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he desire to travel, to visit distant lands and explore their wonders must be in our DNA— not just as photographers, but as people. There are only so many places to visit within driving distance, and beyond that, it still feels like home in a way. If you live in New Jersey and fly to Arizona for two weeks, sure, it’s different, but there’s no escaping the fact that you’re still in the United States. When you’re in South America or Southeast Asia or the Middle East, you definitely know you’re not in Kansas anymore. It’s exhilarating! You can’t wait to get out there and start taking pictures. You have 16 gigs worth of flash cards to fill up, another 120 gigs on a portable drive, and only two weeks or less to do it in. The clock is ticking, and you have to get your shots—significant other permitting, of course, if you’re traveling in tandem. CUT TO: INT. — HOME OFFICE — NIGHT A photographer sits in front of a computer monitor reviewing all the images he just took on his trip. It’s only as he scrolls through them, one by one, that he realizes the good time he should have had. How


T A Sense Of

could he visit such a wonderful place and fail to really experience it? Well, it’s easy. Cut to Vincent Versace who says this kind of thing isn’t at all unusual. It’s easy to get so focused on the logistics and techniques of taking pictures and trying to find your photographs that you don’t really experience the place you’re visiting. “Why not enjoy it when you’re there?” asks Versace. “Just be still for awhile.

Place Traveling to exotic locations is about exploring a new culture at least as much as it is about exploring an area. By doing both, you can build a more compelling, multifaceted story. By Harlon Mitchell / Photography By Vincent Versace

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the humble and the mundane. If you can find beauty in the humble and the mundane, that’s where true artistic gold is.” Travel photography isn’t all about the landscapes, it’s about the people, too. If you visit Peru during the wet season, between November and mid-April, you’ll not only experience dramatic weather, but everyone will be dressed in colorful clothing. Walking the streets of towns and villages like Ayacucho, Pisac or Chinchero, you can spend days on portraits. But you have to remember, when you first move into a scene, you often become the focus of the scene. Versace says you need to stay there for awhile. Get a cup of tea and relax for 20 or 30 minutes, then all of the players watching you will move out of the scene, and new players will move in. Then you’re part of the scene, part of the background, and it’s much easier to capture a setting as it is naturally. Versace recalls the time he was visiting a market in Egypt and came across a used camel salesman, a distinguished older man wearing a traditional tunic and a turban twisted elegantly around his head. Versace stopped nearby and Describing his travels in Burma, Versace says, “I have never in my life been so moved by a place. The beauty of the landscape, the spirit of the people in spite of what they’re going through, made the entire experience truly transformative for me. It’s where I stopped taking photographs and allowed myself to be taken by photographs.” Get taken by the moment, the scene that’s unfolding in front of you, and it will tell you when is the right time to press the shutter. You’ll feel it.”

Get Taken By Your Photographs

This approach to photography was the result of an artistic epiphany Versace experienced on a trip to Southeast Asia last year. His book, Welcome to Oz, had just been published, and the afterward by Jay Maisel included a quote by Ernst Haas: “Don’t take pictures, be taken by pictures.” When Versace read that, he didn’t know quite what to do with it—until Burma, when he was photographing a little girl in a crowded outdoor market. “I was standing there, and this woman turned around, and she looked at me,” recalls Versace. “And the look moved me in such a way that it caused my finger to snap the shutter, and I felt like she pulled me through the camera. “It was at that moment I realized, of all the photographs I’ve taken, the best 74 Outdoor Photographer

ones had given me a similar feeling, but it had never been that strong. Something had changed. It’s like dreaming while being wide awake. Allow yourself to experience the entire moment and totality of being wherever you are and let that be the cause of taking a photograph. Slow down enough so when you’re looking through the camera, that picture takes you.”

