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Photographing famous places

This is where you compete with the pros


Take the time to properly frame your travel pictures. Sometimes the difference between a snapshot and a thoughtfully-composed picture is only a matter of position or camera angle.
Take the time to properly frame your travel pictures. Sometimes the difference between a snapshot and a thoughtfully-composed picture is only a matter of position or camera angle.

A SNAPSHOT IS NOT THE ANSWER IF YOU'RE SERIOUS ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHY

When taking pictures of famous places as a record of your travel highlights, it is tempting to grab a quick, mindless snapshot just to prove you were there. Even if you don't fall prey to snapshot syndrome, you are likely to make some basic photography errors because, although you are on holiday and meant to be taking it easy (or perhaps traveling on business and enjoying your leisure time), time is your photographic enemy.

Vacationers are generally rushed from place to place, even on self-guided tours where they are in control of their personal timetable, spending relatively little time in historic or scenic locations they want to capture on film. There is just too much to see - too many landmarks, unique buildings or unusual places to visit to fit into the time available. After all, what can you accomplish in an hour’s visit to Edinburgh Castle or the Taj Mahal? You can hardly begin to appreciate the place in that time, let alone capture a fabulous photograph of it.


YOUR PHOTOS DON'T HAVE TO LOOK RUSHED

This doesn’t mean your photographs have to look rushed, though. If you keep in mind the following simple guidelines, you can bring back pictures that you will be proud to show anyone.

1. Be sure your subject is clearly identified when taking a picture.

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But, you’d be amazed to learn that most travel pictures don’t clearly identify the subject. They show parking lots with the St. Louis Arch way off in the background, or the Eiffel Tower as a tiny speck above the rooftops of Paris. The pictures' viewers are left to wonder just what they are meant to be looking at. If you have to point at your photograph and explain "This is a picture of the Great Wall of China," then you didn't take the picture properly, so that its subject was clearly identified.

2. Get close.

Not only should you make sure your picture leaves no doubt as to the identity of the subject and the purpose of the picture, you should fill the frame to eliminate distracting surroundings and clutter from your pictures.

Unless you were already familiar with this spot, you would probably not know it is a famous national memorial in Manila in the Philippines.
Unless you were already familiar with this spot, you would probably not know it is a famous national memorial in Manila in the Philippines.

Use foreground elements to frame a landmark, and to give your pictures your own unique touch.
Use foreground elements to frame a landmark, and to give your pictures your own unique touch.

3. Choose a unique shooting angle.

Find an angle that shows the place without a horde of tourists in the viewfinder, and without tour buses in the foreground.

Almost everyone stands directly in front of a famous place and shoots the same basic composition. Break the mold. See if you can find an unusual view of the place - one that is attractive and interesting, and that others might not notice.

A wall, statue or tree can be used to block undesired elements and perhaps even frame the landmark you are photographing.


4. Keep good composition in mind.

Check out our pointers for composition. Your picture will probably not qualify for postcard status - and then again it may - but if you observe the guidelines of good composition, odds are it will be better than most of the photos taken by others who are around you that day, and your friends will compliment you on your photo skills.

YOU CAN DO BETTER THAN JUST GOOD

To further improve your pictures, observe the following pointers, and maybe your shots will definitely be good enough for a postcard.

1. Keep the horizon level.

Don’t try to be overly artsy and photograph a tilted Notre Dame Cathedral so it looks like it is about to fall into the Seine. Occasionally it works, but most times that kind of photography is best left to people whose use of gimmickry is an attempt to make up for poor image composition. The tilted center of interest gets quickly boring when it appears in more than one of your pictures. Make sure the horizon is level for a natural look.

Make sure the horizon is level in all of your pictures.
Make sure the horizon is level in all of your pictures.

Look for interesting details in architecture, statuary and the surroundings of famous places to give your travel pictures your own special touch.
Look for interesting details in architecture, statuary and the surroundings of famous places to give your travel pictures your own special touch.

2. Keep verticals vertical.

Straight vertical lines in buildings shot from close up are generally the product of special architectural lenses that optically shift to compensate for the natural way that vertical lines come together. Unless you have such a lens in your camera bag, you should not shoot tall buildings from too close an angle. If you have to point your lens up, you’re too close. Get back, way back, and shoot with your camera almost parallel to the ground. Watch for obstructions when you shoot from a distance; get as clear a view as possible of the building’s facade, and take a picture that shows the building’s columns as being parallel. It may require a little effort, but the resulting photo will reward you for the trouble you took.

3. Shoot details.

Everyone has probably seen the well-known building or landmark you are shooting, either in person or at least in pictures. Your overall picture of it will probably not be as eloquent as the one that appeared in Life or National Geographic that everyone has seen, because you didn’t expend the time, effort and expertise that the professional photographer put into that picture. So, be different.


Capture something that the pros missed, something that will still convey the air and feel of the place, but that will also distinguish your photography for its creativity. Look for the place’s details – interesting arches, curving architecture, gargoyles, intricate floor patterns, hidden nooks that contain a fine statue – and photograph them in an interesting way. You can still say “This is a photograph of the Tower of London,” but you will say it with more self-satisfaction when your pictures’ viewers tell you they didn’t know it was so beautiful, interesting or worth visiting. Details of a well-known place can say so much more than the general view with which we are all already familiar.

4. Include people

Place people in the foreground to add life, color, interest and scale to your pictures. Try, though, to capture people who look like locals, not tourists. People in bright clothing add a festive air, and if they are doing something interesting, all the better.

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Include people in your travel pictures to give them interest and to provide a glimpse into lifestyles near a famous place.
Include people in your travel pictures to give them interest and to provide a glimpse into lifestyles near a famous place.