Taking Distinctive Travel Photos
Summer is a time for traveling, and you'll probably want to preserve some of the sights with your camera. Whether you'll be snapping photos with your camera phone, point-and-shoot, or digital SLR, I have some tips to help you take distinctive pictures that you'll be proud to print, share, and turn into a desktop slideshow when you get back.
Don't Follow the Crowd
For truly engaging vacation photos, avoid the typical postcard shots that everyone else has already taken. What is unique about the city you're visiting? Paris, for instance, is virtually defined by the Eiffel Tower. But rather than shooting it from the courtyard along with everyone else, capture the tower from more-distant neighborhoods and from unusual perspectives. After all, you can see the landmark for miles.
Shoot Some Panoramas
Vacations loom large in our memories, so the pictures we take should be just as big. That's why I always take a few panoramas. Read "8 Tips for Photographing Panoramas" to learn how. Remember to save the individual shots, however. Many years ago I made a panorama of the famed Abbey Road studios outside of London and discarded the original photos after stitching them together. Now all I have is a relatively low-resolution panorama, and I can't use modern software to make a better one.
Add People--But Be Creative
Most people take pictures of family and friends posing for the camera in front of landscapes or monuments--the classic "I was here" photo. There's nothing wrong with that, but why not be a little more creative? If I had asked my wife to pose in front of the Arc de Triomphe, she probably would have stood there as if posing for her driver's license. Instead, I asked her to lean on the post and look at the monument. The result is perhaps a bit more lyrical.
In all the photographic excitement, don't forget to include yourself in a few shots. It's easy to go the entire trip and realize only later that you have no evidence you were there. You can ask people to take your picture, of course, or do something unusual like capture your reflection in a mirror.
Don't Offend the Locals
Especially when you're in a foreign country, be conscious of local photo etiquette. You might want to shoot a picture of a merchant in a market, for instance, but it's the polite (and safe) thing to ask permission first. Sometimes locals will request payment--in that case, keep moving. Few photo ops are worth the risk of exchanging money in public. Also, be aware of places where photography is prohibited; in general, avoid shooting pictures of military and government installations.
Start a Photo Tradition
When my wife and I went on a trip with a friend a few years ago, our friend told us about her family's vacation tradition. Whenever they traveled, they'd take a photo of their feet when they arrived at their location--now they have an album of just their feet, all over the world. My specialty? Capturing unusual street signs, like this dog-walking sidewalk marker.
Seek Out the Unexpected
While everyone else has their camera lens set on wide angle, trying to shoehorn an entire landmark into each frame, look for the details instead. I love snooping around famous places and zooming in on things that most other photographers might miss. It may be a snippet of graffiti at Abbey Road, for instance, or unusual angles in the ceiling of a museum.
Taking Photos in No-Flash Situations
Flash photography and tripods are often prohibited in cathedrals, museums, galleries, and other historic attractions. What to do? Increase the ISO for sharper photos, but also use a chair, the back of a pew, a doorway, or some other structure for support. You might even want to carry a bean bag to rest the camera on. Read "Shooting Inside Museums and Cathedrals" and "Taking Good Concert Photos" for more tips.
Shoot the City at Night
Finally, remember to carry your camera at night--most cities have a very different character when the lights go down. Be sure to use a tripod or to brace the camera against a stationary object. If you can brace the camera, don't be afraid to use longer, multisecond exposures. Read "Take Exciting Photos at Night" for more specifics.