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September 6, 2012

Travel Photography | Sense of Place

I adore traveling.  And I think it all started when I went to Europe with my high school orchestra the summer after 10th grade.  Our last stop with the orchestra was Paris and to say I was excited was definitely the understatement of the century.  Some people kept warning me that the city was dirty, that Parisians were rude, that it smelled, etc., etc.. But come to think of it, some of those people weren’t on the trip… and I don’t know that they had ever been to Paris! :-)  But, that very trip is when I fell in love with the city of lights.  And when I look back at those pictures, not only do I gawk at the fact that I wore t-shirts two sizes too big and tucked into my shorts (c’mon, it was the 90s!), but I was a master at getting all of the typical tourist photos.  But, I was 16.  And my excuses are that the Internet hadn’t fully been developed yet (so I couldn’t see what other photographers were shooting), my love for photography was merely in its infancy, and I just didn’t know that there was another way to take pictures!  I didn’t understand that even with my little point and shoot camera that I could get creative with my shots.

So, while I’m no expert when it comes to travel photography (by any means!), I wanted to share what I’ve learned over the last several years and hopefully it will help at least one or two people out there!

When I was in Provence with the National Geographic Workshop, one of our “assignments” was to capture photos that also captured a “sense of place”.  And all that really means is that you’re helping your pictures tell a little bit about themselves without you having to explain them.  It also leaves a lot of room for interpretation, which is fantastic!  And a little intimidating.  At first thought, it might seem that the best way to tell the story is to get a wide angle shot so that everything going on in a certain setting can be captured.  But, that’s not always the case.  Sometimes it’s getting up close and personal with some produce at the market while being sure to get the pricing signs in your image.  Sometimes it means getting a country’s flag as the wind blows it.  Sometimes it’s taking a picture of a famous landmark from a different angle and not even getting all of it in your frame.  And sometimes it’s just thinking way outside the box to capture something in a way that no one has thought of before!  And the best thing is that with digital photography, you can try several angles and shots until you get what you’re looking for.

The house just beyond this sign is where we stayed on the island of Eleuthera in 2010 for our mission trip.  It’s also where the missionaries teach Bible classes.  The house above it is where the missionaries live. An easy shot would have been to stand in front of each house, but by going out to the road and shooting wide, I was able to get both houses and the sign in the frame.  I’m not always a fan of angled pictures (I think I overdid that a few years ago so it lost its appeal to me!), but sometimes it works for signs that might otherwise not be as exciting.

This is one of those wide angle shots that captures everything going on, but still tells a story.  You see the team working on the roof of the clinic, which is contrasted by the beautiful water.
And in between them is the Bahamian flag caught by the wind.

This picture below was from one of our trips to Ukraine several years ago.  If not for the Russian on the doors, there wouldn’t be anything to tell you where this took place.

This was outside of a small store in Budapest.  But, like above, without the pricing signs, this could have been taken anywhere!

These next several pictures are from the National Geographic workshop in Provence, France.
Direct sunlight is tough to photograph in, but for the market, it seems to work to your favor sometimes!  With the baguette sign blurred in the background, you see the main focus of the image (the bread) and then as you look up, realize it’s in France.

This image of “Fresh Eggs” has a few things going on… the sign is (yet again!) at an angle (I promise I’m not saying that’s a requirement for signs!!), the arm resting on the counter belongs to Catherine Karnow and I took this as “the gesture” happened (the man reached up).  But I’ll talk more about “the gesture” in another post.

There might not be a lot to this image, and I think most people would just pass by it.  But I love it.  Part of that is because we got sandwiches here a couple of times since it was just around the corner from our hotel.  But, with her hand blurred, it shows some action as she seasons the sandwich.  You also see the signs (in French) on the wall, along with the cluster of baguettes  in the corner and can see the line of drinks in the forefront, which is what most cafés and walk up restaurants do!

This one in the arena has a few things, primarily the architecture, but that might indicate Roman influence… until you see the small sign that says La Provence.

I love these two below.  Remember that post about talking to strangers?  I engaged this guy who was selling his (delicious) bread so I could take a few pictures of it and him. I also bought a piece of bread to help show that I wasn’t just wanting pictures.
And the image on the right?  One of my ABSOLUTE favorites from this trip.  Catherine was standing right next to me and we were both enthralled with this table full of olives.  My taste buds don’t care for olives, but this stand at the market was SO well done! The wooden spoons were incredible, which matched the little wooden pricing signs.  And with the red peppers, your eye is caught by all that’s going on.  The table was at a bit of an angle so I knelt down and shot up.  And… just to let you in on a little secret, all of these pictures in France were taken with my 18-200 lens that doesn’t have a fixed aperture.  In fact, the picture below of the olives was at 5.6!  It was still a little while after this trip until I purchased by 50mm, 1.4 lens and discovered the world of fixed aperture.  And while I would love to go back to these spots with THAT lens, I wouldn’t trade the pictures I captured for anything.  So, please know that while a good camera and good glass (lenses) help take good pictures, it’s the person working the equipment that’s seeing and capturing the photos.

If I had not been there, I might not know that this image below is of Prague.  But, the architecture helps clue you in a little bit…

I’ve mentioned it before, but signs with the language are a huge piece in giving your images a sense of place!  And the one on the left helps give you a better idea of the image on the right :-)
A quick note about photographing street musicians.  It’s always nice to give them a donation before you begin photographing them.  It helps show that you appreciate their talent!

In these (because of the images above), you see the architecture in the background on the left, which helps the image on the right.
So, together, all of the pictures are telling a story of this city.

The next two pictures are of some very famous structures… but as seen from different angles.

Don’t forget to look UP when you’re around structures of this size!

This is a simple one, but I just knelt down and waited for someone to walk by in order to give it some life.

By now, this bridge should be familiar to everyone!  I’m no expert on night photography, but it gives pictures a completely different look sometimes.
I didn’t have a tripod with me, so this one of Tower Bridge in London isn’t perfect and is blurry if you look at it closely.  But, in a pinch, if you can find a post to rest your arm against or a bench to rest your camera on, that will help steady your camera (and you!) as you hold it.

Again, this was handheld so it isn’t perfect, but I’m also not planning on blowing it up to a 30×40 for the wall.  But, for a small album to remember our trip, it works just fine!
And for those of you wondering, it was taken at 1600ISO, f3.8, 1/3 sec.

These next several images WERE taken with a tripod because I was wanting to get the blur of car lights and people.  But, for as long as the shutter needed to be open, there was no way the camera could be handheld and kept as steady as it needed to be for everything else in the image to be sharply in focus.
So, the sense of place will be more familiar to those in Greenville, BUT, you can see the sign across the street that says West End Historic District.

This bridge is one of the landmarks of Greenville, but the night shot with the shutter being open for 1.6 seconds and people walking across adds a little bit to it that you don’t normally see.

This image is more familiar to most and it’s been done countless times, I’m sure!  But, I wanted to try it out for myself!  Again, this wouldn’t have been possible without a tripod (and as you can see, with the guy standing in front, I was also on one of these medians, not in the middle of the busy Champs Élysées!).

We could have very easily taken this picture in the middle of the day, with the same cars driving by behind us.  But, we wanted to change things up and make our tourist pictures more interesting!  The sense of place is still the Arc de Triomphe, but by taking it at night (and using a tripod), it makes it more fun!  And when I got all the settings right and we stood still for the 4 seconds the shutter was open, I might… maybe… have jumped up and down and squealed a little bit :-)

  1. Brittany says:

    Love them all! :) Makes me want to travel even more!

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