Brighton Beach, Sussex and Seattle, Washington.
Keeping with this little theme of the occasional photography post, the start of summer seems a good time to discuss travel photography. For me, travel and my camera go hand in hand and I can’t imagine going somewhere new and not taking pictures, though I hear it can be done. Instead, I tend to take several hundred photos only to return home and wish I had taken even more.
There are also approximately twelve billion and three things one could say about travel photography, but I fear that is just too much for a blog post. In fact, everything I’ve included here is probably too long for a blog post, but it’s the sort of thing you could take in stages so I’m just going to keep it all right here in one big post and call it my ten big tips for taking travel photographs you will love to scrapbook. Sound okay to you?
Remember creative frames.
When we go somewhere new, we’re surrounded by things we’ve never seen. So we pick up our camera and start shooting, right? Oooh. We don’t have that at home. I should take a picture! Which is all well and good, but it is very easy to let that feeling take all our creative energy and leave us with a big stack of pictures that are somewhat less than inspiring. The kind of picture where we’ve just pointed the camera at some noteworthy object and clicked the shutter. Oh goodness — we do know how to take more interesting pictures than this! We do it at home all the time! Or most of the time. Or some of the time when we’re really thinking about it, anyway. How on earth did we leave that ability at home?
Whenever I start to be distracted by the Ooooh, look at the things I have never ever seen effect, I use the up and down shortcut to jar me back to the idea that my favourite photographs are those that use a creative frame rather than just pointing and clicking. The up and down shortcut just means to stop wherever you are and take and up and a down picture — either by moving your camera up high in the air then down low on the ground or by pointing the camera up at the sky then down at the floor. The shot of the pier in Brighton was taken with the camera actually sat on the pebbles at the beach. The Space Needle on the right was a case of looking up — and standing under the tree to add some interest to a flat, grey sky. The up and down shortcut is a quick way to find a new perspective, and it’s that quick reminder that helps get me back to the way I would shoot pictures when I was on more familiar ground.
Sometimes the creative frame comes from another object, like the branches of the tree, but other times it can be done just by moving the camera so each item isn’t exactly in the middle of the frame. This picture in snowy France is obviously a carousel. You can’t see the rest of it, but you can tell what it is anyway. The part I found unique was the style of the painting at the top of the carousel, and the quirky effect created by the row of unlit lightbulbs. The rest of the carousel really didn’t matter, and if the rest had been included, you wouldn’t notice what I actually wanted to remember. So a second shortcut I tend to use is this style of composition that crops the scene, leaving about a third of the photo with quite empty space (like the sky). It changes up the look of the photos on a trip, but it’s also super handy for scrapbookers, because you can use this empty space for journaling, titles, embellishments or anything else crafty that you like. (Actually, Ali just posted about scrapping with that space in photos — find it here.)
Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo, Japan.
I like to think this isn’t just something I appreciate from my days teaching English, but I find the essence of language to be one of the most amazing things about travel. Going somewhere and not speaking the language forces you to find entirely new ways to communicate. Or you might be lucky enough to meet someone there who does speak your language but is terribly self-conscious about not speaking it very well — when you don’t speak more than three words in their language at all! The language of a new place can be enthralling or terrifying — but how on earth can you capture that on film?
Volcano National Park, Hawaii.
My answer is to photograph the written language you find — like that on signs. I love the politeness of the safety warnings in Japan (and in fact, I never experienced anything in Japan that wasn’t draped in politeness. I love that so!) and the signs near the volcano made me laugh at their contradiction: apparently this place is so calm and civil that there is a trail, and yet you may fall victim to a giant crack or cliff at any moment if you are not always careful! Great examples to scrapbook because they say so much about the surroundings even though these particular photos don’t show much else. Just pair them with other images. I paired the first with images of the busy market scene and the second with photos of the steam coming right through the path.
Also helpful for scrapbooking? Taking pictures of signs of the places you’ve been! If you asked me the name of the place where we went kayaking (and I got run over by someone else’s kayak, but that is a story for another day), I wouldn’t be able to tell you! The name was long and for non-locals, quite tough to pronounce. But hey — I can take a picture of the sign. That I can do! So there you go: apparently it was Kealakekua Bay! And a little bonus: by stepping back just a bit for this picture, I could include the actual bay in the shot! So we started just down the road off the left of the picture, kayaked over to the peninsula you see at the other side of all that water, and then back again later that day. At Kealakekua Bay, obviously. Because it’s in the picture. Now I can’t forget! (I can, however, forget quite how it’s pronounced.)
Somewhere on the Big Island in Hawaii.
Modes of transport.
If half the fun is getting there, we better take some pictures of the journey! Provided there are at least two of you in the car, you can do that easily on a driving holiday. This road shot was taken right through the windscreen, and I love how it looks like by the time we hit the road work, the road will run straight into the ocean! I’m also trying to get better at taking pictures of the rental car itself if we have one. It’s always funny to see what car someone else chooses for you, like when I asked for the smallest car available (I am hopeless at parking large cars!) and got one of these giant things as a result!
