Setting realistic expectations for travel photography: Sometimes the best approach is go with the flow
Every photographer has a list of holy grail travel locations. Personally speaking, Havana, Cuba is on the top of my list. However, producing quality work while travelling can prove to be quite a challenge.
Many people, myself included, often have unrealistic expectations for exotic locations. The truth is we won't become better photographers by simply going to Cuba or India, and a letdown is inevitable if expectations were too high.
It doesn't mattered how much planning you did, the weather can still throw you a curve ball, so a little bit of luck is involved. Even when you find yourself in a perfect spot on a nice day, the lighting might still be less than perfect at that time of the day. Depending on how tight your schedule is, you might not have the luxury of revisiting certain sites, so you are under the pressure of having to get it right on first try. Setting realistic expectations is key to having a productive trip.
I visited Macau a couple of years ago to meet my wife's extended family. Photography wise, I did not have high expectations for the trip, and I had no "it" shots in mind. To my surprise, I produced some of my best work to date in Macau. I worked in a slower and more relaxed pace, and I visited some off the beaten path locations known only to locals instead of crowded touristy spots. I did not have a list of desired locations, nor did I stick to a rigorous schedule. I just went with the flow and genuinely enjoyed Macau's vibrancy and energy. As a result, my effort was more focused and consistent. The Macau through my lens is one of rich textures and vibrant colours.
I had a "one body one prime lens" policy on this trip, so I shot exclusively on 50mm. This really helped simplify my workflow and thought process, and it also significantly reduced the weight of my backpack. This "less is more" approach also came through in the images. The 50mm allowed me to isolate interesting details without having distracting elements in the frame.
There is nothing more satisfying to a photographer than bringing back portfolio-worthy images from a trip, but sometimes we forget to enjoy ourselves along the way. If we immerse ourselves in the surroundings and experience the different cultures and lifestyles, the images we capture will show more depth as well. In Macau, I simply went along for the ride, and I ended up having the time of my life.