It’s guest post time! Several years ago, a reader named Neal wrote a guest post that remains one of my all-time favorites. It’s called “Why are the French afraid of air conditioning?” — and today it’s his wife’s turn. Diane Evans (cool name, huh?) of PhotoFluent is a photographer who can help take your travel photos to the next level. She reached out to me to guest post and here we are.
Please note I have no affiliation with PhotoFluent and was not compensated in any way for this guest post. What follows is from Diane of PhotoFluent (including the photos). I love her writing style and hope her tips help you on your next trip. Enjoy!
Travel photography tips
I found photography over 20 years ago, and I fell madly in love. And then when I started traveling… well it was a match made in heaven! Unfortunately, I was working in healthcare to pay the bills, so photography and travel were dreams that came true about once a year or so.
Then we moved to France and everything changed. Let me back up a bit…
My husband, Neal, and I were working in stressful jobs that neither of us really loved. (OK, I really hated mine if you want to know the truth). And so I had the brilliant idea of changing our lives by quitting our jobs and moving to France. And believe it or not, he agreed with this crazy plan. But not at first. It took a slideshow and some sleepless nights to let it really sink it. But once it sunk in, we were on our way to setting this crazy plan in motion.
Our idea was for me to be a photographer and Neal a writer, all while living in Toulouse, France. We would give it a year and then decide where to go from there.
In preparation for our moving to Toulouse, we studied the language (although we didn’t get very far), figured out how to get visas, and I studied photography. I wanted to be the best damn photographer I could possibly be. I mean I was going to be in France for an entire year… I HAD to make amazing photos while I was there! Right?
Photography is a complex art form. There are the technical components, which frankly I really struggled with for a long time. Longer than I’d really like to admit. Those damn camera settings nearly drove me mad! But I finally figured them out to a point that I was pretty comfortable and understood how they all related to each other and how my photos are impacted by them.
But technology isn’t the only thing that makes photos fabulous. I would say it isn’t even the most important. There’s also composition, and lighting, and creativity, and interpretation of what you’re seeing. SO much to process and think about! Sometimes it can even get overwhelming. But I was ready… or so I thought.
Once we had sold everything (except for four boxes worth of treasures and the contents of our suitcases), secured our visas, and quit our jobs, we were ready to go. Excited, trepidatious, and wondering what the future would hold, we were both looking forward to the next step in our adventure.
With our luggage and camera in tow, we set off for France. If you’re thinking we went to the airport to get there (we were living in New York City at the time), you’d be wrong. See, my husband doesn’t like to fly. So it was a matter of a transatlantic ship, a bus (or two), and then a series of trains that eventually got us to Toulouse.
When we finally arrived in Toulouse, our first stop was an apartment I had rented through Airbnb. We stayed there for the first month while we searched for permanent housing. That ended up being a sweet little apartment above a garage that we found on Leboncoin (the French version of Craig’s List). Our landlords were a mid-30’s French couple with two adorable boys. They lived in the main house, and we all shared a courtyard. I still remember fondly those little French voices calling “Papa, Papa” in the morning as they were getting ready to go off to school.
From there, we would venture out on trips for the day, for weekends, or even for a week at a time, exploring as much of France as we possibly could. Albi, Dijon, Bordeaux, Annecy, Île de Ré…we really covered some ground, let me tell you.
And along the way, I documented our adventures through my photos. But I was making photos in a very different way than I had before. You see in the past, my photos were mainly of subjects and scenes that I considered to be “wall worthy”. I was mostly interested in creating beautiful photos that could be printed at some point. But now my photos were evolving into more than just pretty pictures. I wanted to tell our story. I wanted to capture details and feelings, not just pretty.
Part of how this evolution came about is that we decided to create a blog about our crazy mid-life escapade. So as we were exploring, figuring out which train to take, trying to speak the language that we thought we’d learn a bit of, wondering how to order cheese at the market… I wanted to capture it all. Mostly for us and for our families. But really for anybody who’s ever dreamed of doing such a wild, unscripted, not-what-you’re-supposed-to-do-at-our-age kind of thing.
So rather than just concentrating on pretty (which I still wanted, I mean I didn’t become a completely different person, and I still like pretty) my style became more documentary. Storytelling. But it didn’t just happen all at once.
There’s SO much I learned before we got there, but there’s SO much I learned while I was there too. When I look back at the photos I made while we were living in France, I realize there are a lot of things I would have done differently. That hindsight, am I right?
And based on that hindsight, I’m going to share with you the top five things that I learned about making photos during my year in France. This is your chance to learn from my mistakes and moments of insight, so that you can tackle your next adventure with confidence.
Top 5 things I learned about photography
1. Tell your story! Don’t just take pretty pictures.
Okay, but what does that mean exactly? That means capture the entire scene of what you’re seeing, but also get the context and the details. Our memories can only hold so much stuff in there. So when we capture all those little details, it helps spur memories later that might have been buried… never to be found again.
