Everyone loves to take photos when they travel. It’s a way to maintain the memories, to share experiences with our friends and families, and, quite simply, a way to prove “I was there.” But let’s face it—not everyone is a great photographer. At one point or another, we’ve all sat through a tedious slide show of seemingly endless travel snapshots.
While I can’t tell you how to avoid sitting through a boring vacation slide show, I can share a few easy tips on how to avoid giving one. There are a few simple rules to change mere ‘holiday snapshots’ to a more robust collection of photographs that capture the images and emotions of a recent vacation. In a nutshell, remember to keep the human interest in your photos. This makes your photos tell a story, rather than just say, “I was here.”
1. Don’t put yourself in every shot.
Yes, you were there. Yes, your family was there. But having your entire crew posing in front of—and blocking the view of—the Grand Canyon is not an interesting shot. Take a few photos of the landscape or point of interest with no one in the frame. This creates a context for the vacation: the backdrop, the start of the story. But don’t try to capture everything. When I was recently in the French Alps, I was surrounded (literally) by towering, impressive mountains. There was no way I could capture their grandeur in a single frame. So instead, I focused on a few “interesting” peaks so I could focus on the rugged detail. Once you’ve got your basic shots out of the way, take one or two photos with the group (whether it’s just yourself or twenty of you) in front of the landmark or scenery.
2. When you do include yourself, make it subtle.
There are a number of ways to say “I was here” in a photograph, without a formally posed snapshot. Having everyone grouped together, squinting in the noon sun isn’t generally very interesting, and it doesn’t tell any sort of story. Instead, take more candid shots of your traveling companions as they’re observing the landmark or talking to each other about it. Make many of your shots be action shots: capture people pointing at something and talking to one another about it. Just don’t forget to include whatever they’re pointing at in the frame, too. That makes the story come alive.
3. Look for the everyday.
This is especially true when you’re visiting a more exotic location, but it can apply to any holiday. Don’t focus so much on the landmarks, as on the actions and emotions of the locals.
When I was in Mali, photographing the local children in their villages (with their permission) gave my photos much more human interest and context than just shooing them away and capturing the village empty of people. The story of the village is, after all, in the people who live there. But even in a less exotic location, look around. Don’t be afraid to take photos of other people, if that makes the photo interesting. For example, you can be visiting Disneyland, and you may capture the glee on another child’s face after she witnesses something particularly spectacular. Holiday shots don’t just have to include your own traveling companions if there’s an interesting story to tell that highlights the feeling of the place you’re visiting.
4. Make Landmarks Interesting.
Of course, your vacation photos will include the ‘typical’ landmarks; they can’t (and shouldn’t) be avoided. But try to add interest by capturing the scene from a slightly different angle. Walk a few feet off the beaten path (either literally or figuratively) to take photos that are slightly different. After you take a photo, think to yourself, “Could I find this exact image a million times on the internet?” If so, you may want to consider a different approach. Perhaps try a different angle or include some interesting people, or wait for a different time of day.
When I went to Kyoto, the famous Fushimi Inari temple (with thousands of bright orange/red prayer arches that create long corridors; Google it and you’ll know what I’m talking about) has been taken so many times, and I didn’t want just another collection of typical shots of this amazing place. So I went at dusk and took the ‘corridors’ on a long exposure. The result is mysterious lighting, but, more importantly, ghost-like images of the people walking through. This captures both the human interest, but also the emotional feel of the place.
These are just a few tips to help you begin to think about how you take photos while you’re away.
About the Author:
Kevin Harries is a photographer based out of Toronto, Canada, and is the principal of VistaKWH. He has traveled extensively and has never been accused of taking boring travel photographs. He is also involved in fine art photography, with many of his images available through Getty Images. He specializes in large format prints.
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