Seven ways for the amateur to take better travel photos

A necessary feature of traveling seems to be taking a ton of photos. We find it pertinent to document our adventures. There’s all sorts of photos we can take; photos of us standing in front of things, photos of things, “artsy” photos, food photos, the opportunities are endless. And with digital cameras, so is the memory on our cameras. Since we don’t all have fancy digital SLR’s (single lens reflex, cameras with modifiable settings that take higher quality pictures), or photographic skills, how can any traveler with a less than special point and shoot (any other small camera that likely fits in your pocket) take decent photos?

I consider myself no expert at photography, but I think I can take a decent photo. When your not an artist or professional, you should be less concerned with the quality of the picture, and more how it looks. I had some friends visit this weekend from Copenhagen, and we were blessed with sun on Sunday as I took them around the sights. I took the opportunity to think about some ways for the everyday person with a camera to take pictures that are a little bit better. Here’s my 7 ways for anyone to take slightly better photos as evidenced by a day of “tourism” in Paris.

Disclaimer: I’m not photography expert, but this is how I think my pictures come out better. Also IPADS ARE NOT CAMERAS. TOURISTS               LOOK RIDICULOUS USING THEM AS SUCH. JUST DON’T DO IT.

1. Make sure the picture is aligned: This is simple, if your picture is crooked, its not going to look as good. There’s two easy ways to work on this.

a) Take a few seconds using the viewfinder before you click the shutter. I’ve seen a lot of tourists walk up to something, snap a shot quickly and continue moving. Gross. If you do this, edit the picture. On iPhoto you click “edit” then “straighten.” I think my grandma can do it. So can you.

b) To get even fancier, hit display on your camera, so the grid appears. That helps take a straight photo and also helps with number 2…

A straight Eifel Tower as seen on a cloudy day from the Palais de Tokyo

Don’t let your Eifel Tower get crooked…

2. Use the rule of thirds: I don’t know why it works, but the rule of thirds makes pictures look better. Essentially, hit the display button on your camera to show the four gridlines that divide the photo into nine smaller rectangles. Put the important things in the intersection of these gridlines. For a deeper tutorial or explanation, ask a photographer. But I’ll tell you, it works. 

Street Vendors play hide and seek with the local police at Trocadero

Street Vendors play hide and seek with the local police at Trocadero – Rule of Thirds

3. Don’t be afraid of black and white: Some photos need less color. We take color for granted, but remember that for the first hundred or so years (maybe less) there was no color photography. Pay hommage to Daguerre or Ansel Adams and forget color for a few shots.

Le Moulin de la Galette in Montmartre

Le Moulin de la Galette in Montmartre

Black and White of the Fountains and Sculptures below Trocadero

Black and White of the Fountains and Sculptures below Trocadero

 4. Zoom in: Another thing many people do that ruins there pictures is take these huge pictures of everything that end up being of nothing. Somethings its good to favor the little details. If an artist or architect or housemaker take to time to include them, then they are there to be noticed. Plus, zooming in increases the possible number of photos you can take of a given thing or area, so it increases your probability of taking a picture that is unique.

Detail of a gate at Invalides (Napoleon's Tomb and Hospital for those Injured in battle)

Detail of a gate at Invalides (Napoleon’s Tomb and Hospital for those Injured in battle)

5. Juxtapose: I find pictures more interesting if they are not just of what you are trying to take the picture of. There are a thousand pictures of the Eifel Tower and other monuments, try to find a way to make your photo unique. Try new angles, or see the monuments from different angles so you can include more in the photo. I like to find evidence of daily life in front of touristy areas, I enjoy the contrast between the spectacle of the monument and the individualism of the non-tourist (or tourist).

Skater Van and Eifel Tower

“Keep calm and keep shredding” and the Eifel Tower convey very different messages but the two juxtaposed make the photo more interesting than either on their own.

6. Up your selfy game: Don’t just idly stand in front of things. Find a pose that’s unique to you and do it in every photo. Perspective photos where you pretend to hold the Eifel Tower have become cliche and are boring. Find something new. Also, its much better if you can ask someone to take the picture. They might not get the composition quite right, but it’ll be infinitely better than the awkward angle you hold your camera at when you take a picture of yourself.

Being the statue is a more interesting way to take pictures in front of things - at the Louvre

Being the statue is a more interesting way to take pictures in front of things – at the Louvre

6. Take the same photo over and over again until you get it right: Even if we aren’t artists or photographers, sometimes the light is really good, or we’re in a really good place. I have a sixteen gigabyte memory card that can hold nearly 4,000 pictures. Since we don’t have to conserve our shots as in the old days of analog, take the time to try and try again. Leaving the Louvre at night, I found the sky awesome when seen through the glass pyramid. It took about thirty tries to get a shot I really liked.

A cloudy evening in Paris from the Louvre pyramid

A cloudy evening in Paris from the Louvre pyramid

7. Find your thing: There’s a lot more to places than just the famous monuments and the food you eat. Take pictures of what you find interesting, or what you like. Wherever I go, I take pictures of bikes, because they are my passion, and people on benches, because I love photos of that subject matter.

Hipster on a Motobécane fixie-conversion outside of the Apple store near Garnier's Opera

Hipster on a Motobécane fixie-conversion outside of the Apple store near Garnier’s Opera

Woman on a bench in front of the Sacre Coeur

Woman on a bench in front of the Sacre Coeur

I hope you can make these tips work for you. What else do you do to take better photos?

Coming up next: Thoughts on why we take photos when we travel (defining my travel philosophy continued). Until then, keep on adventuring.

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