Adventures in Travel Photography in the Digital Age*

Jeff Pflueger: Introducing a new column for travel photographers of all levels

10.19.09 | 2:10 PM ET

Look closePhoto by Jeff Pflueger

When I snagged my first big photo assignment with a major magazine, National Geographic Adventure, I traveled to a remote mountain range called the Arrigetch Peaks north of the Arctic circle in Alaska.

It was the most remote I had ever been. Just getting there required a flight to Fairbanks, 250 miles of dirt road, a rattling bush flight in an overloaded prop plane for another couple of hundred miles, and then two long days of trail-less hiking. If anyone on our team got seriously hurt or sick, our best hope was to radio a passing plane with the VHF. A plane happened to fly overhead once every few days.

For the next 18 days we climbed unclimbed mountains and ridges, blissfully tramped across the tundra and glaciers, wandered between sweeping ridges of granite, and watched in awe as the northern lights rippled across the night sky. I was photographing the adventure of a lifetime.

At least I was hoping that I was.

See, I dropped one of my cameras three feet onto rock while changing a lens on the first day of the trip. As a backup I had an untested borrowed camera. Nearly sick with anxiety, I did the only thing I could do and threw the whole project to fate, splitting the assignment between the two cameras.

Once home, all of my future aspirations as a photographer were contained in several sweaty ziplock bags of film. In my mind I could clearly see each of the exposures on the 100 rolls within those bags. But an unknown crack in the camera could have leaked light. A shutter could easily be broken.

With an odd mix of dread and excitement for a future out of my hands—a feeling I learned to embrace shooting film—I carefully packaged the neatly numbered rolls and sent them off via FedEx to be developed in National Geographic’s photo lab.

Months later the editor emailed the final layout. I had nailed the opening double truck spread. The expedition had been a success. We had climbed new spectacular routes. I met my future wife on the expedition, and I’ve had the great fortune to continue to shoot for the magazine as well as other big magazines and newspapers since that assignment.

That was a mere eight years ago, Photography has changed radically since then. My filing cabinets have been replaced with hard drives. My light boxes exchanged for monitors and software. Metadata now provides us with loads of hidden information we could never before keep track of, including even GPS coordinates.

Travel photography has become less uncertain, and it has become a much more technical adventure than it has ever been.

In the coming months, I’ll be writing on World Hum about travel photography in the digital age. I’ll discuss the new opportunities, techniques, debates and issues that we face today as photographers in this rapidly shrinking world. And I’ll tell some travel stories along the way.

Film still holds a special place in this digital world. To me, film represents some of the adventure all travelers thrive on. The pungent smell of a roll of fresh film out of its canister still brings that knot of anxiety and excitement to my stomach.

To share some of that excitement, I am giving a film camera and some of my film away, and making an uncertain adventure out of it worthy of film. If you want to know where it is, you are going to need to dig deep into those technical and creative skills required of today’s photographers. And you’ll need to read between the letters and bytes in this piece.

Please be sure to share any of the adventures you have seeking it out in the comments below.

* Update, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 4 p.m.: The camera has been found! Details coming soon.

Jeff Pflueger

Jeff Pflueger is a San Francisco Bay Area based photographer and web geek. His adventure travel photographs involving all kinds of outdoor lunacy have been published in National Geographic Adventure, the New York Times, Men's Journal, Sunset and other publications.

17 Comments for Adventures in Travel Photography in the Digital Age*

Megan Hill 10.19.09 | 3:13 PM ET

can’t wait to read this column! very cool!

Mike Goldstein 10.19.09 | 3:48 PM ET

You’re giving your camera away?  What an angel!

Jeff Pflueger 10.19.09 | 4:06 PM ET

Not really *giving* a camera away….you’ll have to find it!

Joel Carillet 10.19.09 | 4:29 PM ET

Definitely looking forward to your column in the months ahead, Jeff.

David Yusem 10.19.09 | 4:37 PM ET

Can’t wait to read your forthcoming articles.  How about a hint on the whereabouts of the treasure :-)

Mike Goldstein 10.19.09 | 4:40 PM ET

It would have been a lot more helpful if you’d hidden it in the Seattle area.

Mike Goldstein 10.19.09 | 5:00 PM ET

Sorry, that wasn’t meant to sound as grouchy as it came out :)

Are you sure the camera is still where you hid it?

Gio Giordano 10.19.09 | 5:13 PM ET

Looking forward to your column.

Lee Schneider 10.19.09 | 6:32 PM ET

Nice work, Jeff.  Looking forward to more.  - Lee

Joel 10.19.09 | 8:21 PM ET

Couldn’t hide it near Chicago?

Chris 10.19.09 | 10:10 PM ET

Looks like it’s time to head to San Francisco. :-)

Arun 10.20.09 | 1:26 AM ET

Very excited to see something about photography coming up in worldhum. Can’t wait; it is just the kind of thing I can do with. 10.21.09 | 11:18 AM ET

Looking forward to reading your articles about “travel photography in the digital age.”  Many travel writers are also amateur photographers.  After all, publications do require photos to be submitted along with travel writing articles.

Cynthia 10.21.09 | 1:14 PM ET

Aw man, I figured it out. But I am no where near there. And I desperately need a good camera. But thanks for doing this—great idea!

Nancy D. Brown 10.21.09 | 3:02 PM ET

Welcome to World Hum, Jeff. As a print and online journalist, I’m excited by your enthusiasm for all things related to travel photography.

I heard you speak at the Travel Writers and Photographers Conference at Book Passage in Corte Madera, California in 2007 and 2008.

Your energy is contagious!

Jeff Pflueger 10.21.09 | 5:34 PM ET

I just got a call from the person that found the hidden camera! He just called from the spot where it was hidden—and said that he couldn’t talk long because he had to race back to get the ferry.

Congrats, Dan! Check out Dan’s website:

DanFig 10.23.09 | 8:07 PM ET

I would like to thank Jeff for helping to keep the spirit of adventure alive.

I highly recommend visiting angel island just catch a early ferry and donít miss the last ferry at 3:25pm!

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