Five more ways to get better photos

It’s been almost six months since Esteban’s and my big trip, but we’ve been so busy that I haven’t dug any further into my photos than the 16 I posted last October.

But two things happened last week that inspired me to drag out the ol’ hard drive:
1. I saw this wonderful piece at Better Travel Photos about photographic self-assignments.
2. My old post on 10 ideas for better travel photos suddenly sprouted lots of traffic.

With that in mind, I’ve once again started sorting through those 30,092 raw files — and I’ve compiled five more lessons from my recent travels. I promise I’ll be back soon with some new stories, too.

1. Get personal

Street photography can capture some wonderful moments. But talking to your subject — and asking for permission to take their photo — sometimes yields an even greater sense of intimacy and authenticity.

Clochard 1470920 BW BLOG
I befriended this man in Paris, and after losing track of him for several years was delighted to run into him again last September. He didn’t remember me anymore … but I’ll never forget him. In spite of the tough life he’s led he remains kind, gentle, and hopeful.
Sidewalk art 1590541 CL CR BLOG
To capture this tender scene I had to get close. The older sister seemed a bit self-conscious when I first approached her, but the children soon forgot my presence and went back to their coloring.
Montmartre painter 1410667 CL BLOG
This painter in Montmartre was immune to my charms, but I still love the hazy cloud of his cigarette smoke and his (barely visible) Mona Lisa smile.

2. Get up

Getting up early on vacation may seem like an oxymoron, but the rewards are well worth any sacrifice: The light is often beautiful, and it’s a rare chance to have famous landmarks almost to yourself. Plus, you learn a lot about a new city by watching it wake up.

Gondolas 1590835 darker CR BLOG

Louvre 1240717 CX BLOG

Venice awakens 1630740 CL BLOG

3. Get wet

Electronics and water generally don’t mix well, but rainy days can be infinitely rewarding if you take the proper precautions. Here are three shots from one particularly damp morning in Venice I would have missed, had I wimped out and stayed indoors.

Old hallway 1570202 BW BLOG

San Marco 1560387 BW BLOG

San Marco in rain 1570293 BW BLOG

4. Get abstract

Creative paint jobs. A boat launch. The ghosts of old doors. Most people will pass these without a glance. But you’re not most people, are you?  🙂  Challenge yourself to look for hidden beauty in everyday scenes.

Burano paint 1620356 CL BLOG

Rusty dock 1610002 CL BLOG

Venice boat launch

5. Get down

Being not-tall puts me closer to the ground — and to images more vertically gifted photographers might miss. Look down every so often. You may be surprised by how beautiful the sidewalks are, and by who’s looking back.

Cobbles Carnavalet 1070869 CL BLOG

Little dogs 1460418 CL BLOG

Pigeon look 1260892 CL2 BLOG


    • I’m so glad you find this helpful. And I hope some of these ideas spark your own creativity! Thank you so much for stopping by.

  1. Generous advice coupled with beautiful examples is a winning mix.

    I, like Victor, especially value your examples of portraits when permission has been sought and given. I’d say there’s an extra element of ‘offering’ and interdependence in those portraits – as there is in painted life portraits. Some extra moment of humanity. It’s more of a dance and less of a safari hunt, somehow.

    I do like your Mondrianesque paintwork with bottle top and that shot of the Venice building reflected in the pool of water on the paving stones. Was that one a matter of timing or superior equipment? It’s gorgeous.

    Thanks for putting them up
    Best wishes

    • Thank you for once again buoying my day with your kind comments, Elaine. I always appreciate (and love) your keen observations.

      You’re so right about the extra element of interdependence that comes from a “permission” portrait. As much as I may enjoy the thrill of the photo safari, those images often feel “stolen,” somehow. I’d much rather come home with an image that was given freely.

      And thank you for your kind comparison to Piet Mondrian! You’re so right — although of course my thinking wasn’t so lofty when I shot it. (I think it was more a reaction to the color and right angles, plus the “ha ha” element of the golden bottle cap as an objet d’art.)

      As for that reflection you love so much … well, yes, my camera is wonderful. But I also spent several minutes surveying the scene, trying to find the angle from which the reflection was most visible, and then waiting for the wind to die down. It was worth the wait, though, wasn’t it? 🙂

      Thank you again for stopping by, and especially for taking the time to comment.

