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The composition of a photograph means to put your picture elements in some sort of a pleasing arrangement. But human taste differs, and what is pleasant for you may be unpleasant for someone else. In traveling, composition ideas may change from one country to another. What was beautiful in one may not be beautiful in another. You have to look at each country and in each place of your travel for different ideas. Looking through your camera viewer you may move the camera closer or farther to the main object, or use different focal length lenses. You may walk left or right, back an forth, and see what would be the best composition for the picture. The time spent on compositions by walking with your camera, before you take the picture, will pay high dividends in better pictures using less film.
In most travel photographs, you should have one main object or center of interest. Tell the picture with your idea. The rest of your picture frame should just support the composition of the main object.
The idea of what is beautiful may even change in different countries. In the Orient, a beautiful woman is still a fat one.
A general idea of good proportion, balance and symmetry in your picture will generally be accepted as good composition. But a better composition would be one with new ideas. The old object in a different view, in a different position, with a different foreground or in a different light would be more original and pleasing.
You may read in photography books that you should divide your picture frame into thirds both vertically and horizontally. The four intersection points are the best locations for the center of interest. Generally, this is an excellent rule to follow.
Professional and amateur photographers use a tripod to aid overall sharpness. A tripod is a must for better movie pictures, but a still picture photographer will greatly improve his pictures by using a tripod. A tripod will slow down the photographic activity; it will take more time to take a picture. It will also take more time to compose the picture, but generally, you will get a better picture. A tripod is a must for close up and macro photography. It is true that the best action pictures are made with hand held cameras, but static objects can be rendered sharper with the aid of a tripod.
A tripod can help you to make candid pictures of people without drawing attention to the picture taking activity. Just put your camera on a tripod, preset the shutter speed, f-stop, and focus distance. Then when an interesting person (or people) go by your camera, without looking through the viewfinder, press the shutter release button. You may get interesting pictures and your object will never know it was "taken."
Our pictures are only two dimensional. But sweeping landscapes can look more three dimensional when you place some object in the foreground, like tree branches, to frame the main object. Such a composition will make your picture look three dimensional. Taking a picture from a building a boat, plane, train, etc. It is a good idea to take part of the building or train as a frame for your composition.
Our eyes expect balanced pictures. So if you put a heavy object on one side, then put some object or two smaller objects on the other. Balance your pictures.
You may read, that when taking a landscape you should never divide the sky and the earth exactly in two or in your picture frame. Make your decision as to what is more important and what is more interesting-the sky or the ground? Then take more of the interesting object. In compositions of color, our travel pictures are usually very colorful. Try instead to get one or two colors rather than many. One main color may be supported with some other smaller color. Sometimes you may see a famous painting in which a red spot, like a red skirt, will be strategically placed in the picture composition. This is a common compositional technique to place this small red object at or near the center of interest, to draw your attention to it.
Never get discouraged when you are standing before a famous landmark (Eiffel Tower, eg.) and have to take a picture of it when you will know that this picture has been composed already in a thousand different ways. There are still another thousand ways to make this composition. Take a little walk around, farther and closer, and you surely will find your own way of making this picture look different than anything you have seen before.
In travel pictures, people like to see other people. You can always improve your composition by including people in your pictures. But you need the person in the right place. You could always ask even a strange person to stay in a desired place or to do something that would appear natural to the location. But do not place your spouse or children in the center of all your scenes. The audience will tire of them.
You will read in photo books that actually there is no formula for good composition. You may read that in a good composition all the lines and points should lead to the main object.
There are often some personal problems. When you are six feet tall and taking your pictures from your eye view, all your pictures may appear to be from a bird's eye view. That is, you may get too often only the tops of children's heads, and not their faces. In many countries of the world the people are small. And in tropical countries they are often sitting or laying on the ground. For better pictures you will have to bend or get down on your knees. To have the faces of the people you will have to be on the same level as your object. A better photographer will take a frog from a frog's perspective. It is true that later you may have a good excuse and say your pictures were taken exactly as you saw them, but this will be a poor excuse for poor pictures.
