Advice about how to take good travel photos

I have albums that are full of postcards from trips of a lifetime, taken when my only camera – if it was packed – was a cheap 1970s Instamatic. Then my equipment got slightly more complex, but the composition stayed predictable: friends or family squinting or blinking in front of something famous.

It wasn’t until traveling with My Guy that I began to concentrate on pictures that show more than who was along for the adventure. My companion didn’t like to be photographed, and he still likes his pictures “pure” – without people. That was irritating at the beginning, but it turned out to be good training for what I do today.

Particularly in remote areas, it has become important to document my travels for work. I have learned by accident, error and through the advice of longtime professionals. You easily can do the same.

A part of it is devoting the time, not necessarily to learn all the settings on your new digital, but to study an area without distractions. That’s what travel photographers had the opportunity to do this month, during Photo Shoot-out competition in downtown Milwaukee.

Each of us got 10 rolls of slide film, and the shots needed to be taken in 24 hours. After that, we each got up to 360 slides to peruse and narrow to our top 10.

The geographic parameters were Lake Michigan, Brady Street, 10th Street and Chicago Street. The theme was “Catch the Current in Downtown Milwaukee,” defined in four ways (water to current events). Each photographer had a driver/guide for eight hours, so there was no need to think about getting lost, lack of parking or picture possibilities.

The unspoken challenge was to see beyond the obvious, to catch moods as well as energy, to show that this not a generic city but Milwaukee.

A lot of skylines are shot from the lake, but my patient and knowledgeable guide, Gary Petersen of Milwaukee’s Department of City Development, knows where the city looks like it’s emerging from swampland. That shot was my personal favorite.

There are many profiles of the Milwaukee Art Museum, most of which concentrate on the amazing, winglike exterior. To be less predictable, I latched onto two people walking in the reception hall. Their tiny silhouette, against the huge hall’s natural arches, set a cathedral-like mood. The shot was a category winner.

And while kicking around the RiverWalk at Pere Marquette Park, wondering how to inject life into a quiet Tuesday evening, a crew team zipped through unexpectedly. I clicked off several shots, hoped for the best and was ecstatic to see it introduced as the contests’ Best of Show a few nights later.

The Maine Photographic Workshops are internationally renown, and founder David Lyman conducted a seminar for travel writers in Portland a couple of years ago. “There is no such thing as bad light,” he insisted. Foliage and gardens look the best in rain; fog provides “a beautiful wrap-around,” a soft light.

The best camera angles, he notes, sometimes come from kneeling (to add dominance to whatever is being photographed) or standing on top of something (to alter the perspective).

The subject of a photo should not compete with its background, and strong people images will show their relationship to their environment.

“Surprises come from taking a risk,” he suggested. Blurs can capture the energy of an object, person or event.

“Letting a subject breathe” means that tightly cropped elements are not always the most effective photos. Put the primary subject into one-third of the frame, Lyman advised, and let the rest of the content “set the scene.”

For more about his workshops, call (207) 236-8581 or go to

“How to Shoot Great Travel Photos” (Allworth Press, $24.95) is a new book by Susan McCartney of New York City, whose work has been widely published in magazines. This is her sixth photography book.

“Good travel photography is simply good photography done in unfamiliar places,” she writes. The book is full of her work, with equipment as well as composition analyzed.

The best work, McCartney notices, often comes from pictures shot for fun or joy. “Listen to creative criticism from those you respect,” she advises, “but never let discouraging comments deter you.”

Especially if you have a digital camera, shoot a lot. “The more often you shoot, the more quickly your pictures, your reflexes and your camera handling skills will improve,” McCartney says.

If you can’t find the book locally, call (800) 491-2808 or go to

Now, a word from George Eastman House archivists, who this spring gave travel writers pointers about how to preserve photographs.

The best place to store them: in the dark, with a temperature of 68-72 degrees and relative humidity of 40-50 percent.

How to handle/store them: Pick up with clean or – better yet – gloved hands, so body oils don’t disfigure the prints. Look for the PAT (Photographic Activity Test) designation on materials used for archiving. If you must store them in a shoebox, prop them up and use a PAT material to separate one from another.

For more, call (585) 271-3361 or go to

Last, photography certainly isn’t just for photo albums anymore. The Eastman Kodak Company, also based in Rochester, N.Y., made us aware of the possibilities: mousepads to calendars to playing cards to photo sculptures.

The processing and ordering can be done electronically. For more, go to