Lessons from the Scene: Three Questions for Better Travel Pictures by Jim Austin

by Jim Austin


On the southwest shore of Nova Scotia, Canada, there is a town of wooden ships and iron men. Lunenburg is a thriving world heritage site. Its tall ships and eye-catching scenery will keep every photographer mesmerized. Locals claim it as "the prettiest town in Canada."
Although Lunenburg is “picturesque”, before any photo is made, the real work in travel photography is a mental process. Asking these three questions will help expand your mind.

1. "How can I change my approach to make the photo stronger?"

This thoughtful tool will enhance your vision. If you’re seeing the same old pictures, even in new places, it will help you slow down and examine subject from a different perspective.
AnchorWhen standing before a ship, most photographers shoot to get the entire vessel in the frame. Look for something beyond the obvious, a portrait of the crew or working on the giant anchor perhaps (right picture).
Watching and waiting provides time to see what other people are not. The goal of the photograph is to capture the spirit of a situation, rather than identify a specific place.
Innovative photographs come from breaking the habitual way of seeing. The ideas behind the questions are to get absorbed into the photographic process.

2. "What would happen if I did…?" 

The town of Lunenburg has a rich variety of colors. It boasts more red buildings in order to stand out in the fog (top picture). I walked past the Fisheries Museum several times. Its red-colored exterior was striking, but I was ready to quit for the day.
"What would happen if I went back to the Fisheries Museum just one more time…?" Strolling past the museum a fourth time, the parked red car next to the red motorcycle caught my eye. Red was everywhere.
Then I asked, "What would happen if a red car drove by?" Waiting paid off.

3. "How can I simplify…?"

If we routinely carry too much gear, complicate our schedules, or over-think our shots, the question will help focus our mission.
Lunenburg commissioned local artists to paint figureheads for public display. As Trudi, one of the artists painted, I photographed (right). A very direct composition, at eye level with a clean red background, proved to be the more effective image.
Asking three questions will challenge the curiosity. It will lead to a fresh outlook on the subject. It’s the beginning of a new adventure.