Basic photo critique considerations: Focus, Composition, Lighting, Story, Emotional Connection. Within travel, there are a few other elements to consider as well:
Color: The more vibrant the color, the more your photo will capture the audiences eye. While the quality of the colors will be largely dependent on the quality of light, find scenescapes with color and you will have great potential for a cool shot.
Unusual scenes: What captures your attention? Often while traveling, we are often drawn to scenes that aren’t usual to us. When this happens, t’s easy to just “click” a shot without taking the time to set it up or arrange it in a most artistic way. Take the time to make the shot as interesting as you possibly can.
Angles: Discipline yourself to get down on the ground, or at a high angle to capture a shot. Don’t take a photo at first glance. Is it more interesting to move to the right and incorporate something in the foreground to create additional depth? Or maybe toward the left will eliminate a distraction. Regardless, explore new angles to make the most of your shots.
Direction: One crucial part of travel photography is to be aware of eye flow within your frame. You want your viewer to be drawn into the scene – so where are you directing their attention? Composing for this end is particularly helpful, as can using objects in the background or foreground to create eye flow.
I am going to critique two of my favorite travel images to demonstrate. Sometimes a photo can use even slight modifications to create a very large difference. In this first image, this is the case:
ISO 400, 10mm, F2.8, 1/50s
What I love:
The story: I love that this shot captures the sights, sounds, and smells of a market in India. You see the hustle and bustle of the women in the streets. You see the men debating over purchases at a store. And you see a man sitting all by himself watching.
The perspective: Using the elements in the foreground in combination with the tent flaps above, I was able to create a sense that we are removed from the scene. This framing creates the feeling that we are on the outside looking in.
The textures: I am very pleased with all the textures incorporated into the composition of this shot. The cloth above, the stone below, the basksets, the metal table, the dirt, the paper – it all provides such additional interest to the picture, giving more visual description to the audience.
The flow: I love that the stone walkway seems to point us into the direction of the market. I hardly notice all of the objects on either side of the frame. Because of the lighting, the flow starts on the lightest part of the image [the stone at that bottom “sweet spot” within the rule of thirds], and it travels up to the actual scene of the market itself.
What could improve the shot:
I would like to see more of the biker, or get rid of him altogether. Zooming out just a little bit more would have created a better frame, and the yellow color wouldn’t be such a distraction in the midst of the muted tones in the bottom half of the image.
In some ways I think I could have established more connection to the audience and this image if the market would have been placed more according to the rule of thirds. Right now the focus of the scene is almost in the very center of the image. If I could have moved the frame just some to the left and raised the whole shot a few inches, I could have accomplished this.
This second shot I took while on a trip to Ecuador. I made the mistake of not taking any time with this shot – I honestly was simply drawn to the color of the blooming tree.
ISO 200, 200mm, F3.5, 1/500s
What I love:
The color: The entire scene is pretty much composed of neutrals and greens. But, at the edge of the frame, the bright pink of the blooming tree adds a perfect spring happy feeling.
The story: I enjoy that this is just a typical scene on the streets of Quito. People walking to work. Reading books. Kids hanging out. Each of them have their own stories but are drawn to this fountain area in the middle of town. Once again, it feels like the audience is there too.
What could improve the shot:
The framing: I don’t even know why I didn’t try to use the colors in the tree more. Further, the tree is being covered up by the fountain. Rather than arranging both the fountain and the tree as subjects within the scene, I actually hid the tree behind the fountain. Looking back, I could have composed this shot much better had I simply moved toward my right, and allowed the pink flowers to frame the fountain.
The story: This shot was pretty rushed. I did not wait for people to be in a “perfect” place to tell a story. I just snapped the picture. As a result, the only person who is in focus is a girl who doesn’t have much expression or direction at all. Watching and waiting would have been much more profitable for the story of this picture.
The composition: Had I zoomed out a little bit more for this scene, I could have arranged the hedge at the front bottom of the frame on the third. I would have then captured the little old men sitting down chatting together, instead of seeing them cut off at the bottom of the frame.
All in all, I still enjoy my images and the stories they represent in my life. However, I know that critiquing my work from the past will help me make mental notes of what I can do to improve my work for the future. And while there is always an element of the “unexpected” within travel photography, if we as photographers can train our eyes to see and compose quickly, we will be able to capture even those surprise moments.