Holiday and travel shots are always in danger of falling into the same old, uninteresting patterns time and again. And it can be amazingly difficult to do something fresh. Heck, it gets tiring putting so much effort into each and every shot. So here’s a big secret for you: decide beforehand what you want from the shot. Do you just want a pleasant record of the scene? Is it for your own memory, or are you going to share this with the world? Choosing in advance that you are simply taking snaps to make a recording can take away a lot of any stress you may put on yourself. And you know what? It’s OK to just take snapshots now and then. It will take less time, and probably be less annoying to your family and friends than trying to crawl under that Clydesdale for a truly unique shot of the holiday parade.
That being said, you are probably reading this because you’d like some tips for making those potentially boring shots a bit more interesting. Well, the general schools of thought on this are to choose different points of view, tell stories that are going on around a main event, or find a new way to show iconic scenes.
Putting these into practice can be quite difficult at times, though. Time can be short, as well as patience. Lighting may not be optimal, there may be crowds or other visual clutter, etc. As you approach the shot, if you’ve decided you want something more than a snapshot, first consider just taking the snapshot. If you aren’t posing a group, you may have time to look at the snap and decide what you do and don’t like about it.
If you are shooting digital and can review the image, start asking yourself some questions… What did you account for automatically? Did you make sure the horizon was flat, that you got shadow and light properly exposed? Did you make allowances for cropping? Or perhaps you shot from eye level because it was easy.
Pick one of those elements and beat it up. Recompose your shot keeping the other pieces the same, but that one element should be banished, twisted, reversed or just plain ignored. Tilt the horizon and shoot obliquely; introduce shadows or change where they lie; expose for the shadow and to hell with the highlights; zoom in way more than you think you’d ever crop; lay down in the street under the Clydesdale 🙂 Ok, scratch that last one… Still. You get the point.
If you’re shooting your family gatherings, take some time to warm them up – while you’re shooting one couple, pay attention to the cousin next to you and how they react. Are they interested in the shot you took? Will they jump in or avoid participating? Is it tough to get the whole gang into one shot for any reason? Maybe you should be considering doing a composite instead. Some people will be more or less tolerant of quirkiness, like climbing on the hearth or shooting across the dinner table. Take note and work with it. There are stories in the responses and personalities.
Going to the big hotel to see their huge Christmas tree? Or perhaps there’s a great outdoor play of some kind. Where is everyone else shooting from? Do you care to get a picture of it? Why? If you take a picture like everyone else is, be sure to review it and ask yourself what you do and don’t like about it. Then do something about it.
But don’t forget that this is supposed to be your holiday as much as anyone else’s. If you’re like me, sometimes you enjoy hiding behind the camera, but let it go now and then. Enjoy being a part of the scene for a while. Your family and friends will appreciate it 🙂