The Art of Stopping

Below my feet the ground flies. Eighty kilometers per hour down the narrow two-lane road tracking a b-line 10,000 feet above the steep and continuous valley floor. The sun is about 15-20 degrees off the horizon and the celestial light illuminates the Andean mountainside. After turning a corner, the valley floor opens up. 

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Variations of this scene occurred every day during my three-month travel from Huánuco, Peru to Mendoza, Argentina. I documented the journey via blog and photography at www.jamesduncanphotography.com and on my instagram.

Everyone who embarks on a journey with a camera in hand will capture the experience differently. The scenes I photograph throughout the trip serve as an expression of the moments I am most interested in remembering. They describe me trying my best to document something that fills me.

I had many skills to hone in the beginning of the journey. Strap the luggage. Keep the camera safe and accessible. Learn how to ride the machine. Learn when and where to shoot the scene I want. This was the trickiest thing to decide. Some days I pulled over 10 times to express my excitement of the landscape and people around me. Other days, I never took my camera out. Below are a couple thoughts to guide folks interested in documenting experiences and trips through travel photography.

DISCLAIMER: Many of these thoughts may be obvious.

Efficiency.

 Every stop takes time and lengthens the journey ahead. Being mindful about setting consistent systems to streamline the photo taking means the difference between arriving to your destination or getting caught on the mountain road in the dark. If your systems are good, it also means you will be able to stop 10 times for 5 minutes instead of 5 times for 10 minutes.

 Being on the road after dark is not always a bad thing… the Milky Way on the way to Tacna, Peru.

Being on the road after dark is not always a bad thing… the Milky Way on the way to Tacna, Peru.

Good light means great photos.

If you are going to capture something, being aware of light will help ensure its quality. Early and late day provide the most color and detail. In a midday stop, the harsh light often creates areas of overexposure and underexposure, eliminating many subtle details. 

   
  
 
  
    
  
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    Morning on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

Morning on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

   
  
 
  
    
  
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    Midafternoon sun at hot springs in the Eduardo Abaroa Andean National Reserve, Bolivia. 

Midafternoon sun at hot springs in the Eduardo Abaroa Andean National Reserve, Bolivia. 

   
  
 
  
    
  
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    Sunset outside of Arequipa, Peru.

Sunset outside of Arequipa, Peru.

Seize unexpected opportunities.

Sometimes, I pulled over to ask for directions and interacted with a person I needed to take a picture of. Other times I would be running late and stumble upon a beautiful market with foreign fruits and vibrant colors. Being aware of the worth and rarity of a particular moment and situation rather than being focused on the end destination contributes significantly to the meaning and worth of the photos.

   
  
 
  
    
  
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  I have never been to a more vibrant market than in Ayacucho, Peru.

I have never been to a more vibrant market than in Ayacucho, Peru.

   
  
 
  
    
  
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    I asked this couple for directions above the Colca Canyon in Peru. They gladly posed for a photo after we spoke.

I asked this couple for directions above the Colca Canyon in Peru. They gladly posed for a photo after we spoke.

Can you stop too much?

You may lose your travel buddies, you never make it to your destination, you may have too many shots to edit later… There will be days of both excess, and days of longing to shoot more. Whatever you end up with describes the way you document experiences and interact with the world. Ultimately, there is no “too much” or “not enough”.

Developing a portfolio from traveling alone gives the photographer freedom to interact untethered, without influence or pressure from anyone but themselves. Everyone is the master of his or her own technique.

If you would like to learn more about my trip, or have any questions about traveling solo, please reach out!

 

Sincerely, James

Travel tipsJames Duncan