Getting quality photographs during my vacations is really important to me. It’s my belief that as life barrels forward, the most precious thing we have in our lives, other than basic necessities and the people we love, is our memories. Photos definitely help in that aspect since our brains are not perfect at retaining details of prior events. We’ve all had that experience where we stumble upon an old picture we haven’t seen in ages and it bring about an intense rush of memories that were long forgotten.
My own photography has incrementally improved to a decent level over the years with a lot of reading and practice, but there’s a situation that commonly comes up where the quality of the final picture is mostly out of my control: the tourist photo where I am the subject in the frame, usually with some awesome monument in the background. To my dismay, I’ve found that many people have absolutely no idea what they’re doing when I ask them to take a picture of me standing in front of something cool. I’ve had the top of my head cut out of the frame, a massively zoomed in photo showing only me and Mrs Lite Adventurer with no context whatsoever of the environment we’re in, pictures that are tilted, a finger in front of the lens that obscures the photo, etc. So to overcome this, over the years I’ve collected some observations and tips to allow me to spot a potentially good photographer to take our picture.
A few caveats. These are general observations based on my own limited anecdotal evidence. Sometimes I’m wrong and the person who I ask for a photo ends up being a dud. This is also much easier to accomplish if you’re traveling in a tour group and are able to observe the same group of people over several days or weeks. I’ve found that there is almost always at least one decent photographer in every group.
Tip 1: Most good photographers I’ve found on my travels are women. I don’t know exactly why this is, but based on my own experience, the person on tour who I end up handing the camera over to is almost always female.
Tip 2: Ignore the camera. Just because a person carries around a $3000 DSLR, it doesn’t mean squat about their photographic abilities. It just means they have a big, expensive camera. If anything, I’ve discovered that the best photographers typically take their pictures with a cell phone, or occasionally a small point and shoot camera. What you’re looking for is someone with excellent composition skills, and that has nothing to do with the type of camera a person has. I’d much rather have a perfectly composed picture with an iPhone than a poorly composed one with a DSLR.
Tip 3: If you are traveling for a while with the same group, spend the first couple of days watching people as they take their pictures. Since most people nowadays shoot with phones & cameras with LCD screens instead of viewfinders, it’s easy to take a quick glance over someone’s shoulder as they’re taking a picture to see how it turns out.
Tip 4: Offer to return the favor. People will understandably get annoyed if you’re constantly asking them to take your picture every 5 minutes. So don’t do that and don’t make it a one way street either. I always offer to take as many photos of others that they want (assuming they actually want me to instead of someone else) so that everyone benefits.
Tip 5: If there is an artist in the group, that is the person you want to hand your camera to. Good artists understand composition and light and as a result generally take great photos.
What about selfies? That is one modern solution that allows you to avoid asking other people to take your picture. I have nothing against selfies and take quite a few myself, but if I’m on a once in a lifetime trip, at some point I’ll want a proper photo with enough quality to make a nice print later on. The front cameras on cell phones, while they’ve gotten better over the years, are still garbage compared to the phone’s rear camera or to a dedicated point & shoot. There’s still a place for handing off your camera to another individual to capture some nice snapshots.