Freelance Spain
Better Images from Spain

On assignment in Spain? Here are a few tips from photographer Jean-Dominique Dallet.

Few countries lend themselves as perfectly to photography as Spain. The light, the landscape, theAndalusian beauty people... all combine to make this a great place to make pictures.
The sun is brighter in much of Spain than in many other countries. I usually
leave my landscape work for the early hours of the morning or for the evening, and reserve the midday period for interior shots.
If I’m on a specific assignment, I find that the more time I spend on forward planning,
the less time I waste in the field doing things other than make pictures. Take historical monuments, for example. It’s amazing how many monuments are being restored. You might travel all the way to Segovia to shoot its impressive Roman aqueduct, only to find it cloaked in scaffolding. So phone ahead to make sure: rather than the tourist office, I tend to phone the local police, who are usually better informed about such things. They’re also pretty good at letting you know what the weather is expected to be like tomorrow.

Professional photographers sometimes run into difficulties when shooting the interiors of monuments, though I find this more of a problem in Andalusia than in the rest of Spain. An official might come up and demand papers, or refuse to let you shoot altogether. This is changing, but unless you’ve gone through the drawn-out process of obtaining official authorization (just finding the right department to apply to is time consuming) it is a good idea to look as unprofessional as you can. Smile a lot and act like a tourist, don’t try to be smart and don’t carry too much equipment. A tripod is a dead giveaway.
In some museums, such as Bilbao’s Guggenheim, you have to contact the press office well in advance and obtain permission for shooting. In such cases, a fax is better than e-mail. Certain museums charge a fee if you want to take pictures. Other museums, such as the Prado in Madrid, allow visitors to take photos provided they don’t use flash. If you are in a hurry and only need a few images, rather than a full-blown reportage, you can always take pictures as a tourist. Again, try and act the part. And remember, most Spanish museums are closed on Monday.

Walls of AvilaSome of the most memorable Spanish pictures are of the people you meet on your travels. Most Spaniards don’t object to having their photo taken, but I strongly advise against trying to snatch pictures of people unawares. It creates a bad impression and could get you into an uncomfortable situation. Instead, involve your subject in a conversation before taking their picture. Smile a lot, be humble, make sure to praise their house, their flower pots, their kids, or whatever. Then go to work.
There are great pictures to be had at Spanish fiestas, when people are too busy having a good time to even notice you. Move around a lot, blend in with the crowd, try and get into the spirit of things – don’t forget; keep on smiling – for if there’s one thing Spaniards really object to, it’s somebody looking serious or gloomy at a fiesta.

Problems with camera security in Spain are no different from elsewhere: that is, camera bags do get stolen every so often. Just follow the common sense rules you use at home. Keep your camera bag within view at all times. Do not leave your gear in an unattended parked car. If you’re carrying a load of equipment in the car trunk, avoid opening the trunk to remove some items and then leaving your car; instead, choose the bits of equipment you’ll be needing and have them handy before you reach your destination. In hotels, while thefts are rare, it is still a good idea to store un-needed equipment in the hotel safe.
I find that for all but unusual situations, Ektachrome 100 ASA SV is a good all-round film for use in Spain. It gives high quality in the intense Spanish sunlight, and also yields bright colors in overcast conditions. Prices for film in Spain are comparable to those in the rest of Europe, but more expensive than in the US. When buying slide film in Spain, always go to a specialized photo shop in a city or large town, especially in the case of 120 film. Shops in smaller villages are likely to have outdated film, if they stock slide film at all. Traveling to rural areas, take a good supply with you.
If you decide to have your film developed in Spain, look for labs displaying Kodak’s Q Lab sign, which is a guarantee of consistent, high standard processing. If you are leaving the country with exposed film, X-ray used at Spanish airports will not affect normal sensitivity film, but if you feel strongly about it you can insist that the security staff hand-inspect your bag.

Award-winning photographer Jean-Dominique Dallet has lived and worked in Spain since 1976, and has traveled the country extensively to build up an impressive file of images and to illustrate features for numerous publications.

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