Do you take pictures? Are you going on holiday or on a trip? So I bet you’re taking your camera with you. I bet you’ve already been disappointed by your photos, finding them not so good and common enough. So how do you get more than just holiday photos to show your friends?
Be careful, I’m not saying don’t take a picture of the Empire State Building or your friend with the index finger on the top of the Eiffel Tower. It’s good too, and it makes nice memories. Just that well, everyone has already done it, and if you want to take advantage of your trip to bring back more personal photos, you’ll have to get off the beaten track, by definition 😉
1. Look for what YOU find beautiful or that touches you
This is probably the most difficult advice to integrate and apply, but I take the risk of placing it at the top of the list, because it must really underpin your entire photographic process in general, but especially in a situation where it is difficult not to fall into cliché, such as travel. It is important that your photos are personal, and that you really seek to give your vision of where you are travelling, without falling into déjà vu or copying what has already been done.
It is therefore applicable to every other board on this list, think about it!
2. Do not photograph monuments
Don’t look, everyone has already taken a picture of the Eiffel Tower. You can take pictures at golden hours or whatever, you will have a nice picture maybe, but not an original picture. Your only chance if you really want to use a monument is to take a totally different perspective. Focusing on a detail can be a good solution, very few people do.
Look for what touches you, impresses you, or what you find beautiful in a monument, and try to represent this feeling (and not this image) with your camera. If the Eiffel Tower doesn’t make you hot or cold, don’t photograph it!
3. Take your camera everywhere
If you’ve read quite a bit on the blog, you might feel like I’m repeating myself, and that’s a bit like it. If I repeat this point, it is particularly important when travelling. Indeed, one can often be tempted to leave the camera at the hotel, at the youth hostel, or at its host’s in couchsurfing, especially if one has a reflex. Except that it’s a very bad idea, because when you travel, you’ll always have photographic opportunities. And especially when you don’t have your device on you, it’s always like that.
So even if you’re just going to have a drink, take it! You never know what you might see around the corner, or if there won’t be Rolling Stones playing in the pub you’re going to, or a serious cow/rickshaw accident (2 horns seriously injured) 😛
4. Get off the beaten track for Western tourists
Quite frankly, the ready-made American tourist tours in shorts/sandals are of no interest. Rather than “seeing” things, focus on living off them. Let yourself be carried away by your steps, lose yourself in the city, stop where you find it fun: it’s the best way to discover things that 99% of tourists never see. And so to photograph them 😉
I will give you an example: in Dublin, while I was walking without any real purpose with the friend who accompanied me, we pass in front of the National Library of Ireland, whose entrance is finally quite discreet. Just a small poster to announce an exhibition indoors. Curious, we return, and the guard of a certain age and with a very British accent invites us to join a visit of the reading room, which has just begun.
The result: we discover a reading room straight out of a film, with small wooden desks, green lamps, wooden ladders, 19th century books in perfect condition, and a gigantic ceiling height. There were only about ten people on the tour. Given the number of tourists in Dublin, I think 99% have never seen and will never see this extraordinary place.
In terms of photographic opportunities, I let you imagine that I had a great time 😀 In fact, I was almost fired because the room was closing 😛
5. Take your time
Don’t be your hurried tourist who wants to see everything (by the way, don’t forget to live rather than see 😉). Take the time to discover, patiently. Take an interest in the places, look at everything, focus on the details that interest you. Take 5 minutes to take THE shot you want if necessary.
Again, I have an example. In Dublin, I spent a few hours discovering second-hand clothes ( “vintage clothes” sounds so much better). Many of them contain treasures of small, unique and charming objects. I discovered one in particular whose basement was simply surreal: a man with a long, dishevelled grey beard who made clothes with a sewing machine, accompanied by his old, worn-out dog, and a whole collection of small objects from another time, from doll carriages to small rusty metal trucks. All this in an absolutely unique atmosphere. I spent an hour there taking pictures.
6. Enter the essence of the place
When you discover a city or country, try to grasp its “substantial marrow” as they say. What makes a country is not just its monuments. Being French, I would almost be offended if France were reduced to the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysées. Well, it’s the same when you travel: understand what makes the place, what characterizes it, what makes it different from home.
It can be events, ways of behaving, a particular atmosphere, a light… Find out why you are out of your way. For example, if you go to Denmark and there are no bicycles in your pictures (or even pictures of bicycles), you probably missed something. Do you see the idea? It can be very discreet after all: the very fact that the streets are deserted at the hottest times in the south of France is a unique feature of this region, and a “little change of scenery” if you don’t live there 😉
7. Be interested in people
This brings me to this last advice and not the least, because most often, what makes a place a place is the people who live there. Even if you are generally not comfortable with the portrait, force yourself a little to integrate people into your images. The inhabitants of a country (or even a French region) reveal a lot about the place, the way of life, the local customs. Be sure to capture a typical attitude, or a gathering of people for an event that you are not used to seeing from home (again, this is quite possible from one region to another in France).
It seems easier to work on the inhabitants of a country when its culture is very far from ours, because indeed you rarely see someone walking around in Sari in France, but it is also possible in Western countries, and even in your own country. Look for what differentiates the premises, but also what brings them closer to you.