5 TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY MISTAKES

We all make mistakes. Being a professional photographer, I make more than the average camera-wielding tourist does when it comes to taking travel photos. It’s been through my experiences with trial and error that I’ve been able to learn a lot, as well. But as much as I’ve learned, I’d have also enjoyed being more prepared before I set out. With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of five common mistakes – and their solutions – for your next holiday with a camera.

Try to think outside of the box when you're posing in front of a landmark.
Try to think outside of the box when you’re posing in front of a landmark.

1. Taking too many photos

Everything is so new when we travel that it is easy to snap, snap, snap away! It’s even easier when we have a camera attached to our phone. It’s human nature to want to “capture” things we find new, interesting, and exciting. And, with nearly unlimited storage, thanks to online services and Wi-Fi availability, why not grab all the images you can while you’re abroad?

The painful reason not to be snap happy is the 4,000 images on your phone or computer waiting to be sorted, culled, printed or shared. I have suffered from this affliction too, and I still struggle. But there are ways to be mindful about the shots you take.

First, ask yourself why you are taking the photo. Is it just to remember “I was here”? If yes, snap just a single shot or two, not 30. Second, ask yourself, “What am I going to do with this photo”? When you get down to it, a photo that is likely to never be seen again is time and life wasted. If you are making a photo album when you return, great! But if you have no idea what you will do with 140 photos of the Grand Canyon, then try limiting the number you shoot.

Third, delete like crazy. This has been my saviour when trying to find photos later. I don’t have to sort through thousands of images from Italy because I deleted the majority and kept the highlights. Remember those photo albums from 20+ years ago? We kept the highlights so the albums still see the light of day. But what about the rest? Meh, the rest can be deleted. You won’t go back and look through all 2,000 images, but you likely will flip through an album (electronic or print) of just 200.

2. Only shooting the highlights

Yes, I have my photo of the Mona Lisa and the Taj Mahal and all the highlights of any particular location I have visited. Do take those photos. But don’t stop there!

Pictured below is something I like to do at famous sites. It shows the wall on which the Mona Lisa rests and then the other side.

Show more than just the famous landmark. Go for the environment around it.
Show more than just the famous landmark. Go for the environment around it.

I did this with Van Gogh’s Starry Night at MOMA in New York as well.
I did this with Van Gogh’s Starry Night at MOMA in New York as well.

While the highlights are great to shoot and will warm your heart when you return to your photos later, widen your focus to get the big picture. Shoot the vendor across the street from the icon you came to see. Turn around. Look up and down. What else is there to shoot? What else is making your day memorable?

Capturing some fun and folly at the Taj Mahal.
Capturing some fun and folly at the Taj Mahal.

Shoot what it feels like to be there at that moment. Where are the smells and sounds coming from? Your friends will appreciate these images when you share them on social media because it helps immerse them in the total experience.

3. All selfies, all the time

A selfie now and then, like a glass of wine, is just fine. A selfie every third photo… might mean you have a problem.

We get it, you were there — we see you in the photo. But show us what was so great about being there. Show us the scenery. Show us the colours and textures up close; make us want to go there. Don’t only show us a trophy photo proving you were there.

Better yet, have someone take your photo. This is what used to happen the world over in popular tourist spots. People would interact, mess up their attempt at trying a new language and sometimes make a new friend. Or at least find a place to get a decent beer in a foreign city. Selfies, I have seen over and over, isolate us from where we are visiting.

You can’t do that with a selfie stick!
You can’t do that with a selfie stick!

There are even apps out there that let you line up the photo how you want it and then the screen will superimpose that image over the one your guest photographer is going to shoot. This helps ensure you get the shot you are going for, while still interacting with the world around you.

4. Not learning your camera before you leave

A new camera is a lot of fun, but on the road is a horrible time to learn the basics of it. Don’t spend $1,000 on a new camera and then just leave it on auto while you travel because you don’t know how to use it.

Take time to read the manual before you go and walk around your own town, playing tourist, to get a feel for this new machine. Find its limits and get to know all the buttons before you leave for your trip. You may even wish to take an introductory class at a local camera shop or community college.

5. Asking your subjects to pose every time

This last one is a pet peeve of mine. I see it most in parents, but the rest of us do it, too. Asking people to stand in front of the famous “iconic landmark” is one thing. But asking your kids or anyone to pose in a particular way drives me batty!

I couldn’t have made these two pose any better as they took our group’s photo.
I couldn’t have made these two pose any better as they took our group’s photo.

With kids it is often a losing battle as the day goes on. I speak from experience. The first few photos work, but as the day rolls on, or as the kids get older, the looks turn sour. Rather than playing director, trying to get that perfect image you have in your head, relax and just let things flow.

Take photos as your subjects first see the landmark and as they are appreciating it fully, in the moment. They might not be looking at the camera. They might not be in the best light. But they are there, excited about what they are seeing. And that is a real emotion that should be captured.

Whether you’re on a trip across town or a trip across the world, don’t make the photo mistakes I have made. Take fewer images, delete more often, reduce the number of selfies, and learn more about your camera before you head out the door. Now go out there and enjoy your adventure!

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