How many times have you traveled overseas only to return with photos that look similar to everybody else or even similar to all the postcards? Don’t most Eiffel Tower photos look similar? Same occurs with all iconic landmarks such as Big Ben in London and the Duomo in Florence.
Whilst travelling through Europe over the last two months I set myself the challenge of getting some ‘out of the ordinary’ photos of classic tourist icons. I set this challenge particularly to get some interesting and unusual photos of the Duomo in Florence. Now you can learn how to get some great travel shots by following these handy hints with examples from my personal challenge from the Duomo in Florence.
Get the classic shots first to free your creativity
Go ahead and get your classic photos out of the way. Circle the building and get a nice clean shot of the most standard iconic aspects. Then go inside and do the same. Once you have completed this task you will be freed up to try some creative shots using some of the techniques described below.
Look for a different perspective
Most tourists I see only bring their camera up to their eye level to get a photo. You will regularly get a better or more interesting image from changing the perspective that you take your image. That will either involve you getting down low (you will often find me on the ground whilst travelling trying to get a new perspective), or climbing on top of a step or chair, etc. The other way to get a unique perspective is to climb to a variety of vantage points to get an image from up high. At the Duomo it included three separate climbs totalling over 2000 stairs to get three separate vantage points. Once at the top look out, down and up.
Use a different lens
If you are looking for something truly unique try a fisheye, tilt shift, or LensBaby lenses.
– Fisheye: The first three images show the effect of a fisheye lens. I find to get the best out of my fisheye I like to shoot from up high with the lens tilted down to cause the horizon to bend.
– Tilt Shift: Unless you are particularly interested in architecture, you are likely to own a tilt-shift lens. A tilt-shift lens is an expensive lens that has the ability to correct perspective distortion present when photographing buildings. It also has a unique ability to cause a miniature like effect when shooting down on a subject or cityscape. The other effect present is a narrow strip of area in focus (depth of field) that can give a really unique perspective.
– LensBaby Lenses: There are many LensBaby lenses on the market with each producing a completely different effect unlike any standard lens. My favourite is the Edge 80mm lens. This lens produces a very similar effect as a tilt-shift lens at a fraction of the price and weight. Photos 4-7 were all taken using this lens. Due to its tiny weight and size I find that I regularly take it now whilst travelling.
Focus on small details
Don’t forget to capture the small (and sometimes not so small) details. By looking for all the details, you begin to open your eyes and see some of the beautiful sights within that you might miss had you not been specifically looking for them.
Use a shallow depth of field
Get creative and start using a large aperture such as 1.8, 1.4, 1.2 or as big as you have available to get a selective depth of field. In the first image you can see I have focused on the details of the fence surrounding Big Ben. As Big Ben is such a notable icon it is unimportant that it is out of focus as it is still clearly recognisable.
Don’t forget to get at least one image with you in the photo
As a photographer I much prefer to be behind the camera instead of in front of it. I have had to make a real effort to ensure that I get some memories to take home that have me included in my own travel photos. Make sure you also take some time out to get you in your own travel photos.
This is one of my favourite ways to create interesting travel images. The photos below illustrate both framing using part of the Duomo looking outwards and also using a frame, such as a window frame to frame the Duomo. The only tricky part of this technique is to ensure that you expose for beyond the frame instead of the frame itself. This often requires significant underexposure of the metered shutter speed. To do this you will need to have your camera in manual or aperture priority with the use of the exposure compensation button.
Show it within the city that it is situated
By finding a vantage point away from the building or landmark you a photographing can provide a greater perspective or context of the city in which the landmark is situated. It also gives you the ability to show more of the city and perhaps a variety of different weather conditions to give some additional interest to the photo.
Put something else iconic from the region in together with your subject
Sometimes every location does not lend itself to achieving each and every one of these tips. That was the case in Florence, where I could not find something I associated with being iconic and then placing it somewhere in an image with the Duomo. Therefore, I have shown some examples from London. The following four images each show a famous London landmark with another iconic element from the city.
Combination of 2 or more of the above
Once you become a pro at each of these techniques you will begin to start looking for them more naturally. This will lead to finding images that combine more than one of the principles. The last image shows framing the subject, finding the little details, and looking for a unique perspective.
Take some time exploring your local city and practicing these techniques prior to your next big overseas trip. Coming soon will be another lot of awesome tips to help you get better travel photos.
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