The Arty Blogness of Ansate Jones

8 Ways to Make Your Travel Photos Not Suck
I might get a lot of flack for this. But there’s a reason for the existence of that old trope of making guests sit through boring slides of your vacations. You’ve just been to a whole new world and you want to share your experiences with your friends and family, so why not make your photos reflect that sense of wonder and amazement? If these are memories you’re making, why not get them as perfect as possible? Here’s some tips on how to make people actually want to see your travel photos, and not just feel obligated to leave polite comments on Facebook.

5. Focus On What Grabs You

What is this picture even OF? (From Len’s Travels)

Many amateur photographers make the mistake of taking too wide or general of a shot. As a result, the main point of focus, or the reason they took the picture in the first place, can be lost or obscured by too many other details in the photo competing for attention. Try getting closer to the subject, either physically or with a zoom lens, to capture the detail you’re interested in.

The lesson here? Get close to your subject, even if it means crossing the street or using a zoom lens. (L: From Len’s Travels)

Try framing the subject so that its color contrasts with its surroundings. For example, orange and blue is a combo you often get at sunset and can make for spectacular pictures of stone structures.

Contrasting color can both add interest and pull focus to a subject that might otherwise look drab (both from Len’s Travels)

You can also fiddle with your camera settings to isolate your subject. Low apertures and selective focus will make the parts you’re not as interested in blurry while the point of interest is sharply defined. This is a technique often used in ‘street’ photography.

I’m not sure why this sign makes me laugh so much. Probably because I’m always antisocial.

6. Consider the Composition

What was it Rachel Carson said? First the fish and frogs… (From Wisconsin Travel Best Bets)

This isn’t Photography 101, and nobody is going to grade you on whether or not you used the Rule of Thirds. But there is no denying that good composition makes a far more interesting picture. Remember that you’re telling a story! Sticking everything smack in the middle leaves the eye with nowhere else to go. Leaving too much empty space on one side, or not enough, can make your photos look unbalanced or cramped.

If only a little more headroom had been given to the building in the back, I would have loved this photo… (From Len’s Travels)

And thanks to optical illusion, not allowing enough depth of field can make objects appear to blend together in weird ways.

Horse Head and… Tree Trunk Head? Anyone wanna come forward and claim this one?

I’ve seen a lot of travel photos that would be spectacular even with some simple cropping afterward.

Aw what a cute… Purell sanitizing station and half a little girl’s head. Seriously, CROP THOSE OUT! (From Wisconsin Travel Best Bets)

And another good reason to consider composition? If you ever want to get those pictures framed, chances are you’ll have to crop each photo to fit it correctly. Better to frame the shot so that you don’t lose anything important!

A few illustrations of compositional rules of thumb: (L) The horizon sits about a third of the way up from the picture, the sheep are spaced out well, and the branches fill up the otherwise empty top half; (R) Leading lines guide you to the subject. Also note the horizon line and hand are 1/3 of the way down and across the picture, respectively.

7. File Quality Matters

Facebook is a horrible place to share photos. It compresses the files as you upload them, meaning you can never get the original back. A much better place to share your travel pics is a site like Flickr, which allows you to not only keep the original image quality but lets you dictate how others can use and download the photos.

No matter where you upload, make sure of two things:

  1. You are using the highest quality with the least compression
  2. Your file is supported by the site

For example, TIF files are lossless compression, but not supported on Flickr. They’ll actually have the potential to look worse once you upload them.

How a JPG is affected by quality and file size. The more compression, the lower the quality and clarity of the image. (From Active Technologies)

If you must use JPGs, save at maximum quality and make sure all your post processing is done first. Every time you alter a JPG after saving, you lose quality when you re-save.

Just… try not to save it more than ten times, yeah? (From f/stop spot)

8. Be Selective

What have you done. You have taken a picture of the Mona Lisa. Think about your life. Think about your choices. (From Sergey Meniailenko)

What have you done. You have taken a picture of the Mona Lisa. Think about your life. Think about your choices. (From Sergey Meniailenko)

Nobody needs to see every picture you took on vacation. You can take as many as you like, but you have to keep in mind that for most photographers maybe one out of every three or four pictures is actually worth keeping. Seasoned ones learn how to pick the best images to show. Not only will this make you look better as a photographer, but it will cut down on the time it takes to get all the way through your latest photoset. I took about 400 pictures my first time in England. Asking someone to look at all of them would have been insane. If you don’t like the idea of going through your photos to pick out the good ones, how can you expect your friends and family to?

Ah, thank goodness for digital. (From Matthias Hauser)

Ah, thank goodness for digital. (From Matthias Hauser)

You also might want to be selective about what you shoot. Don’t get me wrong; it is your trip and you should take pictures of whatever interests you or that you want to remember. However, sometimes it gets ridiculous. People on vacation tend to go overboard with the documenting, even going so far as to take pictures of famous paintings! Or even worse… of photographs.

There are very few historical photographs you can't find elsewhere, and of far higher quality. (From Len's Travels)

There are very few historical photographs you can’t find elsewhere, and of far higher quality. (From Len’s Travels)

Before you take that shot, just ask yourself: can I find a much better, near identical photograph on the web? Does anything about this shot make it unique and therefore memorable to me? If not, why waste the card space or film?

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