      • It’s funny isn’t it – none of the ‘backstage’ work of that image is visible. Like all the best art, it looks fortuitous and effortless, as if you just happened to be strolling by and nearly tripped over a Venice building reflected in a puddle.

        It’s a puzzle, the etiquette of image capturing, isn’t it? They’re running a series in a newspaper here. It’s called ‘That’s Me in the Picture’ and features people who appeared in famous photos, without knowing that the photo was being taken. The woman in love inthe Cartier Bresson shot is happy the young boy shown with his mother, in poverty, isn’t I hadn’t seen the young woman in front of soldiers, protesting the Vietnam war before:

        • I danced ballet as a child and still remember those early lessons: “It’s hard work, but the goal is to make it look effortless.” The same could be said of any creative discipline, I suppose. So thank you for the compliment! I’m sincerely very pleased it didn’t hint at all the acrobatics that went into getting the reflection just so.

          And what a wonderful series you’ve introduced me to in “That’s Me in the Picture.” I’ll have to set aside some serious time to savor each of the stories, but I certainly got a chuckle out of photographer Greg Armfield missing the rhinos who were mating directly behind him. They must be much more stealthy and discreet than I imagine.

          One mystery still vexes me, though: I don’t know why — after the many lovely exchanges we’ve had — your comments still get held for moderation. I assure you that you have une carte blanche here as far as I’m concerned, regardless of whatever WordPress may be worried about. So again, my apologies for what appears to be a bug.

          • I should very much like to think that in this big universe of ours Mr. A can somehow catch a glimpse of the many ways in which he shaped me — and so many of his other students as well. By sheer coincidence I discovered that one of my colleagues had been a student of his as well, and she has the same fond memories of the life lessons he threw in between the pliés and the ronds de jambes. And he fought in both world wars! He was conscripted into the Russian army as a youngster and then fought on behalf of the US in World War II, after he and his wife emigrated here. He was (and remains) one of my heroes.

          • I believe he does – or at least knew that he was sowing seeds that would flourish far into your futures.

            And there I was, imagining an elderly French lady ballet teacher, ramrod straight, with her hair pulled back impossibly tight into a bun. We don’t seem to get Russian ballet teachers here. Nor too much philosophy between 2nd and 3rd position. It’s all more boot ballet camp here. You’re a lucky woman.

          • I am a lucky woman, indeed! (Though rest assured that he had a bit of the Russian drill sergeant in him too ;).

  2. As usual, gorgeous photos and excellent tips, many of which I’ve heard here and there, now and then, but you SHOW and don’t just TELL 😉 ! Such excellent insights.
    I’m leaving this week on a trip, so your thoughts are especially timely!

    Regarding taking pictures of people: In some situations they want some kind of payment and it’s clear they expect that of you. But what if it’s not clear? Say you see a woman hanging out clothes or feeding chickens or working in a market stall of colorful vegetables — do you offer them some money? Or would that be insulting? What if it’s children chasing pigeons in the park? I’m always stymied about the best way to do it — not to be the impolite American, but not to be the American tourist who thinks she can buy anything, including a person’s interesting appearance.
    On the other hand, during a trip to Vietnam, some Vietnamese people wanted to take =my= photo because of my size — one somewhat portly guy came up to me and his friend gestured and said, “He want picture with you because you big like him!” Of course I agreed, and had a good laugh ( and now have a good story) about it.
    Love hearing your tales and seeing your images —

    • Thank you for your wonderfully kind and thought-provoking comment, Sherri. It’s funny that I hadn’t really considered the topic of payment before, except where beggars and street musicians are concerned — in which case I always give them a coin or three for their trouble. But private citizens who are otherwise gainfully employed? Occasionally I’ve bought something from a vendor if I feel I’m cutting into their prospective sales, but otherwise I’ve never offered compensation. I’m thinking of the US and Europe, though, and perhaps I’d feel differently in Asia or Vietnam. But no matter what I think the goal is to be gracious and grateful, and I’m sure that comes across in the way you interact with people (as the Vietnam photo op suggests! *Love* that story).

