Make travel pictures great

One of the joys of travel is to see new places and experience other cultures. Many, if not most of us dig out our cameras to record the moment. Here are some ways to make those pictures even more memorable after the journey.

Tips from cinema

Every great movie has a sense of narrative — a beginning, middle, and an end. So do your trips. Your shots will be more interesting if you think of them as scenes from a story. You can lead up to dramatic high points by also taking pictures during quieter moments. Mix ordinary shots — breakfast table scenes, for example — in with the more adventuresome moments.

Movies also intersperse long shots — scenery, for example — with close ups. Don’t be afraid to do the same, and take pictures of small details that delight you as you travel. These can become interesting focal points in your “story” later on.

And don’t forget characters. Have you ever taken a trip only to return home to find you have hardly any shots of yourself or your companions? Or are most of your vacation photos tiny, waving people in front of grand monuments? Don’t be shy about getting in close and snapping some personal moments along the way (although etiquette of course demands that you ask anyone you intend to shoot before you do).

Themes along the way

One way to push your travel photographs beyond the ordinary is to choose a theme before you leave, and then take pictures along thematic lines as you go. For example, you could choose to take pictures of doors at each place that you stop, seeking out the beauty in both the mundane and the ornate.

Another often overlooked way to give your photographs a sense of continuity is to take pictures of signposts and entranceways as you go. Photographing markers and placards is also a great way to jog your memory about the details of things that you see and enjoy.

Look for colour

Unless your vacation actually was an experience in earth tones, it can be a surprise to return home and find that one’s most-often photographed scenes — scenery and historical sites — look drab. It seems that the moments when we thinking to take out our cameras are sometimes not the most colourful ones along the way. To spice up your shots, look for opportunities to shoot in colour.

Local festivals can be a great source of colourful shorts (you will likely need to go early to get a good position, and/or use a zoom lens so as to get close in). So can banners, logos, and of course local fruits, flowers, and market days.

Another way to inject some life into your photographs is to have a sense of play and fun. If your travel companions are willing to get in on the fun and pose for amusing scenes, so much the better (and do be sure they’re willing — candid shots may mean you’re looking for different companions the next time!) Try poses that imitate statues or themes around you in silly ways.


Pragmatic tips

Of course photography involves a lot of technical aspects. Practice before you go, particularly with the camera (or cameras) you intend to take. Remember that you will be taking shots in different kinds of light, so experiment with your camera’s lenses, settings, and flash to become familiar with all your options.

Don’t forget to notice the direction and quality of light. Front lighting (where the light is on your subject) makes it easier for most basic cameras, but pictures often appear flat. Side lighting highlights three-dimensionality which makes it a good choice for landscapes or objects where you want to show their texture. And backlighting is very dramatic, but if you don’t know how to adjust your exposure, you may find that details are lost to shadow.

Consider composition. Entire books are written on composition, and for good reason. But some basic tips may help:

• The number one tip: move closer. It’s amazing how much richer a photograph is when it really gets up close and personal. But be careful if you are using an inexpensive digital camera — a digital zoom may leave pictures grainy and of poorer quality. It’s better to move in closer yourself.

• Experiment with different points of view and angles.

• Consider simplifying your photographs so that you are taking a picture of a particular thing and not trying to capture the whole scene in one go. You can use the artist’s “rule of thirds” to experiment with placing your subject in different areas of the shot — divide the frame mentally into both horizontal and vertical thirds. Where the lines meet are spaces that the eye tends to emphasize.

• Use natural frames — a doorway, archway, or overhanging trees to provide a frame through which to photograph a view or object.

Keep track of your photography: jot down the shots you’ve taken and their subject to jog your memory when you get home. If using a digital camera, invest in extra memory — it’s worth it to be able to feel free to shoot whatever captures your interest.

And don’t forget to look beyond the lens from time to time and enjoy the trip as well. Travel photographs are wonderful mementos — but they need the experience to go along with them!

Photo © Lilli Day