Many photographers take pictures of people looking straight into the camera. Professionals do the contrary. They always pretend that the person never knew he or she would be in the picture. Both types have a point. A picture looks more natural when the particular person is doing something, pretending he does not see the camera. On the other hand, you like to see the open faces and eyes of the people. In movies this is simple. You could first show the person busy, and then have the person turn and look into the camera. But there are many ways to show faces and still not have the person looking directly into the camera lens. Just ask him to look at an object or another person at the side of your camera.
The same is when you take pictures of your family. They like to have their own pictures on the famous places. Instead of having your wife looking directly into the lens and smiling with "cheese" in front of the Eiffel Tower, you could get a much more interesting picture with your wife just admiring the Eiffel Tower.
A good composition may bring some humor. Such a picture may be the most valuable. Humerous situations happen all the time and in all places, you must just be patient and look. In your travels, by paying a little attention. to basic compositional rules, with a little extra time for planning the composition, you will get better pictures.
WHAT IS BEAUTY?
Our photographic images should be a work of art. But what is art? A work of art is a product of human skill and intelligence which will be admired by and will please other people. Sometimes a work of art (like sculptures, paintings, or musical compositions) will be made by an artist just to please himself; sometimes for recognition, awards or money. But the most desirable condition occurs if the artist and others like his work of art.
A work of art, like our films, should bring a pleasant feeling of beauty. But what is beauty? There are five different types of ideas of beauty.
First is a classical beauty of symmetry and proportion. A beautiful woman's face must have eyes of identical size and shape. The body must be completely symmetrical. The proportion of the human body must be constant to be called beautiful. The human head should be 1/7 part of the body length, for example. The same with animals, flowers and other objects.
The beautiful object-the second idea of beauty-must be in "fashion." The beautiful object must resemble today's taste. The beauty of ancient Egyptians was not the beauty of the Greeks. The Romans had a different idea from the Gothic, Baroque, early American, or modern. A beautiful woman must dress according to the latest mode of fashion, otherwise she will be called "old-fashioned" and not recognized as beautiful.
The third type of beauty is found in old objects. An ugly clay figure three or four thousand years old will be called beautiful, when seen in a museum.
The fourth idea of beauty is originality. Something that was never done before, something unique. Many objects in museums of art are from this category.
The fifth type of beauty is by virtue of price and fame. A color spot or line painted by Picasso will be called beautiful. Why? When a museum pays 50 or 100 thousand dollars for some object -(even if ugly to everybody it must be called beautiful.
Our film should be an abject of art, something beautiful. We should remember that there are few different ideas as to what is an object of art and what is a beauty. And because we are people and individualists, what is beauty for me is not necessarily beauty for you. But like the lyrics to a popular song, "When cannot please everyone, just please yourself."
WHAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO GET AND WHAT YOU MAY GET IN YOUR TRAVEL PICTURES
How successful your travel pictures will be depends on your travel picture ideas. You should get the maximum amount of information on the country you will visit and the maximum amount of information of what you would like to include in your travel photography. You may get your information from many different books either by buying them or by checking them out from a library. Next you can get some pamphlets from your travel agency or from the travel agency of the particular country you would like to visit. Some people prepare one or two years before leaving, which leaves time enough for information gathering. I, personally, often have one or two pounds accumulation of booklets and pamphlets before each of my travels.
Most people will take pictures everyday on their way traveling and later will try to organise them into some kind of order and story. There will be hard decisions as to what is and what is not an important picture to take during the travels. Generally some ideas are always the same. People like to see other people, so always take pictures of people, with the country you are traveling in as the background. People at work, playing, praying, how they work, how they manage their living, and their pleasures will always make interesting pictures.
Planning and taking your travel pictures should always be oriented to the audience which will later see your pictures. Bikinis and bare breasted beauties will have little appeal for a church group. Different people will have different interests, so the best would be to try to get something for everybody and later you can edit your pictures to your audience.
People expect to see the famous landmarks of every country you visit. When you show pictures of Paris you have to show some pictures of Eifel Tower, or Notre Dame, or the Arch de Triumphe. The same in London, Vienna, or Rome. This is done on any film or television show in order to recognize the particular city. The problem will be for you to get "better" pictures of the landmarks. To make a different composition from any postcard is a challenge. People like seeing the object, but they would be happier to see this object in a different composition or light. Everybody likes to see babies and young children, but if you expect your audience to include architects, funeral directors, flower lovers, or cat lovers, then try to bring some picture souvenirs for everybody.
