Touristy Photos

I wanted to briefly share a simple contrast between a “snapshot” and a “photograph”.  So often you hear about people coming back from exotic places with a lot of boring photos that just don’t make anyone happy – they don’t excite the people who look at them and they seem only a vague shadow of something amazing to the person who took the photo hoping to catch a sliver.

I did a lot of traveling around the world recently, and my renewed dedication to photography gave me the chance to see different photographic opportunities than I did just a few years ago.  I wanted to come back with as few snapshots as possible, and I wanted my images to mean something to me as well as make an impression on anyone else who sees them.

My vacation was exactly that – a vacation – so I didn’t want to turn the whole trip into a photography exercise.  However, I wanted to use my understanding of composition, aperture and other mechanics to bring home images that told a story and communicated how I felt when I took the shot.

The best example I have of this from my trip came from Prague.  Along the waterway, there are occasionally fences where lovers place locks for good luck.  The most popular one is very close to the John Lennon wall.  It is a really cool site, but the snapshot I took of it just doesn’t do it justice:

This is what a touristy snapshot looks like. It physically captured the scene, but isn’t visually very interesting and doesn’t really tell a story.  Shot at f/5.6, shutter 1/80.

Standing next to it, this scene is a lot more striking and cool than the above photo.  I really wanted to show off the brilliant colors and the diversity of the locks as well as create a sense of drama for the shot.  Here’s another view of the same scene:

Here the locks are the stars of the show. The composition and narrow depth of field create a much more dramatic perspective, and bring the colors to life. This was shot with the same 35mm lens, but shot at f/1.8 to create the thin zone of focus (focal plane) and composed to create drama and an opportunity for the creamy background (bokeh).  I manually chose the focus point for this shot, and tried several moving left to right down the frame to get the one I ultimately liked the most.

This shot speaks far more strongly to me as a memory of a cool place I visited, and it stands alone as an image, too.  All it took was a few seconds of thought about how best to tell the story of this place, select the best aperture for the job, compose the shot and shoot a few frames.  In this case, the “rule of thirds” applied more to the point of focus than the composition itself.

So often when I’m taking pictures, it is specifically about the pictures.  Whether it is photos of my children at a family event or outings specifically about creating images, my priority is photographs.  On vacation, only slivers of my attention were focused on the photography.  My main goal was to relax and enjoy two wonderful weeks with my wife.  A secondary goal was to bring back images as warm as my memories of the places and the experience.  Getting very comfortable with the hardware, theory and practice allowed me to do just that.

Has photography changed how you take vacation photos?  Did it help you enjoy your vacation more?  Anyone want to share a link to your favorite vacation photo?