How to Photograph Your Next Vacation

Monday, April 13, 2015

As I go through my photos from those days in warmth and sun, I'm making notes about the photos I'm thrilled to have and the photos I wish I'd taken. I'm interested in a documentary style of photography. A series of photos that tells the story. My part of the story. My usual method is to take a lot of photos, like a wide, broad rough draft, and then select the photos like puzzle pieces, arranging them in a kind of narrative, telling the story I want to tell.

It turns out I only have a handful of photos from this trip. I was selective about the times I took out my camera and selective about the shots I took. I'm happy with the ones I have, but I wish I had more. There were times when I had my camera in hand and I wasn't sure where to point it, what to focus on. I wanted a list of shots to take. A starting point for bases to cover, angles to shoot. I've seen lists like this, and I wished I'd had one in hand. It's only a starting point, but I like having starting points, something to focus on when I'm overwhelmed by possibility.

I started looking around for a list I could use as a starting point and I found Nancy Kalow's book, Visual Storytelling, 40-odd pages of instruction on documentary filmmaking. Kalow includes a "checklist of standard shots," and even though it's designed for filmmakers, it's adaptable for still photography. The book is available for download here.

Nancy Kalow's Checklist of Standard Shots:

• wide shot of the interior
• looking out the window of an interior
• sign or logo indicating location
• details of objects in a room
• photographs from albums
• art or photos on walls
• items on a refrigerator or bulletin board
• long shot of characters from far away
• unusual angle on characters
• group of characters seen from the back
• slow and steady pans from person to person, or from an object to a person
• reaction shots (people reacting to an event or comment)
• reverse shots (from behind the backs of people to show their points of view)
• observation of people doing their normal routine
• close-ups of faces
• visual of the source of a sound (such as showing a cuckoo clock or a passing train)

For still photos, I'd add in a wide shot of the exterior, the view (if any) from an outdoor location, texture shots of things unique or specific to the location (brick, stone, grass, bare dirt, etc.). The texture shots could be the equivalent of the "source of sound" shots for video.

I'm still on the lookout for similar lists. Do you have a go-to series of shots you look for with camera in hand? I'd  love to know!

Photo list souce: Nancy Kalow’s Visual Storytelling: The Digital Video Documentary, a publication of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. © 2011.

1 comment:

  1. I want to be better at taking photos, too. All I find myself with is my little camera, and while I feel that should be enough, I don't take the time to line up, look for light, pause, and whatever else must be done to find a good shot.
    How to find a good photo?



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