As photographers who want to excel and make unique travel imagery, we should be able to consistently create images that stand apart from everyone else’s work. When the whole world is photographing Taj Mahal, we should be searching the streets of Agra for the kite-makers who create unique designs. When every tourist is photographing the scenic backwaters of Kerala, we should go searching for the boat makers who craft these beautiful floating houses, or the farmers who grow paddy by creating embankments that keep the water away. The cutting edge of travel photography is in creating images that few people make, and few people even think about making.
But how do we go in search of such subjects and situations? One of the answers is in relying on local knowledge.
Do have a look at this image of a Bishnoi woman near Jodhpur with her granddaughter. This photograph was made inside her one-room house. How did I get access to her house and how did she permit me to make this photographs? How could I get her to stand in a location with a very interesting light?
Although very amiable people, Bishnoi people are not necessarily always welcoming to strangers with a camera. Unless you have excellent people skills, it is not easy to communicate directly with them and get access to such a photography session. Added to this are the complexities of finding the right Bishnoi Villages where it is possible to find good photography opportunities. Language barriers come into play as well.
The solution to all these problems is to find a local guide who can help you in connecting with the people you are trying to photograph. In photography terms, this person who often performs the tasks of a bridge between the photographer and the people being photographed, is called a fixer. You can hire a professional tour guide to do this job too. Other options are to look for a local person with good relationships in his neighbourhood through references and recommendations. Ask around in your hotel, a local tea-shop or any places where people gather, and it won’t be too long before you can find someone willing. But the most capable people who can help you in your quest of special subjects for photography are professional tour guides (and in some occasions, professional fixers), who understand your requirements better than any other local person.
The above photograph is of a small, beautiful temple not far from the famous monuments of Hampi, seen by very few visitors. Tied to the tree are coconuts wrapped in colourful clothes by people who want to see their wishes fulfilled. It is a charming place with ample photography opportunities, but I wouldn’t know about it, but for a local guide who escorted me here.
Do go for making those special images when you are out travelling with your camera. And the best way to do it is with the help of a knowledgeable local person.