How *not* to take a good travel photo

In the modern age of social media, travel has never been more photographed. We are bombarded with stunning photographs of envy-inducing gorgeous landscapes designed to capture the very best that our planet and its diversity of cultures has to offer. But you don’t have to be a pro to be a part of the travel photography gang (although it certainly helps!). Now, love it or hate it, with ever-increasing camera quality right on our phones, you don’t necessarily need to take all that fancy equipment, several lenses, and a tripod with you to take a great photo. It’s certainly a relief for packing lists and amateurs alike.

It’s now a lot easier to take a good travel photo, but what about all the bad ones we collect along the way? Camera quality can’t just simply magic away foggy weather or an awkward pose, or a finger slyly sliding into view. In my experience, for every good shot there’s at least about a hundred bad ones before it (yes, it takes up a lot of memory). Like that time you tried out an interesting angle on a famous piece of architecture only for it to turn out a bit weird. Or when you attempt to capture all the colours in a gorgeous sunset but it shows up as an odd bright blob on camera.

Bad travel photos are unwanted. They can’t go anywhere, certainly not on social media. They’re met with a groan of disappointment and perhaps a delete or otherwise lie forgotten somewhere deep in a photo gallery. But, rather than discard them, I believe we should celebrate those bad photos simply because they lead you to the good ones. You learn what to avoid next time if you want something worthy of the ‘Gram. But perhaps more importantly, these photos capture something which the good ones don’t. They capture the the mundane quality of everyday life with its bad weather or the awkwardness of posing for slightly too long. They have a characteristic about them which is perhaps more authentic than a photo of a pristine beach on a sunny day, because in real life it rains too.

So without further ado, here’s my top eight bad travel photos, or what not to do with your camera:  

1. The key to a good photo is avoiding bad weather

When taking good travel photos, it helps if you don’t choose a misty day because as you can see…Well, you can’t!

Fog, mist and cloud are all terrible if you’re aiming to catch a few stunning photos of your holiday views. What’s worse is there’s not much you can really do about it. Sometimes the weather is against you and your plans for travel photography can be immediately ruined when you wake up to the mother of all bad weather days. So why did I bother taking this photo? Well, despite its lack of visibility, the landscape had a spooky serene quality about it. It shows that no matter where you go in the world you just can’t escape the weather.

2. Watch out for the sneaking thumb…Or in this case, the hand

Taking photos of what you’ve eaten on your travels is a given. How else are you going to make everyone at home jealous? But, when taking these photos keep an eye out for wandering limbs sliding into shot. They rather take away from the mouth-watering dish and you’re left with chaos and confusion instead.

Lurking fingers are by no means strangers to the art of photography. Poses can be utterly ruined by these large misshapen blobs. The worst part is they tend to sneak in without you noticing until the photo is taken.

3. In an ideal world, you don’t want steam to obstruct the subject

Granted, taking a photo of someone next to a geyser is never going to be easy when said geyser emits a lot of steam. It’s a technical challenge which rarely leads to victory. This particular photo captures the very moment when the steam is in full swing, and with the wind doing everything in its power to sabotage the photo-op, the subject is almost obscured.

Incidentally, for those who can’t quite make out what or why this photo is, it’s a demonstration on how to boil eggs in a geyser. I wouldn’t recommend trying this at home as they tend to get very hot!

4. Photo-bombers are everywhere

The problem with tourist attractions is that taking a photo without tourists is nearly impossible. Unintentionally or not, tourists are expert photo-bombers and they will be there lurking behind beautiful temples, wandering through your shots of a scenic lake, or taking their own photos of the attraction. I mean, why not? We all do it. Tourists are a necessary feature of the tourist attraction, and they never plan to pose.

As you can see here, the focus on the Maori demonstration is somewhat lost to the well-illuminated profile of the man at the side. After all, you can rarely have the tourist attraction without the tourists.

5. Avoid flash when taking animal photos, unless you’re after a demonic effect

Animals are tricky photo subjects in that they just don’t sit still. You can tell a dog to stay but you can’t tell it to stop moving around and just sit still for a moment while you take a photo. More often than not they turn their head right at the last moment or even wander off a little bored and bemused leaving you with a series of blurry blobs and a tail. The same goes for flash photography. It rarely looks good on anyone let alone animals. Unless you want that alien or demonic feel to your photographs, flash photography is best to avoid at all costs.

The truth is, you rarely win when you’re photographing animals on your holiday. The best way to succeed even a little bit is to take as many photos as you can. After all, they can’t stick their tongue out forever!

6. Let your subject know if they have aeroplane arms

Posing is almost harder than photography. Yes, you may not have to deal with getting the right quality of light, the angle, and the perspective, but at least you do have to figure out how to pose without looking weird or awkward. Some people are of course blessed with a model-like grace that allows them to position themselves effortlessly for the camera. I am not one of those people. Forever perplexed by the camera I prefer to not be in them but if I have to, then have my back to them. It’s hard enough trying to stand naturally without having to arrange your face too!

Posing has its challenges too. Held for too long and the photo looks awkward. Throwing your arms up in the air in some kind of free-spirited jubilation can make you look like you’re getting ready to take off on a runway. I don’t mean the catwalk.  

7. Note that everything is a little bit further away for the camera lens

So, you’re about and about on your travels and you spot the perfect photo opportunity. Stunning emerald cliffs rolling into the crisp blue sea below under a clear sky dotted with fluffy white clouds. It’s the perfect backdrop for an Instagram worthy photo. It would be silly to avoid it. You get yourself in position for the shot but it’s too bright to make out what you’re photographing so you have to hope for the best.

In your haste, however, you forget that unlike the naked eye, the camera lens is rather like looking down the wrong end of a telescope. Everything is that little bit further away. So, when you think you’ve got a really good photo you’ve really got a small silhouette almost swallowed by the vibrant setting behind.

8. Sometimes you can’t win when it comes to lighting

Lighting is a tricky detail to get right when it comes to photography. Too bright and the image almost disappears. Too dark and you can’t make much of it out, and you end up with a mass of dark blobs. Lighting is a challenge at the best of times. You ideally want to get natural light, and it’s even better if it happens to be sunlight. But if your subject happens to be in the wrong direction you end up hazy streaks slicing across the image or too many shadows to deal with.

I’ve always found lighting to be a challenge. My best tip to at least get it a bit right is to avoid posing under a roof with a bright setting behind. Basically, do the opposite to this series of photos and you will fare much better than I did!

***

Thanks for reading,

F x

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