On The Road: Wichita Falls, Texas

One of the perks of my ‘day job’ is getting to travel each year on various trips. Misericordia University’s Campus Ministry program does a Habitat for Humanity (among other types of trips) each spring break. I’ve been lucky enough to tag along six of the past seven years.

While my main focus is being a chaperone and helping to do much-needed work, each year I bring my camera(s) along and serve as the group photographer/videographer/documentarian. It get’s a little exhausting juggling it all. Keeping track of student needs, the physical exertion of building a house, doing interviews and grabbing photos when I can.

But it is totally worth it.

I think anyone, budding or advanced, should take the chance to travel with a group and document the experience. As a photographer and videographer, it’s a really great opportunity to sharpen your chops. You’re traveling…so you can’t take all of your equipment. You have to really plan and think “What’s the minimum I need to capture this experience?” We’d all love to pack tripods, lights, mics, lenses, excessive amounts of batteries and other “what if” items. In reality, you can’t. Even if you can afford the baggage fees to bring it all, how are you going to lug it around when shooting/working? Where are you going to store it? Where are you going to set up your expensive 3-point lighting set up on site?

You’re not. One still camera, one video camera, one mic, no tripod, no lights…and go.

You’ll be amazed at how well you can cope with less. And that’s the real lesson, doing more with less. You’re forced to get back to the basics of shooting. Is it well-lit? Is it framed properly? Is it in focus? Does it tell a story? Can we hear them clearly? Pushing yourself is one of the best ways to improve your craft. You’ll have to find ways to shoot steady, gather audio, keep subjects lit and so on with a minimal amount of equipment. What you often find is that you learn to shoot with a new perspective. Realizing that the “easy” way is often boring or clichéd. By having less to work with, you can get back to the things that matter. It’s not that the extra equipment is a bad thing, but we sometimes lose sight of the basics:

 Tell a story that sounds and/or looks good.

It’s fun to step out of your comfort zone now and then. This trip to Wichita Falls, as all trips do, presented many issues. The worst this time around, high winds and dirt. It took a week to clean the video camera and I have a zoom lens that still acts up from random grains of Texas clay. That said, the result was two houses, one started from the ground up, being built. For me, another great set of photos and an award-winning documentary short called “Home Is…” Most of the trips I do are for spring break and serve as a great catalyst for shooting since it gets me out of the doldrums of winter. It’s not always easy to do travel photography, but if you can, go! Take as little as you can and challenge yourself to improve.


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