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Thoughts and Opinions on Anything About Life. Probably Mostly Wrong. Maybe

The Tourist Photographer's Dilemma [July 27 2012]

I wholeheartedly loathe tourist photos. I really do. I get angry just thinking about it. I really really hate this. Let me go outside and throw some rocks on a concrete wall.

Okay, I'm back (I actually just grabbed a snack instead).

Let me first explain what I think is the problem with tourist photos: they're just too much. It's all inclusive. It has you, your kids, all of your magnificent landmark and it's surroundings. That kind of thing never works. Cameras should just pretend to be out of battery when faced with such a scene (they can recognizes faces already so that's possible right?).

This is a Boston landmark picture subtly showcasing the family. I'm not terribly proud of it but I don't need to hide when people ask if I took it (I mean, if I were to hide, it would not be because of that).

The reason it doesn't work is simple: a picture that has more than one thing makes that one thing much more difficult to stand out. We all have different tastes and opinions. As such, you might disagree but let's just stop for a minute to look at pictures we like (I'll go do something better while you take a few moments and do it). I think you'll find that those are recurring patterns: shallow depth of field, uncoloured backgrounds, isolated subject, sharp focus. All of them have the same effect: make one single thing stand out. Even ultra wide angles that seem to capture all of the surroundings produce great images when their focus is on making one thing stand out: the perspective.

Tourist photos are sickening because they do all the opposite. They cram people faking smiles on top of a very busy landmark scene.

So we're faced with this dilemma as photographers and tourists:

  1. refuse to take the tourist snapshots and just take time to focus on quality work while pissing off everyone in the group


  1. take the snapshots the best you can with your big camera to take the touristy snapshots with better execution.

I'm actually not sure we can resolve this to the satisfaction of everyone involved (unless you're a family of photographers) but with a little effort, we can at least make an attempt. Or I tell you how and you make the attempt. Just kidding, I'm not letting you try this alone.

So let's try and make tourist pictures better. First, let's forget about showing off that you were there in front of the golden bridge, omg!! People are doing it everyday and you can just tweet it, we'll believe it. If we want to see the golden gate, we can google it and find fabulous shots that have been taken a thousand times.

One of my favorite touristy-type photos. I secretly waited for the good light while we were having fun and took this. Only regret: a stupid pole in the top-left corner of the frame I had to clumsily get rid of at post-processing.

I'm not against using a landmark (or part of it) if it makes for a good picture though. A kid holding a coloured umbrella walking out of the fog on the golden gate bridge would be magnificent (I should do that shot before I start to think of the potential challenges involved). Let's just forget about taking pictures of you and ALL of that gigantic scene. Let's focus on isolated things. If you must take a picture with the statue of a president, make it a close up of yourself French kissing it. Want to capture yourself with the beautiful Apple store? Take a close shot of a reflection in it's recognizable glass walls.

Your job as the photographer (I know, it's not your job, it's just a hobby) is showing one interesting thing and removing everything else that gets in the way. Or at least, it's a big part of it.

Well enough talk, now let's try this. Don't wait to be on vacation. Next time you're outside, go play tourist in your own hometown. That's something we always neglect anyway.

Maybe keep a few happy snapshots along the way as a peace offering.

Just in case.