The problem is, it takes time and practice to get the location scouting and having the right gear for the job. No matter where you are in life, the photos will usually be better the second time you go to a place. Which really sucks for the places that you only go to once in your life.
My Japan photography has really benefitted from my ability to go to places that most photographers see as once-in-a-lifetime trips, when for me, they’re a quick train ride away.
When I’m zipping through my photo catalog, one of the sections that always makes me a bit sad is my photos of India. I feel super lucky that I was able to go to India, and I’m glad I took the chance to go when I did. But it was a long time ago, and I didn’t have the time, practice, or gear that I do now. And now that I’ve gone once, I’ve scouted at least some of the locations. The sub-continent is rather large, so I haven’t really gotten to all of it.
The Taj Mahal… is one of those places with a really high bar, and even that high bar of photography doesn’t do the building justice. The building really is spectacular. It’s the obvious thing to see in India, but sometimes the thing to do is really the thing to do. Photographing it, however, is going to be hard. Weather, season, how upkept the garden is… how many tourists there are… all the standard variables of landscape photography. And I still want to go try again.
I don’t ever want to go back to Varanasi again. But kinda I want to go back. The winding side streets and tunnels of the city are fasciating, as is the fact that the city exists because and around the Ganges river. The river dominates the city life. I want to go back and try to peel back the city and see what is there. And, at the same time, I got so sick of the people there trying to scam me that I never want to go back to that city ever again.
With Rishikesh and Haridwar, I’m torn. They’re tourist towns, for sure, but the mountains are beautiful, and I am always drawn to mountains. But perhaps I should just go to Nepal and see the roof of the world. But going to Haridwar and Varanasi… I didn’t do my location scouting, my research. I will forever look at those cities as mistakes that I made, chances for photography that I missed because I didn’t prepare. Well, unless, of course, I do get to go back there. Then hopefully I do it proper.
Khajuraho was fascinating. It’s a tiny town with some crazy old temples. And I mean the crazy. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that sex has been important to humans since before we were humans. And if I do… then your school-era biology teachers would like to have a word with you. But the temples in Khajuraho are quite explicitly decorated, with statuary that leaves very little to assume about what was on the minds of the sculptors.
Also, it had one of the most intimidating-looking banks I have ever seen.
When I look at my photos of India, I get super self-conscious. There’s a strong divide between vacation photography, and the serious, in-depth photography that a photographer can really be proud of.
Because I live in Japan, I see a lot of the bad tourist photography of Japan on the internet. It’s not that the people are bad, but they do the same thing that I did in India… not enough research or preparation, and then shooting all the things, because they are crazy and different. It took me years to shoot through that experience, and start to shoot a more honest, more developed take on Japan.
I don’t think that I’ll ever move to India, and give it the time that I have given to photographing Japan. But I’d like to think that I can give it enough time some day to provide value to other people looking at my photos. Until I get that chance, I’ll have my eyes out, looking at the photography, and doing the research, so that my next trip, I’ll make different mistakes than I did the first time.