Photographing Places: Shooting the Less Obvious

September 30, 2013

The secret to interesting vacation photos is this: Take interesting pictures, don’t just take pictures of interesting things.

Whether I am traveling to an entirely new country or having lunch in a restaurant a mile from my house, I am always looking for interesting things to photograph. I try to capture the essence of the place as I experienced it, rather than simply recording that I was there. One way that I do that is by focusing on the less obvious things.


Prague: art booth; shop sign

The obvious things are, well, obvious. The major landmarks that everyone associates with a place: the Statue of Liberty in New York City, the Opera House in Sydney, the beach at a tropical resort. I like to photograph those, too, of course, but it’s the less obvious things—the little bits and pieces, the details that many people overlook—that set the tone for how a place really feels.

They affect how you see the city, how you experience the museum, how you interact with a restaurant/shop/market, how you remember a great day at the beach. These details are also much more interesting to look at than the standard postcard shots of a scenic view. They provide the atmosphere—both in the moment you are there experiencing it and when you look back at the photos later.


Still life in a Boston entryway; Reykjavik bed & breakfast


Vienna, St. Stephen’s Cathedral

So how do you find the less obvious things to photograph?

Focus on what stands out to you. Look for interesting details and interesting light. What it is that makes it different than another place? Seating in a restaurant. Wall decor. A candle on the table. A funky bathroom sink. (I absolutely take my camera into the bathroom with me. Is that totally weird?) In a city, look beyond the buildings and skyscrapers. Notice interesting signage, unique doorknobs, street signs, the view through a window. (Note: The window itself makes a great framing device.) In nature, look for interesting leaves, signs of wildlife, signs of human life (such as camping gear, trail markers, ski tracks). No matter where you are, look for patterns, colors, shapes that stand out.


Iceland: inside a shop; hotel patio


Austin: plant along the sidewalk; parking garage

Don’t just include the highlights. Photograph people doing ordinary things…buying tickets to a museum, napping in a stroller, reading on a train. Try different angles. The obvious angle is shooting from your height standing up, straight on to your subject. Just changing the angle can make the obvious less obvious. Shoot from above, get down low.


Paddle boarding, Galveston Bay


Yonkers, Untermyer Gardens; Delaware, photographer’s studio

Every photo doesn’t have to reveal its location. It does not need to be apparent from one photo that it was taken someplace more exotic than your backyard. Think of your travel photos as a set that goes together. One detail photo may not tell the whole story of your vacation, but it adds a lot to the flavor of the images when viewed together.


Austin restaurant; Arlington, VA, shop


Las Vegas: art in the hallway to the MGM spa; steakhouse in NYNY hotel


Karen Jacot is based in Houston but loves to go other places. She always strives to take photos that will make a good story…and a good photo book.


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  • Reply Jen September 30, 2013 at 8:43 am

    Love this Karen! Excellent tips & I love your accompanying images!!

  • Reply Adeena September 30, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    Love this!! Great tips. Need to attempt this more often. :)

  • Reply shooting the less obvious » Documentary lifestyle photography | Art books for your life | Karen Jacot October 3, 2013 at 10:44 am

    […] to read some of my tips for taking more interesting vacation photos? Check out my post on the Light Inspired blog this […]

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    […] Photographing Places: Shooting the Less Obvious […]

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