Cinematic Approach To Photography

So if you’re walking in the Sacred Valley of Peru or visiting a forest in the mountains of Doi Tung, Thailand, forget that you have a camera for awhile. Just be there in the place and absorb it with your senses and your mind. Allow yourself to be moved emotionally by what you’re experiencing. Begin to visualize framing with your eye, much like a cinematographer would, says Versace. Take a picture with your mind before you snap the shutter. If the viewer were standing where you are— in the Urubama River valley, surrounded by vast grasslands, massive snowy peaks

and ancient Inca ruins under a cloudy, blue-gray sky—he or she could be moved in a similar way. Ideally, what should happen is something called shibumi in Japanese: thoughtful but thoughtless thought. You do the right and appropriate thing at the right and appropriate time that’s completely and totally thoughtful, but without thinking about doing it. And when you get into that moment, for Versace, it’s like no other buzz he can explain. But you have to be careful because the first time you experience it, and you realize that you’re experiencing it, it’s gone. You’re out of it. Says Versace, “What happens if you get into the dogmatic approach to composition is you start saying, ‘I can’t take that picture,’ because you don’t think you should. If someone asks me how to take better pictures, I like to quote something Joe McNally said, ‘Stand in front of more interesting things.’ “There’s that, but there’s also something else you need to take into account, which is the beauty that can be found in

absorbed the loud spectacle—the bellowing, agitated camels shifting about as interested parties moved between them. Without warning, a camel spit on Versace. A big, slimy spray of mucus hit the side of his face. He jumped back and noticed the used camel salesman, who wasn’t quite smirking, but almost. They had a moment of recognition, which was, without having to think about it, the perfect moment to snap the shutter. Versace had become part of the scene and, for that brief moment, a part of that man’s life in Egypt. The spit was quite disgusting, yes, but it resulted in a spontaneous and organic portrait. While they didn’t speak a common language, Versace says everyone understands the language of funny and compassion. It’s moments like these that can make people available to you and your camera without having to ask with words, which often leads to touristy portraits that look staged and unnatural. While Versace ends up converting much of his work to black-and-white with

Color, B&W Or B&W Infrared?

OPENING SPREAD: Inle Lake, Shan State, Burma.

Nikon D70 converted to IR, Nikkor 24-120mm VR Zoom

OPENING SPREAD, INSET: Child in Doorstep, Cusco, Peru Color image converted to black-and-white; Nikon D2XS, Nikkor 70-200mm VR Zoom

OPPOSITE PAGE: Sunrise in the Valley of Four Thousand Temples, Bagan, Burma

Nikon D70 converted to IR, Nikkor 70-200mm VR Zoom

LEFT: Burmese Pagoda, Burma

Nikon D70 converted to IR, Nikkor 70-200mm VR Zoom

a technique he developed, he always shoots everything in color first—he’s absolutely adamant about this. If you shoot in a black-and-white mode with a digital camera, it will make luminance conversions, which is desaturation of color. It just records the light to dark aspect of a scene. If you want a tonal and dynamic range that replicates the beauty of film, you have to do the conversion yourself in Photoshop using channel mixers to mix and desaturate the red, green and blue channels separately. So if you’re overlooking a rice field in Cambodia and think it would look great in black-and-white, shoot it in color. Switching to black-and-white mode is going to fail to record two-thirds of the available spectral data. Although Versace’s affection for traditional black-and-white photography isn’t on the decline, he has a new mistress called black-and-white infrared. It was a relationship that blossomed on his trip to Burma, where he made all his discoveries about IR and really developed a passion for it. Versace says he actually had to remember to shoot in standard color. “The landscape and the environment just lends itself to IR because it’s hot and it’s green,” says Versace. “You have big puffy clouds and big blue skies. So what happens is the skies go black, the trees go white and the light is hard enough so you can pick up enough contrast to get super-sharpness in the pictures. “Now when you’re shooting people, again, because of the quality of the light, what happens is you pick up this iridescent glow and all of their brown eyes become beautiful blue eyes and you can see spectacular detail in the irises and pupils that you wouldn’t have captured on film or digitally in color.” On his next trip to Southeast Asia, Versace jokes that he’ll have to remember to shoot standard color again, although this time it might be a little easier. He’s OP taking a new Nikon D300. To see more of Vincent Versace’s work and learn about his blackand-white conversion technique, visit

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Profile for Vincent Versace

BW TRVL DESIGN final December2007 73 72 OutdoorPhotographer Travelingtoexoticlocationsisaboutexploringanewcultureatleastasmuchasitisabout...

BW TRVL DESIGN final December2007 73 72 OutdoorPhotographer Travelingtoexoticlocationsisaboutexploringanewcultureatleastasmuchasitisabout...