Before your departure you should always plan some ideas of what you would like to include in your pictures. But many things could go wrong. You may have to change planes, or you may run into terrible weather where you cannot take any pictures, or you may just get sick or tired and forget picture taking. Pre-planning makes sense, but seldom is it possible to get all of the pre-planned pictures. Your plans must be flexible. When plan number one is not possible, you should have plan number two or even a substitute plan number three or four. The idea is to never to get caught with a situation that you do not know what picture to take. You may get in a situation where you have the opportunity to take pictures that you never thought of before. For example, you could be unexpectedly invited to some performance or unexpectedly witness some celebration. Always have your film and camera ready, planning to meet these pleasant situations.
Few people like to see a stiff statue picture of some dead object, such as on city monuments. In your movie film be sure to always get some movement. When you have to take an immobile picture, try to bring some life into it. Include people or animals, or show clouds moving over the object. Try using tree branches or vehicles. The main object will still be stiff, but the secondary details will improve your picture's composition.
Most travelers are "afraid" of going close to people in different countries. They do not like to bother or disturb these other people. But the most interesting pictures will be those of the close-ups of other people's faces, or the closer details of their dresses, or actions. You could use a tele-objective or an objective on your camera that lets you view through a ninety degree angle, so you can point the camera in one direction as you look in another.
Where should you go to see the people? Probably to a village market, always early in the morning. Many cities have a market only once a week, so you will have to find out this day. In the market place you will find not only different people, but all the different merchandise they use and eat. Here you have an unlimited possibility of picture situations. For instance, how the people act when selling or buying.
If you travel mostly with your family and your friends, you will surely want to take their pictures. The biggest demand will be for pictures showing the background of famous landmarks, just to show later that "I was there!" These pictures are usually taken with your family looking straight into the camera, (say cheese!) and in the background is the monument. Such pictures look personal, but also simple and often silly. These pictures could be shown only to your family and friends and will be of little use for your later general audience. Such pictures may be made more interesting when the composition is changed. Have your family and friends engage in some sort of activity or play. What they should do is pretend that they do not notice the camera. This informal position will improve your pictures, and these pictures may have more of a general appeal for your future audience.
Different people in different countries will give you different problems. You may find some countries, for instance Taiwan, Burma, Japan, most European countries, and especially in the far East where the people will cooperate. Then you will find countries like Egypt, Guana, Hong Kong, and many African and Asian countries where you have to pay for pictures of the natives, the people will still be unfriendly and uncooperative. But, still, in the Amazon or New Guinea jungle you may find people who seldom or maybe have never seen a camera. The picture taking here will be a new experience, and it does not always look safe in the eyes of the suspicious and superstitious natives. In Arabic countries, picture taking can be dangerous when taking pictures of women and some sacred objects. So it is better to ask, or else take the picture and then ask, or apologize.
Always remember that a particular country may have particular restrictions. In Eastern Europe no pictures may be taken of any military objects, bridges, or railroad stations. In some countries it is forbidden to take pictures of people living in poverty. In these countries you have only the right to take pictures of their best or "sunny" side.
Scenery is important because people like to see the country. People like seeing not only the temples and monuments, but also the simple streets, houses and market places. When taking scenery pictures never forget to make your picture three dimensional. To do this use a first plan addition of some trees, a fence, or any object that is close to your objective. Sometimes you may be able to frame your picture with a door or an arch or something similar.
Large landscapes may bring disappointment. The scenery to your eyes and through your camera viewer may look beautiful and large with much detail. However, later the pictures will look terribly simple and most of the objects will be too small to recognize even on a large screen. The accumulation of many small or distant objects seldom give you satisfaction. Try to always get some larger object, some main object, or some main idea that you would like to show, and these other details should only improve your composition.
A picture of the object or the same scene in a different light will give the picture a different color and beauty. Morning light, afternoon, evening, or night will make the same object, in a different light, look different, and more interesting.
In summary, a good pre-planned travel with pre-planned picture ideas will pay you back with better pictures. But such planning must be flexible. It is seldom possible when traveling to have ideal weather conditions and an ideal sequences with no interferences. You may find it impossible to take some of the pictures you desired, and yet you may take many more that you never expected.