Why Your "We Were Here" Travel Photos Fall Short

We all have the best of intentions in taking photos as we travel the country or even our own neighborhood. You just want to grab a photo of family or friends in front of a significant landmark, something we want to remember fondly in the coming years. Unfortunately, in a great majority of these situations the photos people take could very easily be much better and with very little effort to do so.

Here is a great example I created while on a recent family vacation to the Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s Atlantic coast. One highlight of our visit to the Space Center was seeing the Apollo/Saturn V rocket up close. It was natural to want to get a few photos to remember the visit and to share with friends. All too often I see people taking photos of this type and making some unfortunate mistakes as they do so.

Mistake #1This photo is an example of the most common error I see people make time and time again. This is a picture of my son standing in front of the Saturn V rocket’s Service Module, or is it? You can see the Service Module of course, but can you actually see my son? He’s there with a beaming smile on his face, but you cannot really tell that from this photo.

The mistake we’ve made here is that he is standing too close to the landmark element of the photo and gets lost in the photo. You would find yourself explaining this photo to your family or friends. I’m sure it would go something like, “Here is my son when we visited the Saturn V rocket. That small blob is him. He was very excited, trust me.”

Mistake #2Here is a photo which does make some improvement, but still misses the mark by quite a bit in my opinion. Some might actually argue that this picture is even worse depending on what you would rather see in the photo, my son or the rocket. Here you can certainly see the enthusiasm on my son’s face, but can you tell that is part of a Saturn V rocket behind him? Not really, it could be almost anything to be honest.

So this picture like the first, still does not tell the story very well. Now you would be explaining this photo by swearing that it really was a Saturn V rocket in the background, really. On the plus side for this photo, I’ve come in close enough that you can see my son in the photo and actually recognize him. On the minus side, the background could be anything at all.

Now let’s make a much improved photo. It is really very simple and requires only a wee bit of thought and a slight change of camera angle to create a vastly superior photo. Below is the photo as I would much rather see it done. I think you can see that this is a great improvement.

Nice camera angle and result

I made two simple changes to get this greatly improved photo and it took only a few seconds to do so. First, I had my son step away from the background subject. It only required moving 20 feet, that’s all. This is a mistake that I see people make probably 90% of the time when making photos of this type. I don’t really know why, but as soon as someone decides to get a picture taken in front of some notable subject, they walk right up to it where they will be dwarfed in the resulting photo.

Get away from the background subject! The larger your “landmark” background element is, the farther away from it you should be to get a great photo. If this were a picture of my son in front of the Lincoln Memorial for example, we probably would have been a good 50-100 yards away from the steps of the memorial.

Second, I moved the camera closer to my son which brings his happy face more into the foreground of the photo. Again a very simple adjustment to make when setting up the photograph and it takes but a few seconds. Bringing the person in the photo closer to camera really forces them into the foreground of the picture and separates them from the background behind them.

So next time you are out and about and setting up a photo to show family or friends in front of some notable background subject, remember two things.

  • Move the person in your photo away from the background subject
  • Bring the camera closer to the person in your photo

With these two things in mind you can come home with some really great travel photos. Photos you will be proud to show off to family and friends, and you’ll have a lot less s’plainin’ to do!

One Response to “Why Your "We Were Here" Travel Photos Fall Short”

  1. Roger_OHTourism  on August 12th, 2009

    Great tips! I often make mistake #1. I look forward to my next trip so I can do some “field testing.”

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