I used to take photos constantly as I travelled. I worked as a travel writer for a big newspaper for most of the first decade of this century, and I was always looking on my travels for a picture that would go with a travel story, that was the right shape for the cover and so on. That habit is hard to break, and sometimes I felt as if the travel was all about getting the shot and not so much about the joy of travel for its own sake.
Before digital cameras took over, my camera gear was heavy to lug round everywhere I went, but worth it to get a good photo. Of course, in those days, I took rolls and rolls of film, and we didn’t know what we had until we arrived home and got it developed.
Today, my old film camera is still sitting at home in its case, though I haven’t used it since 2005. I even did a painting of it, which you can view here.
The only camera I use now is the one on my iPhone. It’s good enough for memories of where I’ve been. The other thing I use it for is to take reference photos for my artwork.
A couple of weeks ago, during my three-week trip to the US and Canada, I travelled on the Rocky Mountaineer train on a magnificent two-day journey from Vancouver to Banff.
I had brought along my Winsor & Newton miniature water colour set:
As we travelled along, I completed a small landscape painting of the scenery (you can see the result at the start of this post).
To do this, I took a number of photos with my phone, chose one, then propped it up on the tray table as a reference. As I was painting, we were of course still going past the scenery, which allowed me to really contemplate what I was seeing—the real colours, forms and majesty.
“En plein air” is a term artists use to mean painting a scene outside at its location, rather than working later from photos or sketches. I always admire those artists you see outdoors, easels set up, braving the elements and not too shy to let onlookers pause to watch them work.
While my train trip painting isn’t quite “en plein air”, just being surrounded by the sort of scenery I was painting, being able to see the exact colour of the mountains through the big picture windows of the train, was a different experience altogether than painting at home at the dining table, perhaps on a dreary winter’s night, from illuminated vacation snaps.
However, that is what I’ll be reduced to now that I’m home. No doubt some of these photos taken on the journey will provide inspiration for a painting or two: