How to Use a Shot List to Tell the Complete Story of a Place

The very idea of capturing a quality set of images that truly represents a destination can be an overwhelming thought, especially when that place is a large city, like Havana, or a country, like Cambodia, or a region of the world, such as Tuscany or Patagonia.

By being on the lookout for a variety of images based on a well thought out “shot list,” any traveler can be sure to minimize the chances of creating an uninspiring slideshow for the folks back home.  There’s nothing that will put your viewers to sleep faster than 300 slides of nothing but monuments, or plates of food, or even the most beautiful landscapes.

The trick is to mix it up and keep your audience’s attention from start to finish by providing a sampling of each of the characteristic parts that make up the whole of the destination you’re photographing (also referred to as its “essence”).  Look at just about any travel magazine article and you’ll see that the photo editor will invariably have this in mind when choosing the images to accompany the text.

What is a Shot List?

A shot list is a list of the types of images for which you should be on the lookout.  This is a concept that’s been around since the dawn of photography, and some people simply use a piece of paper and pen, a spreadsheet or a notes app.

There’s something I like to call my “Zen of Photography,” and in it I say:

Seventy-five percent of successful photography is simply making an effort to put yourself in the right place, at the right time.

If you’ll just do that, the vast majority of the work is done, it really is this simple.

Get Yourself Organized

A shot list provides a framework that will put you head and shoulders above the unorganized photographer who’s just out to shoot whatever he or she may stumble upon.  After all, there’s an old saying: “Even a blind mouse finds a hunk of cheese once in a while.”

Spontaneous photo opportunities will certainly present themselves along the way, and you’ll definitely want to be ready to capitalize on them, but be ahead of the game by putting a plan in place, especially if your time in a destination is limited.  This pre-planning doesn’t take much effort and will surely pay dividends down the road when you’re on location.

Have a Goal in Mind

Often, shooting some categories, such as People or Street Scenes, is going to be easier to accomplish than others, for instance Establishing Shots or Night Scenes.  However, if you strive for a select number of keeper images from each of the categories on your list (5 is a good goal, but harder than you might think), you’ll have the basis for a dynamic presentation that your friends and family will be asking you to see, not the other way around.

The best way to improve your photography is to spend money on travel, not more gear.

Categories of a Shot List

The following is an abbreviated list of shots that will help you to thoroughly cover a city, region or even a whole country, and so allow you to stay focused and organized, in turn making the most efficient use of your time.  I’ve come up with over 80 categories of a shot list, and there are 52 in the app I created called My Shot Lists for Travel (free on iTunes), but surely there must be hundreds of other categories.  It’s important to note, too, that one image can represent many different categories.

Establishing Shots

In order to get an overall view of the place, seek out opportunities that will get you to the highest point in the city or place in which you’ll be traveling, whether it involves hiking, taking a cable car or employing a Sherpa or other local.  I always make an effort to venture up in the highest building or monument offering a public space from which to shoot, or I might try to talk my way into a private place with an interesting vista.

An Establishing Shot should give your viewer an overall sense of the place you’re representing with your photography and provides the perfect set up for the rest of the story you’re telling.

Establishing Shots - Dubrovnik from Above at Blue Hour - Dubrovnik, Croatia

Establishing Shots – Dubrovnik from Above at Blue Hour – Dubrovnik, Croatia


Few categories on your shot list will sum up a place more than its people.  My experience with photographing people around the world is that it’s a very cultural thing, where some cultures have little or no interest in being photographed, while others will actually seek me out to take their pictures.

People - Smiley Lady in Rice Paddy - Near Can Tho, Vietnam - Copyright 2014 Ralph Velasco

People – Smiley Lady in Rice Paddy – Near Can Tho, Vietnam

Natural Wonders

Most of us love to get to the wild places, such as national parks and other locations where Mother Nature’s work is on full display, so it’s easy to be on the lookout for the natural wonders of any destination.   However, instead of just taking the postcard shots, be sure to photograph the same scene in wide, medium and detail versions, as well, to really give yourself a chance at telling the complete story.

Natural Wonders - From Behind Seljalandsfoss - L - South Coast, Iceland - Copyright 2014 Ralph Velasco

Natural Wonders – From Behind Seljalandsfoss – L – South Coast, Iceland


In many places, the architectural style of the buildings will immediately tell the viewer where you are shooting.  While attempting to capture a whole building in a unique way, at the same time be sure to hone in on the details.  The roofline, windowsills, balconies and architectural moldings are important, too, so they most certainly should be a part of it.

Architecture - Punakha Dzong and Bridge Over River - Punakha, Bhutan - Copyright 2013 Ralph Velasco

Architecture – Punakha Dzong and Bridge Over River – Punakha, Bhutan

Markets and Vendors

Because of the colors, textures and variety of shapes of both the products being sold and the people that abound at most local markets, they’re one of the first places I seek out when traveling.  It’s at these markets that you’ll capture the locals buying their daily provisions, and it’s here that the often weathered and experienced vendors become the subject, along with their wares.  If you seek them out, and your research should have provided insight as to where the best markets are located, wandering specific areas will provide a great opportunity to capture some candid shots of the merchants and their clientele.

Markets and Vendors - Man and Colorful Market Stall Display - Casablanca, Morocco - Copyright 2014 Ralph Velasco

Markets and Vendors – Man and Colorful Market Stall Display – Casablanca, Morocco

Street Scenes

Look for distinctive design elements or surroundings that will provide an interesting backdrop for your photography.  If you come across a colorful wall, an ornate mural, or some interesting graffiti that adds to the story, be prepared with your camera and wait until your subject walks into the frame (or simply sits there, as in this image) to provide what I like to call a “human touch.”  After a while you’ll blend into the scene as you capture these unique moments.  Like a spider waiting for its prey, let a variety of subjects come to you and then be ready fire away (do some focus and exposure testing beforehand).

Street Scenes - Man Sitting with Cuba Libre Sign in Havana, Cuba - Copyright 2013 Ralph Velasco

Street Scenes – Man Sitting with Cuba Libre Sign in Havana, Cuba

Storytelling Close-Ups and Detail Shots

When I show my images of well thought out close-ups and shots of the specific details of a place, it’s often then that I’ll get the most positive comments that we all as photographers seek. Get in close and let the details reveal themselves. I know from experience that the keepers you get in this category will be some of the most gratifying images you’ll capture.

Storytelling Closeups and Details - Lady's Hands Making Medicine - Silk Island, Cambodia - Copyright 2013 Ralph Velasco

Storytelling Closeups and Details – Lady’s Hands Making Medicine – Silk Island, Cambodia


The above sampling is not a comprehensive list of shots by any means, but only a starting point.  Feel free to add or eliminate categories as you see fit, or as the location dictates.  Again, your goal should be to capture a minimum of 5 solid “keepers” (10 is even better) in each of the relevant categories for the particular place you’re photographing.  Accomplishing this goal will almost certainly guarantee that you come back with a well-rounded portfolio of images of which you can be proud.

Remember, photography is an art and there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to being creative, and besides, as they say, rules are made to be broken.  If you push the creative envelope by stretching your photographic skills each and every time you travel, great results are sure to happen and your photography can’t help but improve.

Remember, you can’t get worse at photography…now get out and shoot!

Photo credits:  ©Ralph Velasco. Used with permission.

Author Bio:  Ralph Velasco is a U.S.-based photography instructor and international guide. His current eBook is titled Essence of a Place: A Travel Photographer’s Guide to Using a Shot List for Capturing Any Destination, and in it he discusses more in depth the concept of working from a shot list in order to create a well-rounded portfolio of images that tells a complete story.  In his first book, Ralph Velasco On Travel Photography: 101 Tips for Developing Your Photographic Eye & More, he outlines a variety of photography and travel tips and tricks he’s learned from the road, as well as provides over 100 sample images and interesting quotes.

As creator of the recently updated My Shot Lists for Travel app for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch® (free on iTunes), Ralph has taken the age-old concept of maintaining a shot list and brought it into the 21st century.  Designed to help all travelers to bring back a more well-rounded set of images from any destination, the app is a powerful organizational tool, no matter the user’s photography skills or type of camera used.

Ralph has taught travel photography classes at the University of California at Irvine Extension Program, Saddleback College, Santa Ana College, Julia Dean Photography Workshops and the REI Outdoor School, among others.  He’s a regular speaker at the Travel & Adventure Shows and the Orange County Fair.

Connect with Ralph on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Instagram, and subscribe to his blog at

Why Photography Matters as a Travel Blogger

sunset athens

As travel bloggers, our primary role is that of content creators. We weave stories from our experiences to share with our readers.

We have a number of mediums to do that. The main four, in my mind, are Video, Audio, Text and Photography. None of these are easy, and like any skill they all take a significant amount of time and investment to properly master.

So where to focus your attention?

Personally, I believe that Photography is the easiest medium in terms of connecting with your audience quickly, and making a long lasting impact on a user.

Take this picture.

Eiffel Tower paris scaled


It’s a picture of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. But you know that already, right? I don’t need text to tell you.

I shared this picture on my Facebook Page, and it reached 148,000 people, organically. Here are the numbers, if you like that sort of thing.

paris screenshot

Now, I could have done a wall of text instead, a status update perhaps on my trip to Paris. Or a video, that people would have to decide to click, find their headphones, and then get distracted by a notification. Or a podcast, describing my adventure.

