Wander through the landscape images posted on many Facebook, Instagram and Flickr pages and you’ll see millions of sunsets, clouds, tropical beaches and gorgeous landscapes, all accompanied by gushing comments, “Wow,” “fantastic” “amazing!!” “dope”. Professional travel photographers know that sunsets aren’t always that gorgeous, that the light is not often brilliant and magical, and that not all mountain vistas are “knock your socks off” scenes. With all the eye candy presented online it is easy to get jaded, to see such images as commodities, commercialized, trite and clichéd.
You’ll get a hint of that in the tags people add, especially on Instagram : cloudporn, sunsetporn, as if to confirm that that all the images are faked, dolled up by in Photoshop in an effort to show something that isn’t there.
But that is not the whole story. The essence of photography is the art of seeing, of standing before a subject and discerning its nature, finding what is interesting and unique and then trying to accurately record it for others. This is especially key in travel photography. Two photographers walk into an Asian market; one see orchids, the other sees flies. Which is the truth? For me the greatest potential for photography is the capacity to find what is wonderful in the world, to see beyond the ordinary and mundane elements of life, to the hope and potential and wonder of it all.
So a photo of a sunset is marvelous not because it is a pretty picture, but because when you actually go out there, when you stand on the hill above the clouds, as the golden light reflects all around you, it touches you. The true value of the image is not so much that it looks wondrous, but that it can inspire the viewer to go out themselves and see the sunset, to seek and find their own moments of awe and inspiration, to see the orchids…