How to ensure your vacation photos collect memories, not dust

  • Photographers stand on the Rim Trail photographing the changing sunset light on Bryce Canyon in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. Dusk and dawn can be the perfect times to get that unique, well-lit travel photo.

    Photographers stand on the Rim Trail photographing the changing sunset light on Bryce Canyon in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. Dusk and dawn can be the perfect times to get that unique, well-lit travel photo. Associated Press File Photo

 
 
Updated 8/12/2015 12:03 PM

Did you ever wonder how many pictures you could show of a bank in downtown Des Moines before your audience falls asleep?

Fifteen if you're my cousin Bob.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

If there was an award for gray and boring photos, Bob would be champion of the world. His photos were architectural mug shots -- all front and center with no personality.

According to Judy Langston, professor of photography at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, digital cameras have given new dimension to vacation photos.

With smartphones and point-and-shoot cameras available, as well as high-end equipment, everyone's a photographer. But that doesn't mean everyone is a good photographer. For some it's still a shot in the dark.

Here are a few ideas to ensure your vacation photos collect memories and not dust in a box under the bed:

Find a unique feature.

Everybody has seen pictures of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. But they may not have seen the paw print at the base of bridge that's rumored to bring you good luck when you touch it. Rome's Colosseum is a magnificent structure, but the feral cat hunting for mice among the ruins conjures up lions and gladiators and makes it come alive.

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Add a personal touch.

A picture of the White House, while easy to recognize, can be just as boring as Bob's bank. It needs a face-lift. Add a child with an ice cream cone dripping down her hand in front of the building and it might make you smile.

Get close.

Instead of photographing the whole crowd at a rock concert, zoom in on a person who is in total awe of the show.

Pick the right time.

When Susie Gates took pictures of a herd of bison in South Dakota, she thought she had a great shot. The only thing bright about the picture was the sun. It washed out all the animals and made the photo dull and flat. Some photographers only shoot during the early mornings and late evenings when the sun is lower in the sky -- they call it the "sweet light." When the sun is bright it's a good time to take photos indoors or in the shade.

Be picky.

A photo may be worth a 1,000 words. Thirty photos of the same scene may be worth a single word -- boring. When my nephew came back from South Africa, he took more than 2,000 pictures. He put them all in a slideshow. Some of his shots were excellent, but no one will take the time to seek them out.

As famous travel photographer Ewen Bell said: "There's nothing truly original in this world, but that doesn't mean you can't be unique. Your photography and your gratitude are both fertile fields for expression."

Gail Todd is a freelance writer who worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached at gailtodd@aol.com.

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