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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I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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