Around this time last year, I took a trip to Poland, where I come from, and along the way, I thought it would be cool to stop by a major European city that I have not yet visited—London. I don’t really plan my trips too carefully and generally prefer to be spontaneous on arrival. So, I made very little research about what to do once I got there. Of course, my main purpose was photography—that goes without saying—so I thought I should be able to find plenty to shoot if I just wander around and lose myself in the city.
I had a vague idea of interesting places that I had heard of previously—places like Baker Street station, the Tate Modern, Liverpool Street, Piccadilly Circus, Soho, and so on. I was sure I could apply the same strategy that I apply in in the city where I live, that is head to a major metro station and then follow my nose in no direction in particular, eventually reaching another metro station, and repeat. I quickly realized that by doing this I was sometimes wasting time wandering back and forth across an area while having a nagging feeling that I was missing cool spots right around every corner.
Out of my Element
Why does it usually work for me? Well, I’ve been shooting in Tokyo for over a decade now, and I think I take for granted how well I know this city. It’s easy to forget my early days of stumbling upon cool hidden nooks only after months of wandering around Tokyo. And of course, it is incredibly fun to explore a city this way—and then to capture that exhilarating feeling of discovery in my photographs. However, the key issue is that it took months or years to get to know my city the way I do now. In London I only have three days.
So, what I came to realize was that what I needed was a London photo tour! Obviously, since I provide the same service for a living I believe in its merits and benefits to our clients. But I seldom find myself on the other end side of the table—lost in a city that is, frankly, somewhat alien to me after all these years. Though I am originally from Europe and raised in the US, I’ve been living for so long in Japan that London simply felt quite… unfamiliar. Of course, I had never been there so that should be the case, but somehow when I travel to other cities around Asia I just kind of know what I want to shoot and how I want to capture it. That was not the case for me in London. In London, I was lost. Not so much geographically—although that too was the case—but more so creatively. And in particular, I felt like I was not using my limited time in London very efficiently.
A London Photo Workshop with EYExplore
I kept thinking—wouldn’t it be nice if EYExplore had a London photography workshop? It just so happened that shortly before my trip we were contacted out of the blue by Adam Isfendiyar, who was interested in running photography workshops in London with us. “What a lucky coincidence! I’m going to be in London in a month or so,” I told Adam over a call a few weeks before my trip.
I wasn’t able to meet with Adam until the last day of my trip, but that turned out to be beneficial because it allowed me to have this new-found perspective. We spoke a lot about the benefits of photo tours and laid the groundwork for our London photography workshop. It was eye-opening to have spent a few days wandering and floundering on my own in London. The experience gave me a few key insights which I shared with Adam.
What I found from being a stranger in a strange land for a few days…
- Time is precious. I didn’t want to waste my short time in London wandering around places that proved uninteresting. I wanted to make the most of my time photographing in London.
- I found some good spots in the end, but once again, due to the pressure of time, I felt I did not get the most out of these spots. Perhaps, I was there at the wrong time of day. Or perhaps if I waited a bit longer, something interesting would have happened. Or I could have simply worked the scene a bit more, but alas, I felt compelled to move on. Having a coach around to give me some advice on this would have been very helpful.
- I felt I did not go deep enough in a narrative / creative sense. Sometimes I felt like I was taking basic tourist photos. This is not because I can’t make a good frame. I’m pretty confident in my composition skill (although I always feel I can learn and improve, see point #4), but the issue was that sometimes I didn’t know the soul of the areas I was in. Why am I photographing particular places? What is the meaning or significance? Having someone there to give me that background info, could have been interesting.
- Finally, as I allude to in point #3, I like to learn. So, it would have been nice to get someone else’s perspective on their home turf. That way I can diversify my own skills and add new ideas or concepts to my creative toolbox.
A London photo tour or photography workshop would have alleviated a some of these issues for me. At the very least, it would have made a great springboard at the beginning of my trip (which advice I often give to EYExplore clients: book a workshop at the start of your trip, not at the end).
In the end, three days was certainly too short for London, but since that’s all I had, it would have been a good idea on my part to meet up with a friendly photo instructor and get some of his or her tips and ideas. Lesson learned. But at least now, I can say with confidence that the man to see about that at the moment is Adam, who has crafted an excellent photography workshop in London for EYExplore!