It’s even more fun to find less everyday modes of transportation to photograph. Going somewhere with a coastline? Find the harbour and take pictures of boats! I’m not a big fan of the open sea but I am a big fan of finding the boat with the funniest name or the prettiest paint colours. Or you might find yourself at a destination known for bicycles, tuk-tuks, bullet trains, rickshaws, elephants, motorcycles or rollerblades! If you do a fair bit of walking on a city trip, take a picture of a road crossing since the signs vary so much from country to country. Modes of transportation are often things you can photograph quickly and you won’t even have to persuade members of your travel crew to smile for the camera — and they will add a bit more reality to your pages when you come to scrapbooking your adventure.
Park Guell, Barcelona, Spain.
Get yourself in the picture.
Hey you — you with the camera! Just how many photos from your last trip actually prove you were there? It’s time to get yourself in the picture, at least a few times per destination! You’ll notice from these examples that most of my travel photographs don’t really include people at all, so I have to make a concerted effort if I want any pictures to actually show I was there. Even when scrapbookers know they should get in the picture, it’s often the standard sort of ‘stand in front of this landmark and smile’ shot that almost looks like you are just standing in front of an overgrown postcard. I actually feel really awkward and self conscious posing for pictures like that, so my answer has been to find ways that are either quite natural or silly fun.
Butchart Gardens, Victoria, Canada.
This is definitely silly fun. I take pictures of my feet anywhere I travel (I even have a minibook about it!) and I often decide to take those pictures on bad hair days or days that for whatever reason, I’m just not feeling like smiling for the camera. Find somewhere that shows your surroundings and aim the camera at your feet rather than your face! Plus you can use the camera’s timer for this sort of shot without a tripod, since you can just rest the camera on the ground. That makes it work even if you’re traveling solo.
Shinjuku Gyoen, Tokyo, Japan.
This bridge picture and the park bench above fall under the more natural category and admittedly both of them required someone else to pick up the camera — though you could recreate the first with a tripod. There’s no looking or smiling at the camera, and both scenes were things that actually happened. I was going to walk across that bridge even if there were no cameras involved; I had been sitting just like on that bench for quite a while talking to The Boy — he just happened to get up and take the picture making it look like I was waiting alone on the bench. So perhaps both of those techniques could be useful for times when you want to take pictures of your friends and family, but please remember to include yourself in some shots. Don’t make me come over there and kick you.
Central Park and many a building, New York City.
See the skyline.
If you’re heading to a city destination, rest assured its locals know the skyline. Whether it has giant skyscrapers, giant ferris wheels, or giant modern art installations, it will be something unique to that place on earth. So you better get a picture!
Unless you just don’t do heights, viewing decks can be the best place to see an entire city at a glance. Rockefeller Center, the London Eye, the Eiffel Tower, the Space Needle, the CN Tower and the like all make it pretty obvious that you can see the entire view for a price. On a beautiful day, it’s often worth the price of the ride to the top. On a less than perfect day, you might be better off with a free but less glamorous equivalent, like riding the elevator to the top of a relatively tall hotel and taking a look through the hallway windows.
from Gasworks Park, Seattle, Washington.
If you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, you’ll just need to back up far enough to see the skyline! Check your travel guide or a map for large open spaces like parks that are outside the downtown area, and you might just find the perfect mix of all those modern buildings set against something more natural and green. If you like to write on your photos when scrapbooking, skyline photos are great. Just grab a list of all key locations in the city and write them in following the lines made by the buildings in your picture.
Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.
Get close to the architecture
It’s always worth getting close to all those buildings too! When you’re walking around, you’ll find details that you could never pick out in those full skyline shots. Sometimes the details are so fine they’ll fill your entire frame, but my favourites are the shots that show the architecture as we see it with our own eyes — looking up at buildings against the open skies.
Hotels in Honolulu.
Whether the buildings are centuries or just decades old, their designs will tell quite a story about the places you visit. The architecture of Trinity College in Dublin is certainly older than the campus where I studied! And the courtyard appeared to be such a suntrap in a town that is known for its often grey weather. The two hotel buildings filled with balconies show just how much everything in Waikiki is created with the beach in mind! Some resort towns see so much change as hotels are demolished and new ones built that the photos of what you saw will be even more interesting years from now when the place looks entirely different. This is extra true if you ever visit Las Vegas. I’ve been there twice, ten years apart. On the second trip, I noticed the hotel where I first stayed wasn’t there at all. Consulting an older map, it turns out it was most definitely now underneath the Bellagio, and there was another hotel on the strip ready to be reduced to rubble just a few days after I left, so I’m sure I wouldn’t recognise it in another ten years!
Empire State Building, New York.
Stay out late
No matter how dense the population of your holiday destination, things will look different after dark! The tricky part is figuring out how to photograph them after dark without ending up with a big blurry mess!
First, resist the urge to turn on your flash. If things are close enough to be effected by the flash, it will just light everything up to look like a synthetic day. If they are too far away to lit by the flash, it will just add grain and noise and throw off your camera’s focus system. So just turn it off and work with what you actually see.
BC Parliament Buildings, Victoria, Canada.
