Tag Archives: beautiful

11 ways to build a better photo

A recent article in the New York Times warns, “generic photos are ignored. “

Because most digital work is displayed online on blogs and other sharing sites, the travel photographer cannot afford to take a generic photo—a photo which does not tell a story, tickle the imagination, and fire neurons into attentiveness. The photographer has to think about each image and carefully design what is captured so that the resulting photograph is compelling, creative, and meaningful.

Just like stories, photos have to contain balance and impact, two very powerful ways to engage the viewer’s attention. Designing balanced, impactful images begins in the mind. Photos that are mindfully created are the ones with the most impact, and impact is what makes the difference between a photo that is ignored and photos that draw the eye to them, again and again.

Here are some techniques for composition that an image hunter can practice to get rid of the generic and find your vision within.

Girl with offering, Bali.

Nuns reading, Burma.

1. Find different angles

“Zoom with your feet” is something a photography mentor told me. With today’s powerful zoom lenses, it is almost too easy to be lulled into letting the camera and lens do the work that the photographer should be doing. Moving around gives you a chance to see differently, and it just may be a different point of view that makes the shot.

2. Use the Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds has to do with imaginary hotspots that would appear if we drew a grid of three by three over the viewfinder or photo. The intersections between the two lines of the horizontal grid and the other two lines of the vertical grid would be the hotspots. The human brain is attracted to these hotspots.

3. Isolate the subject

Man smoking in the shadows, Bali.

Uncluttering an image involves both luck and skill. Zooming in to the subject whether with the zoom lens or walking to a tighter frame will give the photograph a cleaner composition. The less distractions in the photo, the more impact the isolated subject will have.

Prayer flags lead to the golden spire of a stupa, Nepal.

4. Use leading lines

Leading lines are elements in the frame which act like arrows to the main emphasis. In this photo, the prayer flags lead the eye from one corner of the image to the stupa spire. Leading lines make it easy for the viewer’s eye to travel to the point of interest in the photo.

5. Use the foreground

Walk at sunrise, Bali.

Something interesting in the foreground can give a tension to a photo. In this photo, the woman walking beside the boat is just as sharp as the boat. Her apparent motion gives a story to the photo and makes it more dynamic.

Khon mask, Thailand.

6. Depth of field

Depth of field is the quality of sharpness from foreground to background in a photo. A large aperture (small f-stop number) gives a photo blurry background or shallow depth of field, while a small aperture (big f-stop number) gives a photo sharper background. In the photo of the Khon mask, the shallow depth of field created patterns in the light that hit the lens, giving it a dreamy quality.

7. Patterns

Looking for patterns can turn a photo into something special. This photo of a row of monks begging for alms in

All in a row, Laos.

Luang Prabang, Laos tells a story with the variation in the theme—one monk is anticipating the food a merit maker will offer, and breaks the pattern, and that becomes the interest point of the photo.

8. Scale

Scale can show the subject in relation to its environment. This large Buddha on a mountainside in

Big Buddha on mountaintop, Bhutan.

Bhutan is large, and the scale of it is shown through the wide view showing how it sits visible amongst the giant mountains.

9. Framing

Looking for natural frames is a great way to add interest and story to photos. This rickshaw driver,

Rickshaw driver, Nepal.

obscured by the roof of his rickshaw, tells a story with his eye—within the frame through which he looks daily as he makes his living.

Color at the market, Vietnam.

10. Fill the Frame

There’s no use including space if the space does not add to the story. Sometimes, the subject is more than adequate to tell a story. Other times, any other element in the photo would take away from its impact. The woman selling vegetables and her colorful environment fills the frame and creates a kaleidoscopic story of one woman in a market in Vietnam.

11. Use a Vertical Frame

Puppeteers, Thailand.

Shooting Vertical is a decision—the vertical frame has to work for the story in the image. In the photo of the puppeteers, the smoke rising from

Monk folding robe, Thailand.

the incense sticks offered to the artist’s patron spirits add to the image. In the photo of the monk, the robe he is folding is better as part of the framing and so demanded a vertical composition.


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You might also like:
The Man at the Window
11 Ways to Build a Better Photo
10 Online Resources for Photography Enthusiasts
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Durbar Square rickshaw driver, Kathmandu

Rock the Travel Portrait

Rickshaw driver looks through awning, Kathmandu Nepal. (c) Aloha Lavina.

Durbar Square in Kathmandu, Nepal, bustles early in the morning. The market nearby causes almost all of the foot and rickshaw traffic passing through the Square. This morning, everyone it seems brought either their bicycle or opted to walk. The rickshaw drivers are lounging in their rickshaw, waiting for fares. Except for one young man, who seems nervous, his head turning to one side then another, in darting motions; his fingers tap on his knees, the rickshaw seat. His eyes are wide. When he stares at me through the slats of the rickshaw awning, I lift my camera and capture his portrait.

Taking travel portraits is a genre all its own. Portraiture, or making photos of people, can be posed studies, but travel portraiture is what Henri Cartier-Bresson began—that of the snap shot portrait. It meant that photographers no longer posed and set the stage for their portraits, but that portraits became more of a found art; you capture a moment when time and action come to a beautiful conclusion. Now thanks to digital technology and easier travel, you can take compelling travel portraits that help you tell the story.

1. Don’t be a sniper—interact!

Taking photos of people up close might be a daunting idea; we do not want to bother them as they go about their daily tasks. Some travelers might think it more polite and easier to use a long zoom lens, maybe one that zooms up to 200-300mm, to capture portraits. However, as a traveler, you want to get to know your subjects.  The richness of travel is enhanced in the details, which you may only get through interacting with others.

2. Learn some words in the local language

Vietnamese woman laughs at the photographer's strange Vietnamese accent. (c) Aloha Lavina.

To interact with the subjects of our travel portraits, we need to set them at ease. Learning a few words in the local language can go a long way in establishing a relationship to our new acquaintances. Even if accent is wrong and grammar might be a little off, learning some words like the local greeting and the words for “thank you” pay off.

3. Use the camera modes that quicken your ability to take a shot

Today’s DSLRs, or cameras with interchangeable lenses, are much more affordable than they were a decade ago. If you bring one on your trip, set it to Aperture mode when you intend to take travel portraits. Aperture is the size of the lens opening that allows light into the camera’s sensor, where the image is recorded. They come in numbers like 1.4, 3.5, 5.6, and so on. The Aperture mode allow you to change the size of the opening of the shutter when you take the shot—that means you can change fast (and change shutter speed automatically), when the light changes or when your subjects move around a lot.

4. Wait for an expressive moment

A lot of travel portraiture is about patience. Waiting for the right moment is what separates the travel snapshot from the winning shot. Travel photographers know that sooner or later, human beings will interact with each other and their environment, and they will show emotion in their faces. Wait for the moment when your subject is expressing an emotion before you take the shot. The result will be a winning photograph, expressive and able to evoke emotion in your audience.

5. Use the environment to tell the story

The general rule of thumb for portraits is “fill the frame,” which means to include in your shot only the necessary elements. When you make travel portraits,

Hmong children look longingly at balloons for sale in Sapa, Vietnam. (c) Aloha Lavina.

the people you are photographing are not posing for you; they are busy doing their own thing: making a living, mostly. In addition, the story you are telling is about their lives. Because of this, you need to include their environment. What are they doing? How are they doing it? The surroundings include this information. When you include the environment, there will be enough elements in it to help you tell a story that will stimulate the imagination of whoever looks at your shot.

Travel portraits can help you tell the story. With some simple techniques, you can transform your travel portraits from snapshots to timeless images worth a thousand words.