Five Errors of an Amateur Travel Photographer By Harry Fisch

Mursis on the road to Key AFter. Ethiopia

Five Errors of an Amateur Travel Photographer

By Harry Fisch


1. Never Separating from the Group

Novice and umbrella, Bagan
In summary, in order to get a good shot that really transmits something, it is necessary to create a certain atmosphere of comfort, and this is rather hard to do in a collective session where the subject is overwhelmed by many cameras. Often times, one on one is the way to go, and this means taking time off from the larger group.

I understand that for someone who is professionally dedicated to organizing photo tours this sounds like strange advice, but I organize tours with maybe eight or ten people so it doesn’t mean they always have to work with the big group every minute of the day.

The only way to reach a certain level of confidence with a stranger is to establish a personal relationship with them, and this is certainly difficult when the subject is faced with six photographers all firing their cameras at them at once.

On occasion the photographers that come with me complain about the way a stranger they have found on the street is posed. What I normally do in these cases is ask my accompanying photographer to stay still and watch me, and then I aim the camera at him and start a photo session with the group. In the majority of cases the result is an uncomfortable and disconcerting experience. And we have done it with someone who we know and work with habitually. Now we only have to imagine what an Indian, a Burmese person, a Cuban feels when suddenly approached by eight people firing off cameras at them.
2. Taking Too Many (or Too Few) Photographs

Mursis on the road to Key AFter. Ethiopia
This one actually has various schools of thought. On one hand, as many people say less is more, and fewer good shots are better than a slew of bad ones, but also we must consider that

The worst thing that can happen to you is to arrive in some far away place, shoot, return home six thounsand miles later only to find that you missed taking photos of one thing or another.

It is possible to unite the two theories; take sufficient photographs so as to assure yourself a variety and, at the same time, take special care with a series of your photos so there is a more elite selection for certain scenes. I do confess that sometimes I don’t take enough photos and then when I find myself sharing with other photographers who were at the same scene, I realize I hadn’t taken all the shots that I should have.

The style and goal of the photography also denotes the attitude that the photographer must have; a photographer who is taking pictures on vacation isn’t the same as an artist photographer, or a travel photographer who is doing a photo series or a report and cannot return without covering certain predetermined subjects or scenes.
3. Not Sufficiently Analyzing the Light

Baeber Havana

There are photographers who specialize in composition, or color, rhythm, or movement. And there are those that specialize in light. Few achieve uniting all of these possibilities at once. What I always see among photographers is that they do not often take enough time to understand the ‘disposition’ we shall say, of the light in their scene, and sacrifice if necessary, some immediate shots in favor of looking for other angles or other moments.

My recommendation is clear, before shooting, recognize the scene and above all, analyze the light.
a)The origin (direction it is coming from),
b) its quality (is it diffused, hard, warm, cold),
c) the contrast between shadow and light, and movement prediction (where is the light moving to, and will anything get in the way? How will any changes affect the subject which is illuminated?)

We can see a quantity of flat photographs in which the photographer became nervous and didn’t take the necessary time to see how light was going to affect his or her set up.
4. Not Considering the post processing of the Image

The girl in Havana

I recognize that I have a special sensibility in this particular area. It has been a couple of years since I won first place for the global National Geographic Photography Competition (under category ‘places’), and I was then disqualified for taking out one of the seventy three bags of trash that were extant on the scene. It was much more visible than the others, and so I erased it.

There are purists in every discipline, photography is no exception. There are those who maintain that any form of manipulation of the photograph is a capital sin and the only good photography is that which comes directly from the scene to the camera.

Since photography has existed, photographers have always done more than simply develop film, they have processed the images, darkening them, lightening them, developing them in parts, adding and subtracting from them. There is a difference between interpreting reality and manipulation of the photograph in order to confuse or cheat the observer.

For the documentary photographer this is more complicated still, for what is most important is reflecting the environment and what is going on in front of the camera to the best extent possible. The photographer whose objective is to reach a more artistic representation – such as my case – has more liberty.

