How To Shoot Unique Travel Photos Like You Wouldn’t Believe


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In our world of digital photography, it’s tough to take one-of-a-kind travel photos. For example, let’s say you’re visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Tuscany, Italy. With your camera around your neck, you stroll into the Piazza dei Miracoli and are struck by the strange bell tower’s architectural beauty.

Photo by Zhuokang Jia

Photo by Zhuokang Jia

But you also notice the crowds of tourists snapping pictures like the paparazzi at a red carpet event. Many of them contorting themselves in weird ways, pretending to push down or hold up the tower, as a friend crouches to take the photo.

It’s a cool shot, too, so it’s no wonder it has become popular. However, if you’re one of those photographers who want to take a n original photo (sort of like me), then you might be flabbergasted as to how you can take anything unique here. If you visit other tourist destinations, such as the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal, you’ll run into the same problem. Millions of people have taken millions of photographs of these places, and it’s downright hard to making something that will make anyone say, “WHOA, no way… I’ve never seen that before.”

But it’s not impossible.

As a photographer, who’s always looking for those unappreciated moments of beauty, I’ve developed a process that might be helpful for you. When I’m finished, I’d also like to invite you to share your own tip in the comments below.

1. Don’t Be Unique; Just Be Yourself

Photo by Bauke Karel

Photo by Bauke Karel

I know, I know… I sound like your mom giving you some annoying obvious dating advice. But it’s true. This simple shift in your mindset could open you up to the countless, unique photographs all around us, even at popular tourist attractions such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Don’t focus on finding a photograph that’s different; just go find something that you love to look at.

What about the Tower fascinates you?

Don’t worry what the other people are doing. Instead, use this as an opportunity to hone your own voice. Over a lifetime of taking photographs, if you look for what moves you and forget what everyone else is doing, then you’ll naturally take photographs others don’t see. No one is like you, with your unique experiences and one-of-a-kind point of view, so relax and go find something that moves you. Even if you take a cliched photograph, it will be the only one with you in it. :)

In the words of Dr. Seuss,

 

“Today, you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

2. Walk Around and Take Your Time

But to find what moves you, then you may have to do things differently. You won’t be able to quickly hop off of a tour bus, stroll up to the Tower and take a masterpiece photo. You’ll need to take your time.

Pro photographers scout locations for days, sometimes weeks, because they realize that it takes time to take a great photo, and every day the scene is a little different. The light changes, the people change and even the structures change. The only way you’ll notice these subtle differences is by investing time in getting to know the place.

In a way, you are developing a relationship with it, like you would get to know a new friend. Over time, maybe you’ll even fall in love or get annoyed, or it even could make you angry; but whatever happens, it’ll be your own experience and will influence the photos you take.

3. What Whispers To Your Eye?

Photo by Paolo Margari

Photo by Paolo Margari

Sometimes beauty is so dramatic it knocks you over the head and screams at you, “Yo, I’m gorgeous, and you better photograph me, like this…” However, some of the best photographs I’ve taken were quietly pointed out by my eye. I had to listen closely for subtle feelings of attraction and honor them by following where they led me. This reminds me of a talk by famed director Stephen Spielberg as he encourages you to find your dream by listening to the whispers.

Sometimes a dream almost whispers. And I’ve always said to my kids: the hardest thing to listen to — your instincts, your human personal intuition — always whispers; it never shouts. Very hard to hear. So you have to, every day of your lives, be ready to hear what whispers in your ear.

What whispers to you? 

4. Change Your Perspective

When you think about it, there is an infinite number of potential shots to take of anything. You just need to explore, try stuff and be open to seeing them. It’s all about your perspective, and here are some simple ways to change yours:

  • Move closer: How close can you get to the subject? Is there a macro shot you could take? Could you immerse yourself in an experience no one else will have?
  • Move farther away: Is there another building nearby from which you could watch the entire scene?
  • Get low: If you were a mouse, how would things look?
  • Get high: What would a bird’s eye view of the scene look like?
  • Behind the scenes: What’s it like to be a security guard at the Leaning Tower of Pisa? Or a tour guide? Or the guy who mops all 296 steps?
  • The people: What about the cute kids laughing? The crowds of tourists all making funny gestures? That old couple walking hand in hand silently?
  • Reflections: What does the reflection of the Tower look like in the puddle from last night’s rain? Or that small mirror you carry in your pocket ? (um, weirdo ;)

5. Change Your Camera, Lens or Editing Style

Did you know that scientists at MIT built a camera that can photograph a ray of light as it moves? This camera can capture a trillion frames per second and will open up countless opportunities for looking at our world in a new way. It’s called femto photography, and it’s just one of many innovative cameras being created these days. Not to mention the countless apps, software, lenses and editing techniques you can find online.

What tools, hacks or gear can you use to make a signature photo?

 

6. Go Where No One Has Gone Before

Photo by Ashley Wang

Photo by Ashley Wang

Maybe you need to be a little unorthodox in your methods. Banksy, the graffiti artist, had his work “featured” in the Louvre way before he was selling art for millions of dollars.  Of course, to pull this off, he had to wear a disguise, carry in his work under a trench coat and glue it to the wall himself. But it worked, and if he hadn’t tried this unconventional approach, maybe his work wouldn’t have the worldwide exposure it currently has.

Don’t get yourself arrested, of course. And please don’t fall of a cliff or damage a sacred relic, so we can’t appreciate it when we visit. But if you have to hop a fence, poke your nose in a restricted area or sweet-talk a security guard… well, you wouldn’t be the first artist to take risks for your work, and you won’t be the last. Maybe you’ll even find something that everyone else is missing and can share it with us in a photograph.

How about you? What’s helped you take signature travel photographs? Please add your voice to Photodoto and maybe help another budding photographer like yourself. If you have a tip, please add it to the comments below. Even if it’s just a sentence or two, we’d love to hear from you.

Benjamin Jenks

Benjamin Jenks offers creative strategies to help you live, work, and travel, like an adventurer at AdventureSauce.com.
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  • http://Www.jennifermccallum.com/ Jennifer McCallum

    Great article. I especially like your idea to use the reflections after a rain. I would also suggest doing your homework before you travel. Read the guidebooks, watch weather forecasts, check to see if there are any festivals or events that might add a unique flair to your images. I don’t think you should copy anyone’s work directly but you can get some great ideas and add your own personal style from reviewing other images so I always do a lot of online image searches before I travel.

  • BenjaminOJ

    Hey Jennifer, great idea about researching and not copying (although does stealing count? Or is that just for rascals like Picasso ;) “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” -Pablo Picasso

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