A Step-By-Step Guide to Artistic Travel Photography
1. Tell A Clear and Simple Story
A good photograph, at a glance, within seconds, the visual message should be immediately clear to the viewers. To achieve this goal, the story must be clear or easily understandable. A photograph, unlike a book, is a snap shot of a moment in time. So it is not capable of delivering too much of information. So we should keep the stories simple.
Here is a simple story. An old lady doing her morning ritual at the Ganges river. Her body language and concentration, the water pillar created, the circulating ripples around her, the morning light at the top left corner, combined with a serene and spiritual scene. There is nothing else in the scene that needs to be related to her. So it cannot be a much simpler story. This is an example of a simple scene and a simple story.
Now, do not mistake a simple STORY with a simple SCENE. A simple story is not necessarily one with few elements. For example, here is a photo of a street in Dhaka. It was raining, the traffic was in absolute chaos, the power cables were all over the place much like spider cobweb. But, the STORY is simple. The elements in the photo contribute positively to make a strong image. There are no elements in the scene that takes away from the story or causes confusion. This is a simple story, one which is easily understandable.
So it is good to keep a story simple and clear. Good contents and good composition are keys to a simple and clear story. We will look at each in the following sections.
2. Have Good Subjects / Elements
Interesting subjects and elements within photographs, or simply “contents” are meats and bones of a photo. They are the reasons why we bother to raise our cameras and take photos. There should be something that interests us to begin with.
Below, we have a fisherman in Yangshuo. The subject was nice and interesting, there were some mountains at the back to give an indication of the whereabouts. The other elements such as the oil lamp, the cormorants and the fishing net, all worked together to form a good and rich photo. In this case, there is a good story and it is presented clearly, hence it is a good photo.
We can take a perfectly composed photo. But if there is a lack of contents, then the story may not look attractive. On the other hand, we can make mistakes in the composition and still get away with a decent photo if the content is good. For example, In the following photo, the composition is not perfect. On the right of the truck, there was a man crossing the street. But in this case, that does not affect much the photo, because the truck together with the man on top was a dominant figure in the photo. This photo is still a keeper. So it is always good content first, then followed by good composition, good lighting and so on.
The content of a photo can be a beautiful landscape, a funny scene, something cute, static objects, a portrait so on and so forth. The best way to get good contents is, of course, to travel to interesting places, where the hit rate is high. But often they are also found on the streets, in the market, basically everywhere. Here are some examples of different types of contents:
Now let’s imagine we come to a scene and we have a vision of how the story should look like, but the contents are only partially complete in the scene. What do we do? We can try to “make” the story complete. For example, in the photo below, the cats were catching some sunlight in the alley, it would be better if there were a person walking past. So I waited and had my camera in position. Then it happened, a lady walked by, and lucky me, she did not walk in shade, nor her shadow blends with the shade. So in the case, I “made” the story.
We need to be observant and be perseverant, sometimes it takes a long time for things to happen, and sometimes it does not happen at all. But as we gain more experience, we will get better in deciding to wait or to move on.
Having good contents is job half done, we need to “put” the elements in the right places in order to bring focus, balance, clarity to the picture.
Let’s now talk about composition.
3. Don’t Underestimate Composition
There are no strict rules in composition. However, in general, there should a main subject(s), a central figure or focus point upon which the eyes of the viewers can focus on immediately, before they move on to the next bits in the photo. Then there are elements or environmental information that support the image. During the composition process, try to include as much as possible elements which add to the story, and exclude elements which do not relate or cause confusion to the story.
In the next photo, which was taken in Bangladesh, the main subject was the first Moon boat, which was closer to the camera. It was where the viewers’ eyes will first focus on. Next, we had a boat further away which plays a supporting role here. Next, we have a man there which was good to show the size of the boat, and to add some human touch to the photo. If the boats were at the same distance, i.e. same size, then it would work less well, because the eye has to pick which one to look at first. In this case, the flow is swift and sweet.