As creative professionals, I believe it is imperative to our development to wipe our palette of the routine of our day to day work lives, get outside our comfort zones, unplug, and open ourselves to be influenced and inspired by something, someone and somewhere new. And this years China trip lived up to all of my expectations.
Every couple of years I try to take a photographic vacation that is designed to help me completely disconnect from my work, daily routines and addiction to technology. To push me outside of my comfort zone while still exercising my creative muscles.
When researching and planning my 2018 trip, I discovered a China expedition that boasted some very unique and ancient locations, far from the big cities and I was intrigued. One of my primary goals with these trips is to get outside my comfort zone. And China would definitely check that box, so I booked a 2-week trip without knowing any of the other travelers, without understanding the language and knowing I would struggle to find food that I was comfortable with given how picky I can be.
This trip was everything my Cuba trip was…and more. I met up with 9 other photographers from around the world, Australia, Thailand, Spain and Britain and set out across remote China for 14 days to photograph locals that were still living and practicing the customs that were past down from their ancestors’ hundreds of years ago. To say this was unlike anything I have experienced before would be an understatement. The culture, the food, the communities, the landscapes and the living conditions were all unlike anything I could have imagined.
If you’ve read my Cuba recap, you are familiar with the concept I have adopted of “going out empty” when I’m shooting street photography. This trip I took the same approach and the results were so drastically different from my Cuba trip, or any other photo trip for that matter.
My typical approach to my sports photography is “tighter is better,” and I’m always shooting with a super shallow depth of field so I can keep the focus on my subjects. In Cuba, I shot in a very similar manner primarily using my 70-200mm and almost exclusively shooting at f2.8. However, in China, our tour guide pushed me to shoot much broader and closer to my subjects. I was hesitant. I knew that I wanted to come back with strong and engaging photos, so was this the time to completely change my shooting style and risk being disappointed with the results of my trip? It took me a few days to warm up to the idea, but I committed to shooting wider, getting closer and keeping the entire scene in focus. I wanted to capture the details of the environment to provide context to my subjects surroundings. I also worked in many extremely low light conditions, also unlike anything I typically photograph.
As a result I returned with some of the most dramatic and moody images in my library but I also have a revived outlook on how to approach storytelling through atmospheric portraits and a renewed sense of creativity.
I’ve come back energized, fulfilled and reinspired to challenge myself professionally and personally and it was a great reminder to pull the trigger on a few new personal projects because we don’t need to always travel across the world to try something new and live beyond the familiar places.