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.

1. Go For a Non-busy Background

One thing you probably don’t want to end up in your vacation memories: random background creeper! (From Awkward Family Photos)

This counts for just about any photo but in travel pics a busy background can be an especial nightmare. Now, by ‘busy’ I don’t mean a crowded street market or a teeming school of fish. In those cases the business and confusion is what you want to capture. No, what I mean is taking a picture of your preteen daughter and accidentally including two giraffes mating in the background.

Aw, that’s adorable. You actually thought I was kidding. (From Awkward Family Photos)

Or trying to create the feeling of a wild, romantic landscape… but you can totally see an icky trainyard behind the happy campers.

And they were never seen again. (From Awkward Family Photos)

Background is always important, and can make or break a picture. It’s much better to pick a more neutral one that lets you focus on the subject, or to blur out the background with low aperture, a zoom lens, or simply getting closer to who or what you’re shooting.

A prime lens is perfect for blurring unwanted backgrounds because its f-stop is so low.

A prime lens is perfect for blurring unwanted backgrounds because its f-stop is so low.

2. Use Soft Side Lighting Where You Can

Not grumpy, just squinty! (From Dain Bread)

When you’re taking pictures on the fly, sometimes it’s hard to remember the position of the sun or other light sources. Our eyes can adjust to light much more effectively than a camera lens, meaning that taking pictures in full sunlight can result in washed out images. It gets worse when, as inevitably happens, you want to take your fellow travelers’ portraits. Squinting, shadows under the eyes, washed out skin… all of this happens when the lighting sucks and none of this is 100% fixable in Photoshop. It makes your subjects look like they’re having no fun– which surely they can’t be while staring into the sun waiting for you to get the perfect shot.

He was having a good time, really. I swear.

Side lighting usually has the advantage of being softer, more diffuse, and extremely flattering to faces. Try to position your subjects so that the light hits them from the side or indirectly. You can also use shade.

(L) Side lighting tends to bring out the most pleasing and dynamic angles in the human face, which is why it’s used so often for modeling. (R) If you’re looking for filtered light, position your subject under a tree. Just be careful the light and shadow isn’t too dappled!

3. Choose Interesting Angles

(Photo by Bjarke Christensen Røjle)

Travel photography is, at its heart, documentary. We take pictures to chronicle our trips and experiences. That’s why it’s so tempting to quickly snap a photo of everything that catches our interest without stopping to think whether it’ll actually make a good picture. We treat our cameras almost like scanners. I’ve even seen people taking pictures of commemorative plaques and signs: nothing more than text. There’s nothing wrong with this, but if you’re going to put this photo in your Flickr stream, why not make it look good? Think about what interests you in a particular subject and try to capture that in the picture.

A somewhat boring shot, but you can see that it’s one the other tourists seem to gravitate toward!

Tons of skulls in a crypt? Try taking a picture from the end of a long row of them to give that feeling of infinity.

A more dynamic angle can add visual interest and create a different feel.

Statue of an imposing figure? Why not take that picture from the base to make it look even taller and more imposing? Even pictures of signs or flat museum displays can benefit from a little dynamic angling.

The same museum display looks flat when photographed straight-on, but viewing it at an angle makes you appreciate its dimensionality and purpose.

4. Encourage Candid Behavior or Unique Posing

This is what happens when you let strangers take your photo. (from Darren Alff)

One of the most common ‘boring travel photo’ tropes is seeing shot after shot of someone standing stock still near a statue, building, or sign with a cheesy smile on their face. After a while this not only gets repetitive but awkward since they’re always staring right into the camera and so obviously posed.

I don’t care if you’re being eaten by a shark or not. You’re not spoiling THIS family photo, Timmy! (From Awkward Family Photos)

Why not try for a more natural shot? Try having your friends or family members interact with the environment in some way so that it doesn’t just look like a photo opportunity but an actual memory.

This quickly became our quintessential ‘traveling through the UK’ image. We took a lot of trains, okay?

