When given the chance, I love to travel alone because it means I get to do it without making any detailed plans. I’ll often head out with a rough idea of what I’d like to see and experience but without having any strict itineraries or deadlines. This gives me the freedom to spend as little or as much time as I want at any given location without the stress of having to respect a certain timeframe.
I need that freedom as photography is sometimes a waiting game. Being able to loiter around a location without having to worry about time constraints often means I end up making a better photo. The following are some examples of what I mean.
Let’s start with Lisbon, Portugal. The city is known for its iconic tramways and makes a perfect example of how being patient can add that extra element to your travel photo. Most people will wander around, see something that captures their attention, take a photo and move on. They end up with something decent like this:
Now this is a fine travel photo of the streets of Lisbon but what if you could add something that could make it more representative of the city? Something that would make for better memories down the road? It’s quite simple. You see those tracks in the middle of the road? Well, all you need to do is wait for it. Take a few extra minutes and wait for that little tramway to make its way towards you and voilà!
Transform a random city street to an iconic Lisbon scene in a matter of minutes. Use this time to find a better angle or composition for your photo, explore the shops, savour some tasty pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts), take some architectural photos or simply enjoy the moment.
Next up, we have one of my favourite places on Earth: Japan! Point your camera anywhere in this country and you’ll most likely have something interesting in your viewfinder. Here’s an example of how you can make one of those scenes even more captivating.
First of all, a quick Google image search for one of Kyoto’s main attractions, Fuhsimi Inari Taisha, will turn up something like this:
Notice how the photos of the main torri gate and shrine (1st, 3rd, 4th and last) are fairly similar. It’s the classic walk up, put cell phone to eye level take the photo and hurry up to go see the main torri gates scene. Everyone visiting Fushimi Inari has at least one of these photos, including myself.
There’s nothing wrong with this but what if you want to make your photo just a little bit different? Simply be a tiny bit patient and wait for it to happen. In Kyoto, a lot of the tourists (mostly women) will dress up in colourful yukatas (kimonos) and walk around visiting the main attractions. It’s almost guaranteed that some of them will walk up to the torii gate to take that classic cell phone picture so simply linger around and wait for that moment.
What’s even more practical for you is that most people will just stand there taking several photos and reviewing them on the spot before moving on. This gives you plenty of time to position yourself so that you can include them in the foreground of your own picture.
To vary things even more, instead of putting the main torii gate and building dead center, take the time to try different angles. On this photo, the trio of women huddled together to review each other’s pictures. This allowed me plenty of time to position myself. To change things up even more, I squatted a little bit in order to change that eye-level perspective that we have a tendency to use.
For the next example, let’s head to the Indian Ocean country of the Seychelles. For this one, we end up spending extra time not for a better/different composition but for a better story.
Here, you find yourself on the beautiful Beau Vallon beach on the main island of Mahé. You’re obviously lazing away trying to catch a nice tan when you see this small fishing boat coming to shore. As the men load the catch of the day into baskets, you figure this is interesting so let’s get closer. You take a few shots to satisfy the paparazzi within and maybe even exchange a few words with the locals.
You got one or two good shots so you can call it a day, right? Wrong! Don’t head back to your sand covered beach towel just yet. Hang around a little bit, wait to see if the story unfolds any further. You will realize that the men are simply bringing their catch to the side of the road to be sold to passers by. Head over there and grab some more shots.
Back home, you’ll be able to share this side of the local life and culture with friends and family. You’ll appreciate your travels and your experiences even more when looking back at those memories.
The next example was taken in Kathmandu, Nepal. On this occasion, I was actually a bit lost and stumbled upon this temple complex. It was beautiful surprise. After exploring the temple grounds for a few minutes, I noticed a father feeding pigeons with his kids. They were surrounded by dozens and dozens of birds. I knew that at some point or another, one of those kids would run through the flock of birds and make for a great photo. It was only a matter of time. I took a guess and positioned myself where I thought one of the kids would run and waited. Sure enough, inevitability took its course and I managed to capture part of the action.
The next example brings us to my hometown of Montreal. For this one I was on a photowalk in the Old Port with a group of local photographers. Walking along the boardwalk, we passed these three girls who were standing by their bicycles, fixing their helmets and talking away. It was obvious that they would soon hop on their bikes and cycle past us. I let the group of photographers walk ahead as I stood there and waited. Sure enough, a few moments later the trio flew past me, giggling away as they enjoyed the ride. Had I not taken the time to wait for them, I would never have managed to capture this moment.
For the last case, we’ll stay in Montreal and do some long exposure night photography. This one naturally implies planned and calculated waiting times. In order to capture motion in the Ferris wheel and smooth waters in the lake, your camera will need to capture the image over a period of a few seconds to a few minutes depending on the results you want to achieve. You need to figure out where to do your setup (tripod and camera) and then spend some time on location trying different angles as well as different exposure times. Once again, waiting for it is the only way to get these types of shots.
To sum it all up, if you want to take your travel photos (or your photography) a step further, then just spend a little extra time to get the shot. Don’t necessarily be satisfied with the first photo you take. Wait a little bit more to see what else develops, take the time to explorer further, take the time to plan or to visualize ahead and take the time to think about what you actually want to capture.