3 of My Favorite Photos and the Stories Behind Them

By Ralph Velasco

This post is part of a series I’m creating where I’ll feature some of my favorite photos and the stories behind them.

This series will feature images from an eBook I wrote a while back called Essence of a Place: A Photographer’s Guide to Using a Shot List for Capturing Any Destination.  It’s one of my favorite books that I’ve written as it explores a behind-the-scenes look at a variety of images I’d made up till that point, each one representing one of 30 different categories of a shot list.

The Essence eBook, in turn, is based on the app I created called My Shot Lists for Travel, which is still available on the app store for download to iOS devices such as iPad and iPhone.

For those who don’t have iOS devices you might like to pick up one of my other eBooks titles 52 Categories of a Shot List: Create Images that Tell a Story which lists each and every photo in the app, plus an explanation of each category.

Farm worker showing grapes at Casa Madero Winery in Parras de la Fuente, Coahuila, México by Ralph Velasco
Man showing grapes at Casa Madero Winery in Parras de la Fuente, Coahuila, México.

Agriculture Category of a Shot List

This image was made while I was on assignment to shoot the travel and cultural images for a cookbook on the regional cuisine of México. During this 35-day assignment I photographed over 40 locations throughout the country (9 of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites), stayed at 15 different hotels, and took 13 intra- México flights, plus countless trains, buses and automobiles, so you can imagine that I was really moving around.

I always make an effort to get out early, and not just because of the great light, but also to beat the heat, get ahead of any tourist crowds and traffic, to avoid bugs, and various other reasons (I’ll certainly be creating a future blog post about this).

This particular morning, as the field hands were harvesting grapes at Casa Madero (est. 1597), renowned as the oldest winery in all of the Americas, I made a series of candid shots of this man working very diligently, but then I asked him if he’d mind showing me some of the luscious, dark purple grapes he was picking, and he was more than happy to oblige.

This version ended up being my favorite of the lot because to me it really conveys the relationship between the man, his harvest and the land to which he was gingerly tending.

Tobacco Drying House in Viñales, Cuba by Ralph Velasco
Tobacco drying house in Viñales, Pinar del Rio, Cuba.

Architecture Category of a Shot List

To represent the Architecture category you might not have expected me to highlight this image of my friend Benito Camejo’s tobacco drying and store house in Viñales, Pinar del Rio, Cuba, but maybe to have gone for something a bit more traditional.

However, this style of building is something very distinct to the western part of Cuba, so I’m going to want to make sure it’s high on my shot list as it’s unusual and not that many people have had the experience of actually seeing this type of building, let alone getting inside one.

Ironically, what first attracted me to this scene was not the building itself, but the big, puffy clouds seen in the background, which wonderfully framed and offset the structure itself.  Perhaps this isn’t a surprise as I’m a huge sucker for great clouds and speak about that often.

I realize I’ve broken the Rule of Thirds by placing the building very much in the center of the frame, but there were some distracting elements just outside of the frame that I was trying to avoid. Remember, it’s just as important what you exclude from the four sides of the frame as what you include within them.

Converted, this image also looks great in black and white, which I think gives it a very different look and adds a touch of drama to the scene. I encourage you to convert select images within your portfolio to monochrome as this can add variety to the story you’re trying to tell.

"As photographers we work in small rectangles."

Woman in blue sari sweeping at Amer Fort in Jaipur, India by Ralph Velasco
Woman in blue sari sweeping at Amer Fort in Jaipur, India.

Color Category of a Shot List

It was fortunate to have stumbled upon the opportunity to photograph this woman sweeping the grounds at the Amer (a.k.a. Amber) Fort, just outside of Jaipur, India, which is also known as the “Pink City” because of the distinctive color of the stone used in construction there. This image is as much about the color of the foreground columns behind the woman as it is about the bright blue of her traditional sari.

Needless to say I was immediately attracted to the color of the woman’s outfit, especially in contrast to the more muted background. It really pops off the page and is very impactful.

Depending on the environment, travel photography can be a very quick-moving pursuit. However, time permitting I will often wait for my subject to be positioned against a clear and non-competing background, or I’ll move around the scene to try to make this happen as the background will change in relation to my subject as I move around. But sometimes I just get lucky, as I did in this case. As you can imagine there wasn’t a lot of time to set up this shot, but just as I pulled the trigger the woman gave me an interesting look at the exact moment she was situated against the fairly simple background of the pink column.

I often suggest capturing the candid moments first, as I did in this case. Later the woman was more than happy to strike a simple pose for me when asked, which I’ll write about in a future post. It’s typically very difficult to get a candid shot after a posed shot.

Essence of a Place eBook by Ralph Velasco
Download my Essence of a Place eBook by clicking above.

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Are you working from a shot list when you travel?  Even a homemade one?

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You can even choose to be there in person should you like to join me on a future tour.  Simply visit my PhotoEnrichment Adventures or Alla Campagna Experiences websites.

Finally, don’t forget to tell us in the comments below what your thoughts are, and be sure to let me know what else it is you’d like to learn more about.


Now remember, DRIFTERS,

life’s too short not to travel!

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