From there, it’s a case of balancing ISO (the light sensitivity of the frame) and exposure (the length of time the shutter stays open) so you can get the lights and reflections you see to be accurately translated to your pictures. If your camera has very high ISO options, you can keep your exposure quite fast so you can hold the camera in your hands like normal. If your highest ISO doesn’t help, you’ll need a way to keep your camera steady so you can keep the shutter open longer. Use a tripod or sit your camera on something stable and use a long exposure. (If you don’t know how to change the ISO or exposure on your camera, get out your manual and find out before you go on your trip! The buttons are different on every camera but you can adjust these on pretty much every camera, even a point and shoot, and once you know how it will be easy!)
Jidai Matsuri, Kyoto, Japan.
Find the traditional.
Of course, big city buildings are rarely the emotional heart of any travel destination. This place had a story long before you arrived, and that’s what you want to observe. Even if you’re not a history buff, it’s hard to ignore the elements of traditional culture that make every location unique. If scrapbooking is about storytelling, then this is exactly the angle we’re looking for as we explore somewhere new! One of the best things you can do to catch all available photo opportunities is in the preparation. With your travel dates in mind, search online for festivals and celebrations that might coincide with your travel. In just a few minutes you can find out about parades, parties and traditional festivities, and all you have to do is show up and soak up the experience. If you’re traveling with the whole family, it can make a nice change of pace from the regular itinerary too (and you can choose whether you stay all day or just a short while).
Totem Poles in Stanley Park, Vancouver, Canada.
If nothing appears on the calendar, you can always find a bit of history standing still and practically posing for your camera! Travel guides are likely to point out some historic locations to visit, but you can also search photo sites like Flickr for the name of your destination and see all the different images that have been posted. Many of the photos there will include additional information in the post, and you can always ask if you can’t tell where a particular picture is located. Flickr can be a great way to prep yourself with ideas for your travel photos since you can find images specific to your travels.
Royal Horse Parade, London.
Of course, there’s also the notion of just having your camera ready all the time so you can catch what happens spontaneously too. Like for days when you’re walking down the road and a Royal Horse Parade comes marching past! I definitely understand not wanting to feel weighed down by heavy equipment for all of the journey, so even if your best camera is something substantial, don’t discount your camera phone or a small point and shoot — something lightweight that you can keep in your pocket or purse.
Ginza shopping district, Tokyo, Japan.
Pretend you know where the locals go.
When you’re a tourist, it’s quite likely you’ll end up in places filled with other tourists. Ask a group of Londoners if they’ve been on the London Eye or toured the Tower of London, and you’ll find many of them haven’t even thought of it. But most of them have been the equivalent tourist magnets in the places they have visited elsewhere — just one of those funny things about the urgency of the places we visit briefly compared to the ‘no hurry’ atmosphere at home.
I always feel a little cheated if I only see the big touristy landmarks — real travel feels like some of the time should be spent doing just what the locals would do. Except without having to go to work, of course. We’re on holiday, right?
Granville Island, Vancouver, Canada.
Thing is, unless you have a contact in that location, it can be down to just guessing what the real locals do – especially if you don’t speak the language very well. Some of the time you’ll find so many locals you’ll know you have it right — like when you go into a restaurant and have genuinely no idea what you’re ordering because it’s the sort of place that would never consider printing menus in another language! Other times, you’ll find yourself at some sort of halfway point, like markets that are popular with both tourists and locals. Embrace it, photograph it and just go with the flow: sometimes it’s just as much about pretending you know what the locals know. You might even find you blend in well enough that another tourist will ask you for directions. Consider it a compliment!
Crumbs Bakery, New York.
Don’t forget your dinner.
And one last note: if you’re anything like me, one big part of travel fun is what’s on the plate! I love trying the local specialties, and falling in love with a few new foods for each place on the map. Admittedly, if you’re not a foodie this could possibly sound insane, and that’s fair enough. But if you do love the culinary part of the adventure, get some pictures! Use a macro lens or the macro setting on your point and shoot so you can shoot the details of pretty dishes up close. Again, you’ll want to avoid your flash so you can be discreet if you’re taking a picture in a quiet restaurant (plus flash is usually quite pesky with reflective surfaces like plates and dishes). On a short trip, you can even use your camera phone to keep a record of everything you eat. May you not have the same reaction I did when I tried that experiment and realised that I may try to eat healthily at home but take me fifty miles away and I transform to a junkfood junkie! Even if you do — there’s an instant scrapbook page in the making!
As long as this is for a blog post, this is really just a tiny bit of what’s up for discussion in travel photography. If it’s something you’re really interested in, you may want to check out the new Transcending Travel book from Digital Photography School — it’s an instant digital download, so you can read it in the planning stages of your trip or you can take it with you for some reading on the plane if you’re more a last minute traveller like me!
And that new shimelle.com class I mentioned last week? You’ll be able to sign up before the end of this week! Not long to wait now! Plus a little extra bonus project coming up too.
Wishing you a photogenic week and a lovely summer at home or far away!
xlovesx07 June 2010