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Finding good shots in “bad” spots

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I don’t normally post pictures of my kids on the blog seeing as my focus is travel photography. However, this shot illustrates a good point so I figured I’d roll with it.

Often when traveling, or taking photos in general, you either find a great scene that’s “ruined” by something (big trash can in the middle, wires going this way and that, too many people, etc) or you have a picture in your mind and can’t find the right scene for it. How can you make a subpar picture great?

For the above shot, I knew I wanted a fall photo of my daughter with the colorful trees. But it needed to be in a safe spot for a 3 year old to run around (the ideal scene I found was right by a busy road and wouldn’t work with a child) and the tree needed to be low enough for her to reach. We took a walk around the neighborhood and I finally found the right tree. I zoomed all the way in to blur the background some (made the house harder to see) and to naturally crop out an old fence, the paved walking path, and some electrical boxes. Then I laid down on my stomach so that she’d fill the frame and it wouldn’t look like I shot down on her. It also allowed me to get the pretty leaves on the ground.

How does this translate to travel photography?

If you want to eliminate something in the background, try zooming all the way in. This helps blur out what’s in the back and makes it less obvious.

If zooming doesn’t work, try a short depth of field (set your f-stop to a really low number). This also blurs the background.

Try lying down, crouching, or climbing on top of something to get a different angle. Be safe, though! You might be able to eliminate the problem items.

Try shooting only part of a scene, building or landscape. If you can’t get a decent shot of the whole cathedral because of renovation work or the crowds of people, try for zooming in to just the bell tower or even just a gargoyle. Give a taste of the whole.

If you can, think about time of day. The best light according to most photographers is the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset. Of course, you can get great photos other times, but the lighting is very flattering those times. The above shot was about 1.5 hrs before sunset and gave a special glow.

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