Those are all great options too. But for instant impact, for something that can’t be unseen, for something that transports your reader right there and then to the moment, a photo can’t be beaten.

Once you have your readers attention, without having to resort to headline titles such as 26 Reasons Why You Wouldn’t Believe Paris Has Kittens In Every Window, you’re well over half way to having an audience.

Another real world example: I have almost 300,000 facebook fans. My secret to success? It’s pretty simple really. Share great, unique, photos. My fans are passionate, engaged, and I love interacting with them and sharing my adventures.

Of course, it’s easy for me to say that it’s simple. Photography is not simple. There’s a lot of technical jargon. There are a lot of different ways to approach a subject. There’s a whole side to optimising your images for your blog, and optimising your blog for your images.

If you want to know a little bit more, and get real first-hand, unfiltered advice, on all aspects of your photography as a travel blogger, from the practical aspects through to using it to grow your community (and yes, some more tips on using Facebook beyond “share great stuff!”), then come along to the workshop I’m running with Daniel before TBEX – there are still a few spots left.

It does cost money, and yes, there is a bunch of great free stuff you could be doing instead. Investing in your skills though is something you won’t regret. I look forward to seeing you there!

Author Bio: A photographer, writer and traveller, Laurence has spent much of the last five years on the road, documenting his journeys and adventures at his popular travel and photography blog: Finding the Universe, which he runs with his partner Vera. He is also a founding member of Lightmoves Creative, a photography firm which offers bespoke photography and learning opportunities to brands and individuals.


Are You Taking Great Pictures with your iPhone?


You should be.

We all know that we have a better camera on our phone than most people ever owned even a few years ago. We all know that we are sharing those images, and we all know that images engage far better on Facebook, and are what make Pinterest and Instagram so insanely popular.

Most of us are very intentional with the stories our words and pictures are telling on our blogs, but sometimes we take our mobile photography a little less seriously. We shouldn’t.

Here’s why: all those images are part of your brand, part of the story you are telling as a travel blogger. Many people follow their favorite bloggers far more closely and consistently on social media; they are getting the minute-by-minute part of your story as it happens through your images.

And so, of course, you need to think about what story you are telling with those images that you are snapping with your iPhone. Is it the story you want to tell?

The good news is – it’s not hard to tell your story, with great images, right from your iPhone. Mostly what you need is to take just a little extra time and care. And, of course, the right tools are a huge help.

So let’s start with where you are. Take a minute right now to pull up your Instagram profile (or your Facebook or Google+ photo feed). Look at that grid of pictures. What does it say? Is there any sort of consistent theme – perhaps that you enjoy adventure, or that you’re the life of the party, or that you love selfies? Think about that as it relates to your brand – are you saying what you want to say?

TBEX insta SBJ


Now, think about your favorite people to follow for their images. Here are a few of my favorites with an emphasis on travel:

TBEX insta collage


Pull up any of these feeds and it’s clear what these bloggers are doing. The scenery may change, but the feel, the brand, the story, is consistent. The other thing they all have in common? They are telling their stories with beautiful, compelling images – taken with their iPhones.

Don’t you want to do that as well? Sure you do! Remember…it’s not even that difficult!

Now that it’s settled, make plans to join me to talk about iPhoneography at TBEX:Athens, where we will get into the nuts and bolts of advanced iPhone photography. We’ll learn helpful techniques and tools to make those images tell your story clearly and beautifully.

And to get us all thinking about and working on our iPhone photography skills before then, I’d love for you to join me in a week-long photo challenge during the first week of October. Post a picture taken with your iPhone along the theme each day with the hashtag #TBEXiPICS, in addition to the usual #TBEX hashtag. You might even see some of your images in my session!


TBEX photo challenge


Author Bio:  Sarabeth Jones is a creative at Fellowship North who enjoys all kinds of artistic work: writing, directing, acting, design, photography, and the occasional flash mob. Her personal stage is her blog, where life is series of scenes: some with fabulous costumes, some with witty lines, and some that should probably be edited out. She lives in Arkansas with her husband and 3 kids and loves to write about they way they make her laugh, whether they are traveling the world or living the #DogtownLife at home.  At TBEX Athens, Sarabeth will be leading a session on iphonography and some of the advance techiques that you may not yet have discovered.

Announcing TBEX Cancun Photography & Writing Workshops

We’re excited to announce that we’ve extended our new small group workshops to TBEX Cancun. If you’re interested in some extended time to hone your craft, these workshops, led by award winning instructors, are a value-priced add on to your TBEX Cancun registration.

Both workshops are offered on September 9-1oth, 10 am-4 pm (time approximate), at the Moon Palace Conference Center.

