October 10, 2011

The Basics of Great Travel Photography - How to Make an Interesting Slideshow of Your Travels

So you've come home from a fantastic trip and the first thing you do after petting the cat is race to your computer and download the 2,000 photos you took with your digital camera. What do you want to do? You want, of course, to share your photos with your family, friends, co-workers, coffee shop barista and just about anyone else who shows any curiosity. It's only natural to want to show people evidence of your adventures and experiences.

But you know the old cliche about hosts boring their guests with vacation slideshows? Well, behind every cliche is a grain of truth. How can you avoid falling into this cliche?

There are a handful of very simple rules you can easily follow to make your holiday snapshots a great success with everyone.

1. Edit ruthlessly. This is, perhaps, the most difficult step. You've taken 2,000 photographs over the past week - and how do you whittle them down to the "chosen few"? Well, a nice trick I like to use is pretend you didn't have a digital camera with unlimited memory, but instead, you had an old film camera. (If you're too young to remember taking photos with film, talk to someone older who remember how you had to be choosy about the snaps you took.) Think: "If I had a film camera, I would have only taken two or three photos of the Eiffel Tower, not two hundred. Which are my best three? Another rule of thumb I like to use to help with this step is: No more than five photos from any single day. (This is based on 35 photos for a week vacation, 70 photos for a two-week vacation, etc. The slideshow can't be too long.) It's tough to do, but it forces you to be critical of your work. And you may be surprised what "gems" you can come up with.

2. When editing ruthlessly, create tiers of photos. When I go through my photos, I generally make three (virtual) piles: slideshow material, great memories, and record shots. The "slideshow material" consists of the five best shots per day. The "great memories" are the photos that have sentimental value, but aren't necessarily 'great.' These largely include photos that include my family or travel companions. These might also include photos I want to enlarge to hang in my house. Remember, sentimental photos might be full of meaning and emotion for you, but rarely make interesting slideshow material to engage your viewers. Finally, the "record shots" are just that - and this will likely be the largest pile.

3. Include only a few family snapshots - balance your choices. Again, not easy, since you automatically want to show "look, the kids where here, and here, and here, and..." But remember that it's understood that your kids were with you at all times - you didn't ditch them for several days in the middle of the trip. When I took my kids to Venice, my slideshow shots included only two of the kids: one of them overlooking the Grand Canal with the city spread out behind them, and another casual shot of them eating gelato by the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. I chose those because each featured the city prominently, and each told a narrative of the kids experiences in Venice. From a slideshow perspective, it's understood that the kids saw everything else, and I know my co-workers don't want to see endless snaps of my kids. You need to balance your photos - a few with the kids, a few landscapes, a few "day in the life of an average citizen" shots, a few funny shots... this balance will make for an engaging narrative.

4. Create a narrative with your shots. This is the fun part. When choosing your "slideshow photos," keep in mind that you want to build a narrative. Try not to just select random photos sorted chronologically - that won't be a very interesting slideshow. Instead, try to think about the story you'll be telling as you're going through the photos. If chosen well, every photo should have a story attached to it. If, in your selections, you have a photo where all you could say is: "and here's another one of Bob" you likely shouldn't include it. But if you can say: "We found this little village in the middle of nowhere, and this bird came up to Bob and..." it's likely a keeper.

5. It's not all about you. This is a tough one - we all want to make it about ourselves. But the narrative you build by selecting your shots should also be about the place, not just about you visiting the place. One of my favourite photos from a trip to Mali (and other people's favourite as well) is a photograph of a lone fisherman in early morning casting his net. I was lucky enough to catch the net in mid-air, spread above him. No one I know is in the picture, there's no vast landscape in the picture, it's not a special event or special day - it's just a man on his boat casting a net, like he does every day. But it tells a great story about how people live in Mali. So don't be afraid to include simple images that have nothing to do with your vacation, but everything to do about the narrative of other people's lives in the place you visited. Your audience will appreciate you.

So with a few simple rules for how to effectively narrow down your vacation photos from 2,000 to a few dozen, you'll have an engaging and interesting slideshow that people will look forward to. And maybe even learn a thing or two about a distant place.

Future articles will have more tips on taking effective and interesting travel photographs while you're away.

Kevin Harries is a photographer based out of Toronto, Canada, and is the principal of VistaKWH. He has traveled extensively, and has never been accused of taking boring travel photographs. He is also involved in fine art photography, with many of his images available through Getty Images, as well as through his website, http://www.vistakwh.com/. He specialized in large format prints.

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