Ever taken a photo like this?
Of course you have. Everybody does. A passing stranger offered to take a shot of us in this picturesque corner of Transylvania, and there Rich and I are, standing stiffly in the center of the foreground, trying not to look self-conscious. My unkempt appearance and Rich’s plastic bag do nothing to enhance the scene. I can assure you that this is the first and last time this photo will be making a public appearance.
So how do you take travel photos that are fresh, charming, and original? Let me count the ways.
1. Choose subjects that tickle your sense of excitement and/or your funny bone. You have no obligation whatsoever to be the 20 millionth person to snap a shot of a travel companion standing awkwardly in front of the Eiffel Tower. Wait until you pass by something that makes your head swivel back around for a second and third look. I did a double take when I chanced upon this gnarly, cynical, panhandling Santa on a Seville sidewalk last Christmas. Yep, I paid him a euro for the privilege of taking his picture, and it was money well spent.
2. Symmetry can feel static; place the main subject off-center whenever possible. Pros advise having the horizon line a third of the way from the bottom or top, and the focal point a third of the way from the left or right. They call this the Rule of Thirds, and it’s a good general guideline to keep in mind. (The other most important rule is: there are no rules.)
3. Play around with cropping. It’s tempting to share shots instantly while you’re on the go. But sometimes it pays to invest a little time bringing out the best in an image. You don’t need to master complicated technology like Photoshop; the simple iPhoto program that came with my computer works fine for me. On the shot below, I shaped the photo to show lots of floor space, suggesting the desolation of this chilly, gritty, half-abandoned train station in rural Romania.
Then Ryan at Jets Like Taxis re-cropped the same photo for a post about my book Pack Light. And frankly, I think this version does a much better job of showcasing the formidable character of the woman at the ticket window.
4. Rejoice in serendipity. At first I was annoyed that a motorcyclist tore though the alleyway just as I snapped this vegetable stand in Napoli. But when I took a closer look, I decided the ghost rider captured something of the elusive, quicksilver speed of the city, and it’s become one of my favorites.
5. Resist the temptation to post endless selfies and gimmicky shots. Go ahead if you must; take the one that makes it look like you and your friends are pushing over the Leaning Tower of Pisa. But then try to find images, like this Kraków street scene, that surprise viewers and make them want to linger for a closer look.
Creating our most memorable and post-worthy photos has little to do with technique and everything to do with the deceptively simple task of really looking at what’s right in front of us. An ordinary scene can suddenly strike us as truly extraordinary. As with this casual photo of a friend on an early morning walk in southern Spain, the radiant beauty of a random moment can take our breath away and make us dizzy with the sheer joy of being part of it.
Do you have a favorite travel photo? If so, I invite you to post it on my Facebook page EnjoyLivingAbroad and tell me something about it.
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4/10/2015 02:07:15 am
Loved this one. Our posed travel photos are always incredibly stupid looking. . .and usually have us with a drink in hand leading friends and family to worry about whether they need to start thinking intervention if we ever land long enough for one!
4/10/2015 04:20:18 am
I know what you mean, Jackie. I had to ask Rich to take a few of me that I could use on this website, because the vast majority in my photo files show the two of us midway through a convivial evening, raising a glass, and not exactly projecting a professional – or even respectable – image!
4/10/2015 10:40:08 am
such great advice..................so simple and to the point.
4/11/2015 02:39:13 am
Glad you enjoyed the post, Frank. Have fun in Montana and take lots of pictures!
4/11/2015 09:03:23 am
I find the more I try to take great travel photos, the less I like them. My best shots are those that I take without thinking about them. A friend told me once to focus on something in the foreground. And some of those aren't too bad. Liked this article. And preordered your book!
4/11/2015 09:21:42 am
It's often the casual, offhand shots that are the best, the ones we don't think too much about. I'm glad you liked the post, Kay, and I am delighted and grateful that you've pre-ordered Adventures of a Railway Nomad! The paperback has just gone live and the Kindle will be available on Wednesday. Let me know what you think of it!
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Winner of the 2023 Firebird Book Award for Travel
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
Wanderlust has taken me to more than 60 countries. Every week I provide travel tips and adventure stories to inspire your journeys and let you have more fun — and better food — on the road
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