Without giving more importance to this than the photograph itself…

An intelligent post processing can change a good photo into an excellent photo, but what it will never do is turn a bad photo into a work of art.

5. Paralysis by Analysis

Varanasi, the boat and the man.

In financial theory this is a syndrome that is often discussed. It is the incapacity to make decisions because the person who is doing the analyzing becomes so mired in their analysis, overthinking everything, that they can’t move forward.

In photography, like in almost all aspects of life, it is better to do something than to not do anything.

And in photography, being capable of analyzing what you have made is an important aspect of learning; much more so, keeping in mind that the actual camera is what permits us to get an almost immediate result in our hands.

It is one thing to analyze what style you want to use with your photography, another very distinct thing is overanalyzing to the point where you lose the shot. There are many photographers, especially street photographers, that believe firmly in luck and don’t make mistakes. If you take enough photos but you also have criteria set for when the time comes to make your selection from what you’ve got, without a doubt you’ll get some good results.

Oddly enough this last paragraph seems to contradict the first point in the series of photographic tips (don’t confuse your camera with a machine gun), but like with everything, there must be moderation and balance. With how many photos you take, how much time you take to set up your shots, to analyze them. And sometimes you just need to go with the flow; photography is an art and an unpredictable one, which is not only what separates it from pure technique, but adds that little bit of magic that we are always striving to capture.

Harry Fisch.

“Photography is only an excuse to venture out into the world of the other. And sometimes, trying to become that other, if only for a little while.”
Harry Fisch, travel photographer, has operated photo tours in more than 50 countries. He was selected as a finalist for the 2013 Sony World Photo Awards out of 46,000 participants in over 140 countries, and winner of the 2012 National Geographic Photography Word Competition (later disqualified after editing out a plastic bag) under the category of ‘places’, and finalist in 2012 by Photoespaña – possibly the most prestigious Spanish photography event – under the category of ‘Descubrimientos’.
He publishes regularly not only photographs but also articles in both national and international magazines. He organizes photography tours to exotic destinations with his company Nomad Photo Expeditions.


  1. Great tips, Harry! I totally agree with #5, I think that when it comes to photography, and especially the travel niche, the process should be natural. I would also add that one of the biggest mistakes a beginner can make is to shoot popular landmarks, rather than finding their voice through original ideas and places. Google Earth is a great tool to find amazing locations.

  2. Great pics but you forgot the most important tip….don’t take too much gear! I remember when I travelled to Bali and lugged around 30lbs of Canon DSLR gear for 3 weeks. Never again! Whether you shoot DSLR or mirrorless just pick one lens, two at the most and leave the rest in your room. or better yet leave it at home.

    • Absolutely. I travel with a Pen F and two lenses, the 75mm and 17mm although I have two Leica’s.

  3. Super images and some excellent insights in this article.
    I have limited travel experience but my pet hate is when people from the first world take a consumerist attitude to people of the third world.
    They are insensitive to the tenuous and stressful lives lived by their photographic subjects.
    Some respect and deference will normally elicit a good response and a great image as well.
    Humanity will show up in your photos and will make them great.

    Best Wishes

  4. Interesting article. And interesting bit about you plastic bag disqualification, which seems especially grating when one reads about McCurry’s setting up Nat Geo shots at the train station in India.

  5. Wise reflections on behaviour and technique we would all do well to consider – as for myself I hate the way some people from First World countries seem to simply adopt a consumerist attitude. This applies even to the fragile sensitivities of those from the less well off places they visit.
    Better to take no photos at all than to impose yourself on people whose lives are tenuous and stressful even at the best of times. There is nothing quaint about poverty and deprivation.However a show on kindness and respect is guaranteed to elicit a positive response and with a bit of luck a great image.

  6. Hi, great photographs.
    From all the errors that one of taking too many or too few photographs brought me to this short reflexion that maybe you agree with:
    Perhaps if being commissioned you need covering this or that other, but probably the point is not about how many but rather about how good. That’s to say, don’t worry if more or less, just make them good.

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