Picture your unique story

When we return from an adventure, we count on photographs to tell the story and convey the excitement and the feeling of the place we’ve been. But often we end up with “George in front of the Eiffel Tower,” “George beside the Blue Danube,” “George riding on a camel,” “George staring into the camera”. . . . You can just hear your audience yawn.

Get yourself in the picture. Have George take some, and, if you are in a group, ask other members to push the shutter for you. Ask a stranger? Often other travelers are happy to oblige — and won’t run off with your camera (choose carefully). Try to include something in your image that identifies your location: a sign, flag, costume or known landmark.

Watch for scene stealers. With a point-and-shoot camera you can’t see if you’re covering the lens with your finger. The Museum of Modern Photography in Ottawa, Canada, has a whole exhibit entitled “The Travels of Digit.” Fingers, hair, scarves, camera straps and all manner of spotlight-hungry paraphernalia can ruin your shot.

Check your background and eliminate distracting elements such as wires, poles, beer bottles and trash. You can clone them out of digital files later, but it’s much easier to leave them out. Check for hot spots too — people wearing white, the sun, lights, hot reflections, etc. Very light things draw the eye to them, so be sure it’s your subject. Watch for distractions on the border of your picture so the viewer is drawn into the frame.

Vary the view. Occasionally turn the camera on end for a “portrait” viewpoint. Walk around your subject; it might look better from another angle or distance. Step up on something or kneel down — at least you’re getting exercise.

To tell the travel story, take overall shots, then narrow down to a portion of the scene and, next, get details and close-ups. Don’t settle for just one shot of the Acropolis. You spent a lot of money to get there, and film is cheap in comparison, so get a few shots.

Don’t avoid people. A few well-placed, attractive tourists can add depth, perspective and scale to a monument.

If the weather is great, the sky is often boring. Leave it out unless there are interesting clouds or the deep blue complements the scene.

Rule of Thirds — it’s commonly felt that placing your subject off center and either slightly above or below the horizontal center is more pleasing to the eye. Dead center is, well, dead. Leave room in front of a person or animal so they have space into which to (figuratively speaking) walk. Placing someone on the edge and facing or walking out of the frame creates tension, however. Be aware and place your subject for impact.

Oh, and watch the horizon. In nature, it’s always completely horizontal.

Add depth. Having something in the foreground and something in the middle distance adds depth and scale to a scenic shot. Your eye can see through haze, but your camera can’t, so if you want that sweeping vista of the countryside, frame it with a tree or a person for interest.

If you are taking pictures from a boat, remember that it’s moving. Also, catch a part of the rigging or rail in the frame to show where you are. It helps your audience to feel the experience.

Develop your own style. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Take the postcard shot, but also look for unique images, small details and different angles. Take a scene reflected in a window or mirror. Get creative with Saran Wrap™ over the lens (to “fog” the image for a romantic look), move the camera while shooting flowers for an impressionistic picture, or place flowers or foliage close to the lens and shoot a building through them.

Panning (moving your camera with, for instance, a racing car) creates a sense of movement.

Most important of all, never leave your camera in the room or car. Carry one small enough to have it with you always. The best and most interesting pictures always appear unexpectedly. Be prepared, keep looking and keep shooting.