      Anyway, I’m delighted to have given you some photo ideas, and honored — as always — that you took the time to comment. Happy travels! I look forward to seeing any photos you care to share.

    • I’m so glad and honored you found these inspiring, Paula! Can’t wait to see where your travel adventures take you next …

  3. Great post! I envy you being able to ask strangers for portraits. This is something I struggle with, whether on a trip to Paris or here in my home town. I think I’m a fairly decent travel photographer, but I really need to get more people shots, and in particular portraits, not only to up my own game but to truly show the places I want to show with my photography. Thank you for the inspiration to keep trying.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Joe. It’s taken me *years* to work up the courage to approach people. But once you have two or three positive reactions — and two or three portraits you really love — it gets easier. And you know what the unexpected bonus has been? I’ve been turned down a few times and have learned that “no” isn’t the end of the world, either.

      Anyway, I’m honored that my post inspired you in some small way and hope it’ll help get you over that confidence hump. Cheers to you, and happy snapping!

  4. I wish I could put that first tip into practice but I’m just not that kind of person (way too shy!). But I promise to try all the others when I’m out and about next time, if I can remember where I put my camera! 🙂

  5. Again- Incredible pictures. I always get up’s one of the curses/benefits of getting older I think. Like you, I LOVE comparing a city in the morning to the way it looks at night.. it’s like visiting two completely different places!

    • Aww, Cindy … thanks for the kind words. And also for the reassurance that it’s not just me who seems to be getting up an hour earlier with each decade! If we’re lucky, perhaps one day we’ll be up early enough to catch the sunrise the night before. LOL.

        • Qué honor, Ivone … es un placer pensar que mi blog la pueda ayudar en alguna manera, por más pequeña que sea. Si acaso tiene preguntas específicas (¿qué quiere decir tal y tal palabra? ¿porqué se ecribe eso así?) ponga nomás su comentario y se lo contesto con muchísimo gusto. ¡Muchos saludos!

  6. This simple line is definitely your mantra: “Challenge yourself to look for hidden beauty in everyday scenes.” These photos show once again that you always do. Thanks for sharing them, Hlein!

    • Aww, Pamchen … you always say the sweetest things. Now, please STOP before I get a big ego! (Aber vielen, vielen Dank.)

    • I’m so honored you actually tried these tips — and even more to know that they helped! Thank you very much for your kind comment.

  7. Good points and I love the images. Looking down is something we all forget to do far too often but your shots show how rewarding staring at the ground can be – provided of course you watch where you are going at the same time – no head-butting lamp-posts for example. I’ve done that, nothing damaged except my pride!

    • Thank you for bringing up the excellent point that we shouldn’t become so engrossed in our creative process that we head-butt a lamppost! I’m glad you damaged nothing, except for your pride.

  8. This is such a helpful tip, I am a new blogger and I am really trying to get my photography up to standard and this helped so much!

  9. Saludos, Alberto. Espero no insultarlo, pero no voy a aprobar este comentario porque de acuerdo a las normas de WordPress se considera “spam” exigir que alguien visite su blog (y si publico su comentario, luego me lo van a reclamar las otras personas que me dejaron anuncios para sus páginas Web, sus invitaciones de Facebook, etc que no contesté). Pero le heché un ojito a su blog y aunque yo no sea fan ardiente del fútbol, me parece muy bien.

  10. Reblogged this on sagereads and commented:
    As much of a bookworm that I am, I think I have a fascination with taking pictures even more. Tips like these are so helpful and are what makes me a better photographer in the long run! 🙂
    I can’t at the moment, but I will be sure to post some of my work soon.

    • Thanks so much for your kind comment! I had a tough time convincing myself about that one, too — but in hindsight it’s undeniable that I’ve shot some of my best images on rainy days. Thank you so much for stopping by!

  11. Wonderful Blog. I just started this blog and haven’t added any of my photography. I believe we have some common interests in photography. I love street photography and doing things in a different prospective. You were in my recommended people.. Nice to “MEET” you! Can’t wait to see more!

    • ¡Tanto me complace que le hayan ayudado un poco mis consejos! Gracias por venir de pasadita, y por dejarme su comentario tan amable.

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