When I was offered the chance of a free trip to Istanbul I jumped at it, who wouldn’t?
Becoming a travel/documentary photographer has always been a dream of mine and now I had the opportunity to spend two weeks in “Constantinople”
I’ve travelled to many places but Istanbul had so far eluded me. It’s important to gather knowledge beforehand to give you some idea of what’s there and what’s important. One question to ask yourself is, “What’s been done before?” Thanks to the marvels of the internet it’s easy to find out what others have done.
Ok, I’d filled my head with what others had done and now it’s time for something completely different. Everywhere has been photographed the challenge is to make them your own, to stamp your personality on an image and to show people what you saw and what is important to you.
My personal experience of Magnum photographers has been less than favourable but the following quote has had quite an impact on me.
“For 40 years I have been traveling. I never stay in one country more than three months. Why? Because I was interested in seeing, and if I stay longer I become blind”.
I was only in Istanbul for two weeks and by the end of that time I was already starting to feel a familiarity. I was starting to understand that quote. During my first days there everything was fresh and my eyes struggled to take it all in but if you see the same day after day you just don’t see anymore.
It is a massive city, far too much to see in just two weeks. Language was also an issue, I didn’t have the luxury of a fixer and a guide. A plan is important but for various reasons it’s hard to stick to.
A typical day consisted of:
I took too much equipment! But if I hadn’t for sure I would have needed something I didn’t have. There is a saying that a camera is just a tool which is very true, it is. But light is our medium and we need to be able to control it. That is the measurable difference between a professional photographer and a spotty kid with a smartphone. The smartphone is a very capable tool but it can’t modify light. It can’t craft and shape it. Even iPhones Siri cannot be told, “I want you to underexpose the backgound by 2/3rds of a stop and apply and narrow controlled flash to the face”.
I have learnt a lot from Joe McNally. It’s his use of speedlights; they add that element somehow missing in many images. His ability to mentally visualise a scene and break it down into ambient and flash components is very inspiring.
Generally I carried a wide variety of gear with me, certainly enough to do a mobile studio shot. Did I use it all? Almost, but not at the same time if that makes sense. The downside of gear is that you have to carry it around. My backpack was heavy and after walking around for eight hours you know about it. I did have a few days where I went out light, just with a D700 and a 24–70mm this was due to physical exhaustion from carrying the backpack.