Hands, Roar Vibe, Camden Lock

How to take better travel photos

I want to take better travel photographs. Especially as we’re all suffering from chronic image fatigue syndrome, with the trillions of photos unleashed on the internet. With this in mind, I enrolled on the Street & Documentary Photography Course at the London Institute of Photography, or LIoP, in Shoreditch.

The acronym ‘LIoP’, for me, resembles the word ‘lollipop’.  Lollipops are fun & colourful, and so is LIoP; but no serious learning comes without going outside your comfort zone – that’s the way to grow and to make your photos better.

So what makes a good photo? Well that’s what you learn on the four-day LIoP course. Much of it is about seeing things in a different way, picking up on the connections, and putting your own filter of sense & creativity on the world around us. It’s not so much about the f stop, although you will need to know how to use a DSLR camera.

My photo phobias

First, my phobias. These are what brought me out in a cold sweat at the start of each of the five course assignments. I put these pressures on myself.  It’s silly, I know, as we all perform better without stress. And, anyway, the client was me – and not the other way round, which is the usual.

My phobias aren’t about the technical side of photography – that’s the easy part to learn.  Instead, they are all about how I feel I’m perceived, and how I perceive myself.  They’re about:

  • People getting angry and upset when I ask to take a photo of them.
  • Ditto, people getting angry and upset if they notice that I’m taking a photo of them, fly-on-the-wall style.
  • Taking photos that other people find boring or uninspiring.

LIoP in Brick Lane

My course was taken by the founder of LIoP, Holger Pooten. Holger’s calm and measured communication style is ideal for anyone with phobias or inadequacies like me.

Already a successful photographer with agents in the UK, the US and Germany, Holger founded LIoP last year, with its home in the Truman Brewery building on Shoreditch’s Brick Lane. You can feel that LIoP is his passion project.

I wasn’t new to LIoP.  I’ve done courses there before.  Courses are good.  My belief is that life is one long journey of learning and discovery.

Challenging moments

In a small class size, we covered a succession of topics; including looking at examples by leading photographers, contemporary and past.

We then took to the streets on assignment … to Spitalfields, Brick Lane, the City, the British Museum, Covent Garden and to Camden Lock Market, which is where I took the featured image, a portrait of the Roar Vibe stall owner.  Luckily I was used to shooting in near zero temperatures after my photo shoot in Champagne last year.

On the last morning, we arranged a documentary photo shoot of our choice… I chose to do a behind-the-scenes at the restaurant Frenchie Covent Garden.

My 3 most challenging moments on the course – the moments when I learnt the most – were:

  • Adapting to using aperture priority. In other words setting the shutter speed and ISO to automatic and playing around with the depth of field through changing the f stop and focal length, ie what’s in focus or not, and the zoom. Usually I only use manual, which takes too long when doing street photography.
  • Coming up with a theme when we filmed in Covent Garden, as it’s not an area of London that inspires me.  What really helped was using Mind Maps to drill down to the ‘big idea‘.
  • Ditching the zoom lens and going for a max 50mm focal length for a series of portraits at Camden Market, and having to go up and ask people to take a photo. Here is the portrait I took at Roar Vibe in Camden Lock Market…
Photograph taken in Camden Lock on the LIoP Street & Documentary photography course

My big learnings

What I resolve to do differently:

  • Put my own personality & creativity in my photos – to no longer be the ‘invisible’ fly-on-the-wall photographer, a change that has come about in photography with the smartphone era, when everything is snapped.
  • Focus on a theme. With hindsight, I would have focussed my Los Angeles shots on the charm & magic of run-down Downtown before the developers take over; or, in Cusco, the different style of hats worn by the Indian women. Yes, take general shots, but think in terms of themes.
  • Watch the light, and how it falls; and to then take pictures of people, animals or objects moving into and under that light.
  • Look for juxtapositions, colours and shapes & lines, especially if they are repeated.
  • Observe people for interesting expressions or movements, and then ask them to repeat that expression or movement for the picture.
  • Consider that the worst that can happen if I ask people to take a photo is that they will say no… which is no big deal. And if we can’t speak the same language, we can communicate with our eyes, with our smiles and our gesticulations.

In all, I had a lot of fun, expanded my comfort zone, and learnt a lot about how to take photographs in the street and to give meaning to my travel photos … from a creative as well as technical perspective. Roll on the next trip… to Alsace, I think.

LIoP Street & Documentary course is for…

People who want to:

  • Get more out of their DSLR cameras and who already understand the basics of the relationship of ISO, Shutter Speed & Aperture (if not, there are LIoP Beginner and Intermediate courses).
  • Come back from their travels, whether at home or abroad, with photos that will wow the viewer.
  • Learn in a creative environment and meet other photographers – all in a vibrant area of London.

Food & drink around Spitalfields

My favourite places for a quick visit between Spitalfields Market and where Hanbury Street meets Brick Lane … along the route from the tube station at Liverpool Street and LIoP in the Truman Brewery building.

  • Italia Sud – London’s best pizzas served from a fourgonette in Spitalfields Market decorated in the light blue, or azzurro (Italians have two words for blue), of Napoli football team. Made by real Italians, and starting at £4 for a Margherita.
  • Nude Espresso – upper price range for an espresso, but worth it. On Hanbury Street. Good music. Good for getting some thinking space for photo projects.
  • Townsend modern British dining room, café and wine bar at the Whitechapel Gallery.
Union Jacks at Camden Lock Market, London
Union Jacks at Camden Lock Market, London, taken on one of my LIoP Street & Documentary assignments
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