Three tips for taking photos worth keeping

In a few days, I will be traveling to Harrisonburg, USA, to attend the Cross Cultural Summer Program on Leadership and Global Engagement at James Madison University. It’s going to be a jam packed month of different activities and excursions around the university and the American capital city of Washington D.C. It will be a month with a lot of experiences to remember.

The singer and actress Rickie Lee Jones said that ”you never know when you’re making a memory”.  And while that’s true, there’s a way to get around the weak points of the human memory: cameras. They give you the ability to choose your memories, in a way. The modern digital camera can store hundreds or even thousands of snapshots on a single memory card. But if you are anything like me, there’s a lot of pictures from some vacation lying unobserved on a hard disk somewhere. These digital memories won’t do you any good like that.

I will share three things that help me to take better pictures. What someone likes in a picture is of course really subjective, and these tips are really situational, but maybe these tips will work for you like they do for me.

  1. Get close!

When you’re about to shoot some old monument, most people would probably take a step back and try to fit the whole thing in the frame. This works for many occasions, but can also lead to boring postcard-style photos. Thousands of tourists have probably already taken the exact same photo as you are lining up right now. Instead, crop your image boldly. Find the small detail that catches your eye. It might make for a unique photo and will usually not feature any other tourists in the image, which is usually a plus. This tip works really well for photographing people too. Getting up close usually leads to more personal, fun and playful pictures.

  1. Be quick!

Keep your camera close, and draw it quick. For digital cameras, don’t be afraid to snap a few quick shots in a row to capture something happening in the moment. While carefully composed pictures are not necessarily bad, I find that my favorite shots are the ‘in-the-moment’ pictures, often with someone who has not yet realized I am taking their photo. It’s better to ask for permission after rather than before shooting the picture. And don’t skip cleaning up your camera reel by the end of the day, it’s the best time to edit out the boring pictures.

  1. Tell a story.

Humans love narratives. If you are ever going to show your vacation shots to a friend or relative, make it into a journey that is worth listening to. Landscape pictures are pretty hard to make very interesting, but can work as an establishing shot for the location that you arrived to. Then, follows a portrait of a local that gave you directions. Maybe you can get a picture that says something about the personality of your traveling buddies. Thinking about what a picture is saying can be a great way to make the images come to life, and help you remember all the things that you were thinking about when you were taking them.

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