Sloppy Joes in Havana

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The Internet is full of articles telling you how to take better travel photos. Most of them offer solid advice, although a bit benign. Study your location, look for the light, etc. Nothing wrong there, but not particularly helpful to stand out.

As it turns out, there is something you can do to take better travel photos. You just have to think about the end before you begin.

Tell Me A Story

I mentioned a while back that I started a new website as a story-telling site. Last week, I put up a new post called Streets of Havana.

Back when I signed up for the trip, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. It was an adventure of sorts. I went because a friend invited me. I went because I wanted to see the place that my father saw in the years before the revolution. I went because it was an opportunity that I didn’t think would repeat itself.

The trip to Cuba had a mantra. This is not a workshop. Never mind that it was organized by Santa Fe Photographic Workshops and lead by Joe McNally. We couldn’t technically hold a workshop there because of the travel restrictions and the nature of our visas.

Just the same, I learned quite a bit. Not just about photography, but about seeing how to communicate. Joe is a great guide to follow on a trip. He doesn’t just share what he knows about photography, but also how photos work to support something larger than the image itself. With plenty of experience as a journalist, Joe kept dropping his pearls of wisdom about story-telling.

One phrase that sticks in my mind is “from big to small.” That’s how you tell a story.

Go ahead and shoot the big event or subject, but don’t stop there. That isn’t the entire story. Start looking for supporting details. Chip away at the big picture and distill things into components.

Think like you’re shooting a coffee table book. There’s more to your travel experience than one subject. You need to tell a story.

The Thing That Drives You To Take Better Travel Photos

Stories aren’t spread out on the Internet. They work together as a collection of images and, perhaps, words.

If you want to take better travel photos, you need to have a destination for them when you get home.

Sure, go ahead and post your favorite photos on social media to share with your friends. They expect it and everyone loves to see new places.

The real driver is to have something to create with your collection of images when you get home. It could be a photobook. There’s something very powerful about seeing your travel images in print as a collection. When you hand that photobook to someone else, they get immersed in your photography in a way that individual pictures can’t compete.

You can do the same thing online. I’m discovering the fun of creating stories online with It uses a WordPress theme very similar to the site, but with a few advantages.

I have greater control over the type and the layout of images. That’s nice, but what really entices me about using my own site instead of a service is maintaining control. Online companies come and go. may be here today and wind up out of business tomorrow. With my own site, I can keep my stories

Of course, that’s just what I like. It doesn’t matter if you have your own site, use a service, or create a photo book. The way to take better travel photos is to tell a story with your collection of photos.

Here’s why. It helps you be selective about the photos you take. Anyone can go out shooting with the old spray and pray technique. You may get a few keepers that way.

Knowing that you’re going to tell a story, even if you’re not sure what the story is when you start, changes the way you approach your photography.

It gives your photography a sense of purpose.

It helps your travel photos relate to each other because they belong to a common theme.

Cover the experience. Think about the story you want to tell. How does it begin and end? What did you find along the way?

You aren’t limited to a single story on your trip. My post about the Streets of Havana was just a portion of my overall trip to Cuba. It didn’t cover our time with Cuban dancers, boxers, the farmers we met or the tobacco processing facility we visited. Each of those encounters can become its own story.

For example, we could follow a tobacco leaf from farm to processing to rolling a cigar in one story. You can meet the people who do each part of the job. See how they work and live. It’s a story about the people and place as much as it is about a product.

Embrace Your Inner Journalist

I don’t have a lick of experience as a journalist, and I’m realizing that’s a shame. Journalists know how to tell stories. That’s why we’re drawn to the photos and words in travel magazines. The images are enticing as part of a bigger collection. We should aspire to do the same with our travel photos. Look for those opportunities to tell the story of your travels.

More than anything else, people love stories. We want to know more. We want to see behind the scenes. We want to get as close to the experience as we can. All you have to do is remember that little truth about human nature and let it guide you through you to take better travel photos.

Tobacco Farmer

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