At X-Peditions, our original curriculum was based on our experience as journalists. But with each successive trip, we’ve observed our travelers to better understand how they learn. We also have gathered feedback after every trip to learn how to better tailor the experience.
Our current approach is to front-load much of our education during the months leading up to the trip. This way you can arrive in country well-prepared, both as a traveler and as a photographer.
Our educational approach centers on four areas:
Why are you going to Vietnam to make photos? What is your end goal?
For a photojournalist, the photo assignment and story brief would create that framework. But since you aren’t on assignment, you’ll need to build that internal structure for yourself.
Are you just going to walk around for a week as a street photographer and shoot whatever pops in front of you?
Or is your goal to get a trophy photo to hang on your wall to impress your friends and remind yourself of your trip?
Perhaps there are specific aspects about Vietnam and its culture that you want to explore with your camera?
Or are you more experiential, looking to have an immersive week and bring back photos that will help to cement those memories?
Each of these examples would represent a different approach to your trip. Each of these also would point to a different gear set, and a different strategy. And each would point you in a different direction in your pre-trip research.
Once you understand the why, your list of potential subjects starts to emerge. And with that, you can begin your research.
We’ll show you how to locate people in your subject areas, and then reach out to establish contact before your trip. This is an invaluable part of the process for any photographer who wants to arrive in a new country with momentum already on their side.
Good luck is always welcome, but never count on it. Want to get lucky more often? Great photographers often appear to have more than their share of good luck. The reality is, they have a well-stocked bag of tricks to help stack the odds in their favor.
Solid research and pre-trip communication will benefit you throughout the entire trip.
Amateurs look at an amazing photo and think, “I totally coulda made that photo if I was there.”
Pros look at the same photo and think, “OMG, how did she get in that room?”
Interpersonal skills are what get you in the room.
For some people, this is the hardest part. But building those muscles will absolutely raise your batting average.
Are you constantly making eye contact as you walk down the street? Are you wearing an expression that says friendly, curious and approachable? Are you nodding hello? Are you stopping to chat with people?
Did you make a note of the name of the lady at the tribal antique shop today? Because that will help you to remember it tomorrow, when you stop in to chat again at midday, when the light is bad outdoors.
It’s the conversations and the human touch points that open up the experiences and set the stage for a nice portrait. Or better yet, getting an impromptu invitation to a nearby mountain village to be a guest at a traditional wedding. (Actual example.)
You have to be willing to risk rejection in order to create great opportunities. But the risk is totally worth it.
Lens choice. Exposure. Light balance. Composition. Timing.
These are the normal things we think about when we think of photography. It’s also what’s left after the compass point, research and interpersonal skills get you in the room.
How do you make your camera record a scene the way your eye saw it? That’s subjective, and generally not something to be left to the vagaries of auto white balance.
How are you going to frame your photo? Tweaking the four variables of your composition, especially in a fluid scene, is a real-time interaction. It can feel almost like you are dancing with your subject.
But the first time you pull together a photo with two or three layers, in nice light, timed to a nice moment … it’s sooo satisfying.Our overriding strategy, at all times: a good photographer is always doing whatever s/he can do in order to build a huge sail to catch as much good luck as humanly possible.