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Photographing Signs – Travel Photography Tip


Here’s a quick tip to add a new dimension to your travel photography.

Look for and Photograph Signs

Last time we took an overseas trip (we travelled mainly through Turkey) I set myself the task of photographing the ‘little things’ that we saw along the way.

My hope was that in photographing ordinary, everyday aspects of the countries that we were travelling through that I’d capture the essence of the country.

One thing that I was drawn to photograph as we travelled was signs.

Of course I didn’t exclusively photograph signs – I took all the normal shots of people and sites along the way – but signs were a definite theme and ended up being a feature of the album of photos I showed friends and family on my return.

I photographed Street Signs, Shop Signs, Advertising Billboards, Town Signs and more.

Why do I like signs as a subject? A number of reasons come to mind. Here’s a few:

  • Signs give your photos context – I used my sign photos like headings in my photo album. Each new phase of our trip was marked in the album with a sign so those viewing my photos knew where we were.
  • Signs can be interesting subjects – I found that as I travelled that the signs themselves were often interesting subjects and said a lot about the place that they were in – ie whether the place was a modern or traditional one, whether it was a touristy place (often featuring lots of English) or whether it was a little more authentic (in the local language) etc
  • Signs are universal yet individual – I loved comparing and contrasting the signs from different countries. On one hand they can be incredibly unique to a location but on the other hand they can often be quite familiar and surprisingly similar to what you see at home.
  • Signs can be humorous – some of the funniest things that I’ve seen on trips have been on signs – whether it be a language difference humor, something that someone’s added to a sign, humorous billboards or a misspelt sign – the funny ones can add character to your collection of photos.


How to Photograph Signs

Photographing Signs is perhaps not the most technical subject to write about as they’re not particularly difficult to capture.

I’m not sure that there are any rules to follow as such but would suggest mixing up the framing of your shots. Sometimes it’s appropriate to zoom right in on the sign and let it speak for itself but quite often signs can be shot within their context quite effectively as their surrounds significantly alter what the image communicates.

If you’re shooting them within their context make sure you’re close enough to see the detail on them and consider using a smaller aperture in order to increase your depth of field so that both the sign and background/foreground are also in focus.

PS: if many modern signs have a reflective quality about them which really light up when you use a flash. This can both enhance your sign photo or kill it depending just how they react to it. Test both with and without the flash to see what impact it might have.

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Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse

is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals.

He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

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