What I recommend is to pause, take a breath, and experience what is happening around you. Think about the place, what you see, hear, and what you’re feeling even. And then photograph that. Yes, you absolutely can capture feelings in photos.
That can look like smiling faces, messy hotel rooms, the train station where you missed your connection That’s all part of the story of what you’re experiencing. And all of that can be captured in photos.
As you’re pausing, think about what you want to remember about this experience and capture that from different perspectives, angles, viewpoints. Observe and capture colors, textures, even smells and tastes — yes, you can photograph those too.
2. Take the iconic photos, but try different perspectives.
Of COURSE you want a photo of the Eiffel Tower if you’re in Paris! I’m not saying skip the iconic and move right on to the details. Au contraire. I’m saying get as many freaking photos of that Eiffel Tower as you can possibly get. BUT try to get different perspectives. Remember that ‘pause and take a breath’ thing I mentioned? Try that. Yes when you’re at the Eiffel Tower. I know it’s going to be tough. If you’re anything like me, you get excited about being somewhere and want to see as much as possible. And pausing… well frankly just seems like a waste of time.
But it doesn’t have to take a long time. Just a few seconds to pause and really experience what you’re seeing. To take it all in… And then make some more photos… from different angles, perspectives, look up, look down, get further away, closer up (I mean REALLY close), try some with people, without people. You get the point. Let your imagination run wild.
3. Become friends with your camera.
I know this one is tough for a lot of people. It was for me. I didn’t understand my camera and therefore it didn’t give me photos that I liked. I’ll be honest, my photos really sucked that I made on more than a couple of trips. And I blamed my camera. But it wasn’t my camera’s fault. It was the user.
I’m not saying that you have to memorize your camera manual and become a camera engineer. But I do advise that you become generally familiar with the settings and how your camera works. Don’t worry — I have some suggestions, in case you’re breaking out in hives right now.
My Camera Settings Cheat Sheet summarizes them in a nice little PDF reference guide. This is handy to get you started with the basics, and is a good reminder to keep with you until you really get it.
Trust me when I say, I know this isn’t easy. But I also know that no matter how tech-challenged you are, you CAN figure this out! I mean I did, didn’t I?
4. Don’t be afraid to try new things.
For some reason, a lot of us (me included) get comfortable doing the same thing and just keep doing it. Well now I’m telling you to do something different. The nerve. Why? If it’s working…
Here’s why. Because if you keep doing the exact same thing, you’re going to keep getting the exact same results. And if you’re going off on a grand adventure, don’t you want to create some stunning photos? Not the same ‘ol boring ones that you usually bring home? No offense, I’ve brought home plenty of those snoozers myself.
You won’t break your camera, and let’s face it, space on memory cards is so cheap…you have no excuse not to try something new, creative, and spectacular!
I don’t mean you have to hang off the top of a building or do anything crazy. I’m saying just give blurred motion or backlighting a try. See, that’s not too scary, is it? Try getting out a tripod and making photos during the blue hour or at night even.
If you’re thinking “I have no idea how to do any of that”… here’s the thing. I have resources that can help you learn some new things… OR you can just get out your camera and change the settings and see what happens.
Let’s say that you want to try blurred motion. Set your camera to shutter priority and put your shutter speed on 1/20th of a second. And then find some motion — cars, people walking, bikes riding — press the shutter release button, and see what happens.
Sure you might create something weird, too dark, or just not appealing. But that’s how you learn. By creating lots and lots of bad photos. Why not start now? BEFORE your next trip!
5. Practice, play, and have fun… BEFORE you travel.
Okay, let’s tie all of this together. It’s an easy one. Get out your camera. Now. Before you go anywhere. And play, have fun, practice all these things we’ve talked about.
Why now? Because when you do go somewhere, you’ll be ready. You’ll have developed the confidence you need to quickly figure out the lighting, your settings, your composition, and move on to the next component of your story. You won’t have to worry about not getting something right, and therefore not having good photos. You’ll be ready and even excited about the stunning photos that you’re going to create.
And that comes with one thing. Experience. Practice. But don’t make it a chore… something you HAVE to do. Look at it as fun, like you’re playing with your camera. Just trying new things to see what happens. Make photos of food, your family, your neighbors, heck even the grass. And that is how it will all come together.
So take it from me. Learn from my mistakes and my discoveries. And tell the story of your next grand adventure…even if that’s a trip to your local farmer’s market.
If you’re interested in learning more about me and the courses and freebies I have on creating travel photos, check out my resources here. I’m offering 20% off all my courses to Diane’s readers. Use the code FRANCE20 at checkout.
Thank you, Diane, for your guest post! If you’d like to share your progress, your frustrations, and your weird and cool new photos, join her in her FB group PhotoFluent Travelers.