I’m Ed, I’m a travel photographer, and I want to talk with you about something that’s near and dear to my constantly jetlagged heart: how to take good pictures. If you want better pictures, you should take fewer pictures. Let’s talk about why.
The delicate balance between photography and experiences
When you photograph a place, you momentarily remove yourself from the experience of being there in order to record it. Think about any major tourist site: the Louvre, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Empire State Building. Many visitors explore these places through the lenses of their cameras, happily snapping away while hardly taking the time to appreciate the scene with their own eyes. This “shoot everything” style of photography is common among tourists, but it’s detrimental to quality photography for two reasons:
- You’ll miss out on the experience of being there
- You’ll recognize fewer scenes that are worth capturing
The best pictures come from a well-developed understanding of where we are, to the point that we are able to make a photographic statement rather than passively clicking away at our shutters. It’s only when we put the camera down that we begin to fully experience our environment through our own eyes rather than through the eye of our lens.
I never would have seen the beautiful light above me if I had been too busy snapping away at eye-level things, like most of the other tourists were doing in this church in Dublin, Ireland.
The obligatory tourist photo?
Why is a photo deemed necessary? Is it necessary even if the light is bad, people are blocking the shot, and at the expense of actually enjoying the scene for yourself? We observe far more from the experience of being there than our cameras can ever record on a 2-dimensional print. Unless thought and effort is put into our pictures, it’s rare that our cameras will capture a scene as we remember it. Unfortunately, snap and move on seems to be the theme of today’s bite-sized digital world.
I urge you to slow down the pace of your snapping and take a moment to enjoy where you are. Look with your eyes and ask yourself what is beautiful about your locale. Is it the lines and shadows? Is it the way the light dances on the things around you? What angle do you like best and why? Will other people add scale and meaning to the shot or will they detract from it? Use your time spent not taking pictures to enjoy your surroundings as you slowly evaluate their photographic potential.
Water Palace in Jaipur, India
How to take better pictures and simultaneously maximize your travel experiences
Place less emphasis on photography when the light is bad, and at obligatory tourist photo spots. All major tourist destinations have been photographed countless times, and unless you have the rare opportunity to experience those places without the hordes of other people and in excellent light, it will be nearly impossible to capture the essence of those places with your camera. Instead, use the opportunity to enjoy the place with your own eyes while looking around you for other, more unusual photo possibilities. You might even consider leaving your camera behind entirely while you go out in search of photographic potential. Make a mental note to return later in the day or at sunrise when the light is at its best.
This is all just another way of saying one thing: Take Fewer Pictures!
Dillon Reservoir, Colorado
Passion as a way to find beauty
As photographers, our passion for capturing beautiful photographs can provide an uncommon opportunity to witness true beauty in the world. It’s important to find a workable balance between photography and experiences because the right balance allows the two to build on each other, providing us with a fuller enjoyment of each. Let me explain.
The picture above was shot in the Rocky Mountains just outside of Denver, Colorado. I was in Denver visiting a friend, and I had my camera with me. I knew I wanted a good picture that epitomized the Rocky Mountains, and initially I thought a photograph of downtown Denver with the Rockies in the background would be the best way to do that. Rather than snapping away throughout the day, I did something that many photographers would object to: I left my camera completely behind.
After walking around with my friend for most of the day, I knew I wouldn’t be able to find the angle I was looking for. I quickly went to Google Maps and found Dillon Reservoir, a small reservoir in the mountains just outside the city. There looked to be a hiking trail along the eastern edge of the water, a potentially perfect location to shoot the sunset with the water in the foreground.
Thus began the rest of our day, driving to the spot and getting to a place we had never been to. In truth, it wasn’t really about pictures. The short drive through the Rockies was incredible, the hike was fun, and exploring the reservoir was great. The overall experience would have been one to remember even if I hadn’t taken a single photograph that evening. Fortunately, the photo came out well too. It was one of just a handful of shots I took that day.
A future photographer in Mongolia
Pictures for the sake of pictures
Not every single shot needs to be a magazine-cover-worthy stunner. Let’s face it: often many of us (myself included) love to take pictures just for the sake of the pictures. If that’s you, have at it and don’t look back! Just remember to slow down when you want to get serious about getting “the shot”. Enjoy your travels, and as always, keep taking good pictures.