Even if it’s silly, it’ll be something unique you’ll look back on and smile about. Although the whole ‘holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa’ gag may seem old, it’s still way better than just someone standing there blocking the scenery.

I still don’t get how this ended up on Awkward Family Photos. It’s adorable and creative!

Titan II Missile Museum + Winterhaven Festival of Lights, X-mas 2008


England & Scotland 2008 Pt. 12: Leeds Castle World of Wings Raptor Show

This was hands-down the coolest thing at Leeds Castle. I want to go back and do one of their falconry workshops someday.


England & Scotland 2008 Pt. 11: Leeds Castle

For our last day, we went to Leeds Castle. This was a pretty picture-heavy trip since there was a lot to do there, so I’m breaking it into two parts: the raptor show and everything else. First, everything else!


England & Scotland Pt. 10: Edinburgh Castle

Another thing that makes Edinburgh so fantastic is the Castle. And the fudge on the way to the Castle, which I was stupid enough not to buy. But that’s a story for never.


England & Scotland 2008 Pt. 9: Edinburgh at last!

Edinburgh was our last stop in Scotland. It was probably my favorite one.


England & Scotland 2008 Pt. 8: From Skye to Inverness

After the Isle of Skye we decided that the best way to see most of Scotland was via train. So we booked it all the way around the northern tip, and stopped off in Inverness (unfortunately, we didn’t have time for the Loch itself).


England & Scotland 2008 Pt. 7: Dunvegan Castle, Skye

After the castle ruins we weren’t quite castled out yet, so we went over to Dunveden, an infinitely more intact version. It had really beautiful grounds with tons of plants from all over the world. It also had a resident group of seals. We weren’t allowed to take pictures of the inside, so most of my pictures are of seals and flowers. I’m sure you don’t mind.


England & Scotland 2008 Pt. 6: Isle of Skye Pt. 1

Finally we were at the Isle of Skye. We got into Mallaig and took a ferry over to Armadale, then a bus to Broadford where our hostel was. While we waited for the bus in Armadale we took a little hike around:

England & Scotland Pt. 5: Glasgow to Skye

We were supposed to go to Loch Lomond, but the hostel filled up the day before. So we decided to stop for the night in Glasgow. I kind of hated Glasgow. With a passion. Took very few pictures.


England & Scotland Pt. 4: Keswick, Lake District

We spent two nights in Keswick. It was pretty glorious, and easily my favorite town of the whole trip. The Lakes are gorgeous and there was always plenty to do in town. It thrives on tourism, but isn’t cheapened by it.

England & Scotland 2008, Pt. 3: Train to the Lakes

Probably about a third or more of our trip was spent on train, necessarily, because when you want to see Scotland in a hurry it’s really the best way. So a lot of my pictures were also taken out a train window. I was kind of impressed that they even turned out this well. These are of the leg from Settle, Yorkshire to Keswick in the Lake District, with a stop at Penrith along the way.


England & Scotland 2008, Pt. 2: London and Yorkshire

So finally, here we are in England. Our first day we spent in London, and the next we headed out to Yorkshire. Little did we know what we were in for in the Dales…


England and Scotland, 2008 Part 1: East Coast Prep

Finally finished this set of pictures depicting our epic (for us) two-week trip to the UK to visit both England and Scotland, because we are crazy. You’re probably eager to see the photos, but first some East Coast pre-trip stuff to get you good and disappointed…

Cool Hike- Swimming with the Frogs (Summer 2008)

Ken and I revisited the awesome Cool Pool back in 2008, and actually went swimming this time. With the frogs.


Napa Valley (Summer 08)

Here’s pictures from when Alan, Ken and I went to Napa Valley for a day of wine-tasting debauchery. It also turned into a review of Really Bad Modern Art, as one of the places we hit was Clos Pegase.


Jenny’s Sushi Birthday, 2008

I’m about three years behind again on the Digitalis project; how did this happen?!?!? Ah well. Here’s some nice pics of Jenny’s birthday party three years ago, where she made sushi and we happily ate it.


