I’m going to do something very different with this post and actually offer some advice. Not useful advice, mind you, but advice nonetheless.
Why crappy pictures you ask? Well, thousands of websites offer advice on taking good pictures, but when you’ve been traveling for a while, you realize that most people aren’t trying to take good pictures. Instead, they seem to be trying their hardest to avoid getting a single adequate shot; and yet, no one is helping those people. That changes now—follow these five tips and say goodbye to good photos forever:
I. Always Use A Flash
Many people use a flash in low-light situations when photographing a subject near them, but if that’s the only time you use it, you are not going to get many crappy pictures. You want to use a flash any time you are not standing in direct sunlight.
Say you’re in Kowloon, taking pictures of the skyline on Hong Kong Island across the water during the nightly Symphony of Lights. Some people will tell you that your flash won’t actually reach the other side or that, as the name “Symphony of Lights” might suggest, the buildings are already lit up, but who cares? Flash away. Trust me, nothing looks more professional than using the ridiculously expensive DSLR and the pro-level lens some salesperson talked you into as a glorified strobe light.
And, if you find yourself on an observation deck enclosed in glass, your flash becomes doubly important. Of course the flash won’t reach the city below, but it will reflect off the glass giving you a lovely picture of a flash of light. More importantly, it will also put that same flash of light in every single picture every other person took at that moment. Of course they will just take another one, but if you look at your LCD screen unhappily and then TAKE THE EXACT SAME PICTURE AGAIN, you can be sure that everyone will go home with numerous images almost as crappy as your own.
II. Always face the sun
Sometimes photographing into the sun results in beautiful pictures, but don’t let that stop you; in general, this is one of the easiest ways to ensure your pictures are crap. When you shoot into the sun, the sky will become white and the foreground black, making nothing visible.
As a result, we have an important exception to rule #1: one of the few times you don’t want to use a flash is when taking pictures of something, especially people, with the sun behind them. In such a case, the flash will actually light up the faces, making them visible and possibly turning your crappy picture into a good one.
Another situation to look out for is the sunset. Sunsets are a special case when shooting into the sun could possibly result in a good picture, but if you use your flash (unless photographing something in the foreground—VERY IMPORTANT!) and hand hold your camera, you should be fine.
III. Never hold the camera vertically
Holding your camera vertically instead of horizontally can give you a different perspective and can often even help you fill the frame with your subjects, both of which could lead to a good picture. I’m sure there are times when a vertical perspective could result in a crappy photo, but it’s too risky. Just don’t do it.
IV. Watch others and take the same pictures
Uniqueness is another possible attribute of good images, so you want to avoid taking any photos from different angles or perspectives. When you arrive at a new location, take a few minutes to see what the tour groups are doing. As long as they are following the other rules on this list, you should get in line behind them and take the exact same picture they do. In fact, have one of them take the picture for you; that way you can put your smiling face front and center. Don’t forget the peace sign!
V. Always leave the camera on Auto Mode
This is a big one. Using your camera’s manual controls could possibly lead to creativity and creativity is another hallmark of a good photo. Just be careful under ideal conditions—at times when the light is perfect—the auto mode can lead to excellent pictures. If this happens to you, don’t panic. Just hit delete and try to incorporate one or more of my other rules.
Should you find yourself in a situation where none of those rules are applicable and you keep getting one nice picture after another, try putting something in the foreground to draw the attention of the auto focus. If you still end up with a good picture, never fear—I saved my best advice for last: leave the lens cap on. Or if you use a point and shoot, just use your finger to cover a portion of the lens.
If you follow these five simple tips, you too can ensure that all of your friends and relatives find themselves in the awkward situation of having to heap praise on pictures most blind two year olds could take.