Travel photography often throws you into situations where meticulous planning and scouting are not feasible. This black and white photo, taken on a beach in Labason, Philippines, exemplifies the spontaneity required in such scenarios. The image features a dead mangrove tree against the backdrop of the open ocean, with live trees framing the scene on either side. It was captured on a whim, thanks to our host’s impromptu decision to visit this location.

Being a last minute addition to the trip, I did not have time to use my usual tools like Google Street View or the Photographer’s Ephemeris to plan the shot. As soon as I walked onto the beach, I was struck by the potential of the scene. The stark contrast between the dead and living trees, combined with the open ocean in the background, had all the elements of a compelling composition. However, we were there at midday, with the sun bright and harsh, and I had limited time to find the perfect angle.

As a travel photographer, flexibility is crucial. You must constantly look through the camera’s viewfinder, if not literally then metaphorically, seeking the best composition and snapping pix as you go. Sometimes, what doesn’t seem like the perfect shot in the moment can turn out to be a hidden gem when you review and edit your photos later.

This opportunity was no exception. I kept moving along the beach, analyzing the scene and triangulating where I thought the best location would be to get the shot.

Shot that did not make the cut.

I took several photos from different angles which didn’t quite capture the essence I was looking for. As I moved and adjusted, I quickly found the spot from which to shoot. I then spent a few seconds fine-tuning the composition, aligning the elements to create a balanced and engaging image.

The final shot (at the top of this post), with its interplay of the sky’s negative space, the water’s reflections, the surrounding trees in silhouette and of course the focal point of the fallen dead tree, encapsulates the scene’s natural beauty and my love of contrasting subjects.

One of my favorite photographer’s, Steve McCurry once said,

That’s really the big challenge—finding the right picture and trying to craft the picture out of a situation which is fluid and in motion, and grab that moment. All these elements swirl around in your brain. It’s an instinct. You’re not really thinking. It’s more from your heart” [1].

This resonates with the experience I had on that beach in the Philippines. Luck favors the prepared, but being prepared goes beyond location scouting. It also means understanding your own composition process and being ready to adapt and capture the unexpected moments that come your way in order to express your creative spirit.

[1] Source: Go Behind the Lens with Steve McCurry, Rubin Museum of Art.