Like probably many of you, I first got hooked onto photography while on vacation – at the tender age of 12. After detours via film studies and travel writing, I’ve published the first series of my own postcards and calendars this year. Check them out at http://www.sibyllemeder.net.
Here are some ideas to try for your own travel shots.
1. LESS IS MORE – You want to have a camera snap-ready all the time, not log around the two-pound zoom lens and bulky tripod. If your gear is too heavy – or too expensive – chances are, it will spend most of the time at the hotel room anyway. Some of my best travel shots were done with a compact flash camera. After all, it’s the eye behind the lens that makes the picture. Pack as much as you are comfortable with carrying around when – say – on the way to the beach. Compacts that slip into the pockets of your cargo pants might just be perfect.
2. TRAVEL, DON’T JUST HOLIDAY – Snaps at the pool showing groups of people in various states of intoxication are fun but no good if you want to convey where you’ve been. All swimming pools look the same. Get out, see something! That said: creating a photo series of pools is a great project, so…
3. GET TOPICAL – One day you could take photos in the style of a National Geographic’s commission, the next you cover in-spots for a city’s event magazine, or you illustrate a story about the place where you stay. The mental framework of an article or story steers your attention to different places.
4. GO FOR DETAIL – There are zillions of shots of the front of St Marc’s Basilica in Venice but not so many of a special cornerstone or the light striking the roof on a certain tile. Detail is what we see of most monuments if we stand in front of the real thing. Look at sights from a different angle.
5. TRY SOMETHING NEW – Talk about new angles: I traveled to Calabria in Southern Italy once only with my Lomo action sampler in the luggage which takes four separate snaps on the one frame in brief succession. There weren’t many church domes on my pics but great shots of people’s ice cream dropping down or friends jumping into the sea. If you don’t have an action sampler you could still do all your shots in b&w, with infrared-film, only to a certain theme like “reflections,” “door handles” or “ice cream ads” -Get inventive!
6. GET TO KNOW THE LOCALS – and take their picture. Humans are fascinating to other humans. It’s like that. If you get someone to show you around who really knows their place you’ll find out there’s more to travel than beaches and museums. Be polite, of course. Always ask. If you have a digital camera, make sure you show them the picture you’ve taken, discuss it even if you can. You can take snaps of each other, too. You might look as exotic to them as vice versa. If you promise to send a copy, it’s nice to stick to your word.
7. CELEBRATIONS: GET INTO THE ACTION – Festivities of any kind make great photo opportunities. Fairs, carnivals, weddings, national holidays, parades – you name it. One advantage is that there will be other photographers too, so people will be less conscious of the camera. Still, the above applies: if taking photos of other people, ask first – if possible – and stop snapping once they object to it. There are still plenty of other motifs: floats, garlands, flags, food…
8. RELIGION – Even if it’s all hocus-pocus to you, any place of worship has its special air about it and there’s a reason they talk about “inspiration” in the arts. Plus: places of worship are usually artworks in themselves. Spend some time around churches, monasteries, temples, shrines etc to soak up the atmosphere. I’m sure you’ll come up with a great shot. (As with people, be aware of foreign sensitivities).
9. TAKE A BREAK – If your eyes are glued to the viewfinder, you might as well buy a book on the location and read at home. Be open to experiencing things without the lens. The best photo opportunities present themselves once you’ve put down your camera and just relax. That’s when you really look at things. That’s also why people take more and better pics in their holidays: you’re open-minded, you’ve got time and everything is new. Added plus of abstinence: if you have really looked at things, you’ll know where to point the lens later on.
10. GET PUBLISHED – Make postcards or calendars. There are plenty of internet sites which let you turn your best pics into stationary or photo calendars. It doesn’t cost an arm and a leg and makes for a great gift or more personal mail. (For some ideas go to Lulu.com which publishes my calendars. Somewhere to submit great professional travel shots to is National Geographic’s Yourshot competition: And who knows? Your pics might hit a nerve and people actually want to pay for them. Don’t hesitate to accept.