Photography Travel Tips with Trupal Pandya
by Alan Winslow – May 10th, 2018
Award-winning documentary photographer Trupal Pandya, sits down and shares his photography travel tips. He shares his secrets on planning and executing field work while documenting rarely seen communities around the world.
My name is Trupal Pandya, and I am a documentary photographer with a bachelor’s degree in photography from the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York. I document rarely seen communities, explore their local practices and show, through my images, how people around the world live. My portfolio includes photos of the tribes of Omo Valley in Ethiopia, Huaorani people of the Amazon Rainforest, Headhunters, Brokpas, Aghoris, Eunuchs and shepherds of India.
I am currently in India working. I just finished documenting the Bonda tribe in the hills of Malkangiri, the Odisha’s in the eastern part of India and a few tribes in Rajasthan. In any given year I am in the field for four months spending the rest of my time researching and planning.
Today I am going to share some tips for planning and executing trips like mine.
The first question one must ask is what does the project demand? What cameras and lens am I going to take? There’s never a simple answer to this but bring only the things you need. Try to keep your gear in two bags one for your equipment and other for your clothes.
My typical packing list includes:
24mm-70mm f/2.8 Lens
50mm f/1.4 Lens
2 X Profoto B1
Softboxes, Umbrellas, and Grids
Color and Management
It’s essential to calibrate your monitor before you leave for the trip. I use an X-rite ColorMunki (Which has been replaced by the i1Studio) and an Xrite ColorChecker Passport Photo (it’s crucial you photograph this at the beginning of every shoot).
Western Digital hard drives (always have backups)
Plastic bags to protect your gear
Camping gear if required
Preparation is key!
A great deal of pre-planning goes into these trips. Before you hit the ground, you need to know exactly what you are setting out to document/create.
Doing as much research as possible is crucial. Try reading as many blogs, news articles and content you can. Look at things you want to photograph and make a note. Try searching for other photographs who have worked in the same area and email them with a list of questions. Through research, you’ll find more interesting stories.
I dedicate a wall in my house for a particular project. I print maps, photos and plan it out a month or two before leaving.
It’s imperative to find the right person who will be your translator and help you achieve your objectives. This person can make or break your trip. You need someone who understands what you are there to do so communicate with them before hitting the ground.
Once you hit the ground
I make an effort to be accepted and slowly assimilate into my subjects way of life. For the few days, I don’t photograph. Instead, I wait until they accept and understand why am I there. Sometimes, this means I live with them in their houses, sleep where they sleep, eat what they eat and talk. I share my work from other parts of the world, so everyone understands what I am doing. It’s about making a connection. It’s crucial to me that everyone feels comfortable and lets their guard down before I start photographing.
I also carry a Polaroid camera so I can share photos. If your intentions are right, people can sense it. I am also a big believer in the universal language where one doesn’t need words to communicate.
Be authentic and sensitive.
Make a connection
Get closer and keep your zoom aside but don’t be pushy.
Don’t look at people as different or exotic, look for what unites you. I can’t stress this enough. It’s essential to be sensitive and do this for the right reason.
Keep a journal
It’s always a good idea to write down names, places, events, and emotions. It adds a lot of value to your project.
Always, be considerate of what you wear. Especially when you go to places like temples, religious sites, and villages.
Meet the Elders
A lot of the communities I’ve photographed have a respected elder who is an important and an influential person. It’s very important to meet them, talk to them and make them understand what are you there to do.
Ask for Permission to photograph
Imagine how you’d feel if someone walked into your house randomly and started photographing you.
Trust your instincts
Most people are kind and accepting. But, even if it feels safe, don’t let your guard down. Be smart.
Try and do something for the community.
It’s the most important part!
I find it more important, now more than ever, to spread awareness of these precious tribes. I believe that [humans are] meant to live on the earth, joyous and free, in harmony with [their] surroundings.
These are qualities I’ve seen in the Konyak, the Huaorani, and the people of the Omo Valley. These tribes have a peace of mind and heart that people in industrial societies are longing for. It is ironic that the cycles of civilization have us forever coveting the lives of others. The people of the Western World, after centuries-long reliance on technology, are now beginning to look toward nature. Herbal medicines, organic, sustainable farming and even wild foraging, are coming into vogue in major cities. Meanwhile, for these tribes there are repercussions of invading philosophies, removing from the “primitive” people their methods and magic, and their sacred ways have now been replaced with antibiotics and accusations of ineffectiveness and unsophistication. When the day comes that the developing nations find that modern is not always better, will the knowledge still be there when they return to seek it?
I don’t know if it will, so it is with great care that I do my best to fulfill this inherent feeling of duty, this calling, that through my photography I may lend a voice to those who can’t always speak loud enough for others to listen.
Thank you Trupal for taking the time to share your tips! Feel free to leave any questions or comments for Trupal below. To see more of Trupal’s work you can follow him here: