I’ve just got back from a week away in Moscow and Bethan asked if I’d share some tips for getting more out of photographing new places. Next time you’re on holiday, try out these simple tricks to break the habit of seeking out the classic postcard shot and come home with something a little more more exciting on your memory card!
1. THINK OF A THEME
I’m a big fan of setting myself photo projects as it helps to focus my mind and hone my eyes as I explore unfamiliar places. A theme can be anything from trying to get as many pictures of one thing, like street vendors or transport hubs, or concentrating on the medium of your photography like black and white, tilt-shift ‘miniatures’ or shooting on film. This Photography Monthly article has some great ideas.
For my trip I thought about what Moscow meant to me. Having been previously, I was aware that whilst Russia has become a very different place over the last 30 years, the footprint of the Soviet regime in Moscow remains overwhelmingly apparent. I wanted to try and capture the city with in a way that would reflect photography from that era, so bought myself a plastic Holga lens to fit onto my DSLR for about £15. Effectively a pinhole lens, it’s small and lightweight and great fun to attempt to use.
2. MOVE YOUR FEET!
The Robert Capa quote: “if your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” has become a bit of a cliché in photography, but it’s something we can all learn from. I prefer the notion of zooming with my feet and only took a lightweight prime lens alongside my plastic Holga. Using your body to move your camera, forces you into new and dynamic positions and gives a fresh new perspective on the well-known sights. Standing in the middle of Red Square I could see hundreds of people with their cameras trained directly at St Basil’s looking for that famous picture above. My view is that if you want a postcard photo, then buy a postcard! Instead I captured something different by getting down on the ground and looking for interesting people or objects in the crowd which other people might discard as in the way.
3. NEVER LET GO OF YOUR CAMERA
Thinking about photography every minute is hard, especially when you’re on holiday. I find that having my camera in your hand, rather than around my neck can make a big difference. Just loop the neck strap around your wrist and you’ve got your camera at hand for all of those blink-and-you’ll-miss moments. This also has the advantage of making you look less like a tourist, which can be less intimidating for local inhabitants.
4. LOOK BEHIND YOU!
It’s so easy when walking from one destination to another to stride forward and never look back. In short, you’re missing 50% of everything there is to see!
5. SMILE AND TALK TO PEOPLE
This is probably the hardest one and can be even harder somewhere like Russia where smiling often rouses suspicion! But I think the best photos you can get when travelling are of people rather than things. Unlike a monument which is photographed hundreds of times a day, photographs of people are both rarer and more interesting.
It’s essential to be culturally aware of local customs and always best to ask permission, but no photograph will capture the feeling of a place quite like one of someone who lives there. A good tactic I picked up in Bali is to speak to people who are selling things, close the deal, then casually ask for a photo before you leave. If you negotiate a price that’s good for them, you might get a priceless smile for your extra pound!