird can get a pretty good shot too: “Often it’s worth staying back when all the other tourists might have gone, so you are the last one in the area. It’s worth waiting. “Sometimes it’s just luck. But I find I get the best shots when I spend the time and effort, rather than just taking happy snaps.” Another piece of advice is not to put your camera away when the weather gets bad. Craig’s favourite times to travel are spring and autumn, which don’t guarantee clear skies, but the light is less harsh and often perfect for atmospheric shots.
Tell the story
Travelling by motorhome provides the potential for magnificent landscape shots, but there’s another genre that works perfectly with life on the road – visual storytelling. It’s not just about documenting where you’ve been, but also the way you travel. So while you may get that classic shot of the road to Mount Cook, or the stone church at Lake Tekapo, it’s also worth going beyond those to record your journey in a different way.
“It’s about shooting from your heart,” says Craig. “You’re shooting for how the day feels, rather than just recording it. “That’s remembering to photograph the small stuff, the silly stuff, the signs, the food, your glass of wine, where you parked the van for the night. Those are all the things that tell a story.”
Often you’ll combine two types of photography, and include people in landscape shots. “An environmental portrait tells the story of where you are,” says Craig. “But the mistake that’s often made is making the people too small, so they just become a little dot in the background. “You can bring someone right into the foreground of the shot with a reasonably wide-angled lens and still have your background.”
Once you get home, Craig recommends collating your photos into a book using an online service such as Blurb (www.blurb.com). “That’s when the storytelling becomes very important, because when you turn each page you get the story. It’s a really nice way to present your trips because if you leave them on the computer, no one will ever see them,” says Craig. This works particularly well if you are travelling with others – you can share your best images, then produce a combined collection of your best efforts.
Get all the best gear - or hardly any
Professional photographers often get asked about what type and how much gear they recommend. Craig says there is no such thing as the perfect gear list, it’s all about what type of photos you want to take, and how you want to progress your photography skills. “It’s not all about the gear, and it’s not all about the technology,” he says. “But good photographic equipment gives you the freedom to create. “Some highly respected photographers shoot with very little gear. On the other hand, those doing wildlife work need telephoto lenses that will track birds in flight and so on. People doing fine art landscapes need high resolution cameras to capture the detail.
It’s about choosing the right camera for what you want to do.” Many people document their travels entirely on their phones and that works well for them. Others use phones as a stepping stone to taking their photographic skills further. “Phones take a sharp, well-exposed photo, and you can do stuff digitally to make them a bit different, but some people get to a frustration point where they want something more than what their phone can do,” says Craig.
“A zoom lens doesn’t just get closer to things, it enables you to compress perspective. A wide-angled lens isn’t just about getting it all in the shot, it actually creates depth.” One of the best things you can do, is play around with your gear, and experiment to see what kinds of photos you can take with it. “The camera has to become part of you,” says Craig. “There’s no point sitting there waiting for the sun to set, then missing the shot because you’re working out how to take it.”
Taking the photo is only step one
For some photographers, the fun really begins after the photos have been downloaded onto the computer and post-production begins. Others see editing as completely unnecessary. For Craig, it all comes down to how you want your photo to look. While he may not spend much time editing his storytelling work, he can spend hours on a landscape. Sometimes, negative comments are made about photoshopped images, but there’s nothing new about enhancing photos. “Photographers have manipulated images since photography began, they just had a different way of doing it in a dark room,” says Craig. “I say to people, ‘Do you like the photo? Do you like what the photographer has created?’ Who cares about photoshopping? If you like it, it’s a valid image.”
Of course sometimes, it’s really useful to be able to remove the powerline ruining your perfect valley shot!
Editor’s Note: In future issues of The Motor Caravanner we will ask Fujifilm photographer Craig Robertson to share more tips to help you better capture those great memories while you’re on the road.