Sac Steampunk Society Bohemian Experience, 2011

One of the great things about knowing musicians in the area is getting the opportunity to join them at uber-cool events. So last Saturday my band, Never Right Now, got to play an awesome show alongside Laura Ortiz (aka Belle Francisco) and her band, Twilight Willow, at a Bohemian party put on by the Sacramento Steampunk Society. The host converted a barn into a steampunk club house and the decor was absolutely amazing. I tried absinthe for the first time, and we met some great people and musicians. Also, the crowd at this performance was one of the most receptive so far, and we sold many CDs. Very cool! When I had a chance I snapped a few pictures and got to mess around with on-camera flash.


Auburn State Rec Area, 2008

In early April 2008 we went out hiking in the Auburn State Recreation Area for Ken’s birthday. It was mostly fun, until we got lost. We met a rattlesnake and a lizard and quite a few butterflies. I also played with RAW files for the first time.

Arizona Twilight, 2005

Hey, what’s this, Ansate? Why, it’s a re-scan of an old negative with my new Epson Perfection v500. Lovely as it is, the Epson decided that it needed to help me a little too much with color correction so this one took a while to approximate the original. Which, by the way, looked like this:

(The original)

Still want to buy a print, Jacki? 😉

How I Spent My Thanksgiving Vacation (Three Years Ago)

Most of the pictures from this were horrible, but here’s some cute ones:


Pacific Northwest Tour Part Five: Crater Lake, OR (2007)

Our final two days we spent driving back to Californy. We stopped in Crater Lake along the way and were lucky enough to get a last-minute dispersed camping site. It is an absolutely beautiful place and I recommend you go go go, because pictures won’t do the vastness of it justice. The lake itself is so cold and serene, it’s easy to believe something from space crashed there. However, the crater was formed by a volcanic explosion.

Most of the pictures I’ve already put up on my portfolio site, But there are a few new ones.


Pacific Northwest Tour Part Four: Mt. St. Helens National Park (2007)

Our fourth and fifth days we spent exploring Mt. St. Helens. The first night we tried dispersed camping– it was the first time I’d done it in a while but, aside from getting lost AND finding bear hair and scat a few yards from our tent the next morning, it was a surprisingly fun experience. And now I am much less afraid of fire.

Right. First order of business: get stuck in a cave.

The Meatball, Ape Cave.

Exploring lava tunnels.

Oh god, these little squirrels were everywhere. Golden-mantled ground squirrels, I believe. Look like chipmunks, really squirrels.

They were friendly.

They got a bit overly friendly at times.


I think I took this exact picture before, about 9 years prior. I’ll have to dig it up and see.

Ken patiently waiting for me while I stalk a deer.

Dinner was mostly successful. Cooking over a real fire kind of takes forever without proper equipment.

Maybe he IS on a research grant, but I doubt it.

Just me and my favorite volcanic mountain.

Portrait of Ken and Dave, with Toasted Oats.

I can’t take a normal picture.

Pacific Northwest Tour Part 3: Portland (2007)

Our third day of the trip we spent exploring Portland, Oregon with Dave and Maz as our guides.

On the train into the city proper!

This picture cracks me up. I am demonstrating the ‘no hands’ approach and looking quite smug… BUT CHECK OUT THE TEENY TINY MOFO BEHIND ME. He is clearly the king of unconventional rail riding and I bow to this prepubescent wonder.

Yard work is done a bit differently in Portland, you see.

We went to this great bubble tea place with just… tons and tons of teas and add-ins. And a really nice sitting room with couches and books. I was most amused, though, by the positioning of the straw hole in the plastic covers for the cups. Yes, every single one invited you to stab a young girl in the face. ?!?!

Ken very quickly found the book for him…

Surprise balls!

The rest of us contented ourselves with defacing the magazines.

The Stephen King section of Powell’s. Ken practically had to pry me away.

I see modern art, I have to make it worse. I won’t apologize.

An example of the disturbing decor at Chez Dave.

Squirrel in the morning!