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How To Bring Back Boring, And Possibly Horrid, Travel Photos

We all do it, once in a while.  I’ll even admit to it as I am currently paging through the last six years of travel photos.  I have taken boring travel photos.  Sometimes.  Maybe you know you take boring photos and maybe you don’t.  And maybe sometimes, like me, you look back and realize you took some, but not until it was too late  All those megabytes lost to what might have seemed like a good idea at the time.  Well, if you want to take more of those boring photos, let me fill you in on some of my secrets for taking mundane, ho-hum travel photos.  By the end of the list, your photos should be fairly horrid.  You’re welcome.

Stand In Front Of Something

Me And Guinness, Boring.

Me And Guinness, Boring.

Stand in front of things often and with no real purpose.  When nearly every picture you bring back is you in pretty much the same clothes, over and over again, in front of large things, it’s going to bore your friends back home.  Mission accomplished.  And you don’t want your friends thinking you had more fun on your trip than they did huddled inside office cubicles, so make sure you don’t pose, make goofy face or otherwise look like you’re enjoying the trip.  Because you aren’t.  As far as they know from your pictures.

Take A Picture Just So You Can Say You Were There

No one, and I mean no one, will believe you’ve been to the Louvre in Paris if you don’t bring back a photo of the Mona Lisa taken from 30 feet away over a throng of other camera wielding tourists.  Sure, you could tell them all about how you stood in awe for a solid 10 minutes gazing upon the master piece from the front row.  But you didn’t,  because you needed to get a photo.  A photo is worth 1000 words after all, so stop the heartfelt diatribe on the mastery of Leonardo da Vinci’s work as you witnessed it and snap that photo from just above shoulder height from the back of the room.  If you want to up your game and really prove you were there, find someone close to you with a better zoom lens holding their camera high and snap a picture of their viewscreen.  Add in some digital zoom and it’s like you were allowed beyond the security ropes, sniffing the paint yourself.  Your friends will love this.

Super High ISO

Too much ISO noise, noise, NOISE!!

Too much ISO noise, noise, NOISE!!

Don’t listen to the ninnies who say there isn’t enough light to really capture the romance of a moon splashed beach, complete with candle lit walkways and lovers walking hand in hand.  Bah!  Shoot away!  You might spook the lovers with a flash so go without, it’s ok.  Just jack up the ISO as far as it’ll go and act like it’s daylight.  Handheld photos will get the best (terrible) results here.  No sense in laying back in the sand to enjoy the warm breeze off the Caribbean, no one will believe how romantic the scene was!  And believe me, a wickedly grainy shot with all kinds of color noise and a bit of camera shake is better than no shot at all when it comes to spelling R-O-M-A-N-C-E.

Too Much Flash

So you didn’t take my advice by jacking up the ISO for dark photos.  Now you’re looking for a new way to bring back craptastic photos? Let’s swing the opposite direction and blow it all out with the flash.  That’s right, the flash.  It’s great for obliterating the mood of any photo and rendering a dynamic backdrop flat as a crepe floating on a windless ocean.  Because what should be shining in this photo is you!  (You are in front of something, aren’t you?  Pay attention!!) Using the ‘night mode’  is for sissies who want to blend into the scenery.  Not you, you want to stand out, so use that flash like you mean it.  Full flash, all the time.  No compromise.

Flat, Flat, Flat Photos

I wanted to edit this photo, but I fell asleep

Wanted to edit this photo, but I fell asleep looking at it.

Let’s look at it this way; Ansel Adams’ prints are all two dimensional (literally) so yours should be too (figuratively).  And really, they will all be viewed on computer screens anyway, so keep with the flat, two dimensional theme.  It works (painters usually do the same thing and they’ve been putting out art for years!).  Don’t try to arrange some foreground objects and distant objects, never.  That doesn’t work, at all.  Let’s use a scene of a wayward moose chomping on river grasses with Denali in the background.  Horrid.  No, instead, take a look at that pretty rock in the foreground and isolate it.  Hover over it if need be (don’t try this with the moose, though, because we’re trying to ignore him).  And it’s best if it doesn’t cast an annoying shadow, hinting to the fact that it may be a 3D object.  Flat, people, flat!  Now look to those distant hills and the glaciated 20,000’ peak.  How to make all those rolls and jagged edges flat?   Best to wait for clouds because, again, shadows aren’t going to help you.  Or maybe wait until a noon day sun, when it’s at its brightest, is beating straight down.  That’ll do the trick too.

Centering The Horizon

Who wants to visit Ireland after seeing this?  Me!!

Who wants to visit Ireland after seeing this? Me!!

The Rule Of Thirds was created by someone who clearly doesn’t understand symmetry.  When you look to the distant horizon over an emerald blue sea, where do your eyes place it?  In the middle!!  Do you tilt your head down so the horizon is in the top third of your field of view?  Of course not!  So why would you shoot like that?  Drop that ‘theory’ and get with reality.  Put the horizon in the middle.  It’s the way nature intended.

Include No Frame Of Reference

Image: Random canons with no real context or sense of place rock!!

Random canons with no real context or sense of place rock!!

This one should be easy if you’re really working hard on making your photos flat.  It’s like getting two awesome photos in one.  Remember where we had you take individual shots of a rock (not the moose) and Denali?  We’re going to refine your shots a bit.  Let’s assume it’s a really cool rock.  So cool, it’d be best if there weren’t any distractions or reference points in the photo.  Take a look at your photo.  Can you see the babbling brook in the frame?  Bad.  Drop it.  What about any activity?  Butterflies or hoof prints?  Nope, don’t want those.  Let the rock shine by making it the only thing in the photo.  Don’t worry, you can always add captions later if your cubicle chained friends don’t understand; “This is the cool rock I found right before the moose charged us.  I think there were some mountains around, too.”  That’s what words are for.

Too Fast To Stop? Blur It!

I'm sure he was interesting, if I had only stoped.

I'm sure he was interesting, if I had only stoped.

Thank to the powers that be for trains, busses, taxis driven by insane people and other forms of speedy transportation.  If not for them, you’d never be able to cover, and photograph, as much countryside and cityscapes as you’d hope!  You’d be stuck walking around, composing shots for hours.  Best leave those photos to the pros who are paid to hang out in one spot.  You’re on the move and don’t have time for that any way.  Plus, whoa! Action!  It’s in every moving photo.  It’s the blur style you love from National Geographic, except without all the learned experience (read: cheaper for you!).  That shot from the rickshaw where the canvas wall is hiding half of what was an amazing Buddhist statue will help your friends back home connect with the real Nepal you got to experience.  You don’t have time to stop and compose, you’re on vacation!!!

And so my friends, that is just a snippet of my advice for bringing back boring, and possibly horrid, travel photos. I could go on and on; Make ‘em dark, aim for the sun, shoot from the hip, etc…   No need to thank me, just keep all those bad photos to yourself.  Thanks.

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Peter West Carey

Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

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