Travel Photography Workshop

Gary Arndt Cancun headshotTravel Photographer of the Year and professional travel blogger Gary Arndt will give hands on instruction to those who are looking to improve their photography and then integrate their photography into their websites and social media.

Topics covered will include:  learning how to get more out of your equipment, composition, travel considerations for your gear, post-processing, and more.

The second day of the workshop will include a photo shoot, giving participants the opportunity to put all the skills together in the field. Participants will select their best work from the photo shoot to create a short photo essay.

This small group session is limited to a maximum of 10 participants, and is open to registered TBEX Cancun attendees only. Add on workshop fee is $200.

Get more information about the specifics of the Travel Photography Workshop at TBEX Cancun and register here.

Travel Writing Workshop

Don George headshotDon George wrote the book on travel writing. Literally. And as the co-founder and chairman of the acclaimed Book Passage Travel Writers and Photographers Conference, he knows a thing or to about teaching travel writing.

In this travel writing workshop, Don will focus on the art and craft of travel writing: how to find, shape and build a successful travel story. What will make your travel story stand out from the crowd?  He’ll cover some of the practicalities of being a travel writer in the field – what to do when you land in a place, how to move through , how do to process, and what are you looking for.

The workshop will be a mix of lectures and in-the-field writing exercises and discussion.

Don’s goal – and ours – is for you to come away from this workshop with a clear sense of your options for travel publishing, how to construct a compelling travel story, what it takes to break into different media and how to move from one level to the next, and how to apprehend and evoke a place most effectively as a travel writer.

This small group session is limited to a maximum of 10 participants, and is open to registered TBEX Cancun attendees only. Add on workshop fee is $200.

Get more information about the specifics of the Travel Writing Workshop at TBEX Cancun  and register here.


Two More Workshops at TBEX Athens: Photography and Design and Technology

We’ve added on two more small, hands on, in depth, highly focused workshops for TBEX Athens and they are now open for registration.

These workshops provide a chance to work closely with an expert in the field, getting specialized attention, and answers to the challenges YOU face. It’s a chance to get up close and personal, learning from the best, in a way that can’t be done as part of the regular program with a larger audience.

Photography Workshop and Photo Walk

Laurence and DanielLed by Laurence Norah and Daniel Nahabedian, this workshop will help you become intimate with your camera, helping you learn how to get the most out of it.

Day one will review some basic concepts of photography, give you some tips on exposure, lighting, balance, lens types, and composition, and then you’ll get out and about in Athens on a photo walk. Day two will start off with a look at the photos, moving into post processing, then touch on developing a creative eye and breaking all the rules. The session will finish up with some time spent on the business of travel photography, including social media and SEO.

The class is limited to 20 people, keeping a 1:10 instructor to student ratio.

Click here for full details about the workshop and to register.

Website Design and Technology Workshop

headshot2000Led by world renowned web designer, developer, and fellow blogger Mitch Canter, this workshop focus on your site and what you want it to do.

You’ll learn about best practices in design, and how to use the technology that supports that, whether you’re an individual blogger and entrepreneur or a industry attendee representing a destination, hotel, or other travel and tourism brand. And you won’t just talk about it, you’ll be able to dig in and improve your site right there on the spot. Before the workshop, participants will be sent a survey with various questions about their specific wants and needs, allowing Mitch to customize the curriculum to best help YOU.

The class is limited to 10 people.

Click here for full details about the workshop and to register.

Both workshops will be help at the Megaron Conference Centre (the venue for all the TBEX education sessions). There is a $200 fee to register for each workshop, and is an add-on to standard TBEX registration. You  must be registered for TBEX Europe 2014 to register. No refunds; transfers are permitted.

Full details about each workshop, along with our previously announced Writers Workshop, can be found here.

Head on over to sign up before the spots are all gone.

TBEX Speaker Post: Want to be a better travel photographer? Stop sneaking shots.



One of the most challenging aspects of travel photography is photographing people. I mean truly photographing people and capturing their spirits, not just sneaking a shot when they’re not looking. And this is often magnified when we travel through regions where locals have unique and striking facial features as well as vibrant native attire.

We tend to get excited yet put up a subconscious “no-interaction” wall which means we keep tiptoeing around them in a fragile fashion, sneaking shots here and there.

But the problem is we keep ending up with shots like this:


Or, like this:


Or, like this:


Shots I now call “useless back photos that you really can’t use anywhere.”

I’ve seen so many travel photos – though colorful – which can be boiled down to:

  1. Backsides of monks in Southeast Asia,
  2. Side view profiles of old men and women in India, and
  3. Peruvian women in traditional garb walking away from the camera. Sometimes carrying a baby on their back.

For photographers serious about taking their craft to the next level, you need to start getting much closer to your subjects.

Making Contact

When I was starting out as a photographer, I was always amazed by portraits I’d seen in National Geographic where I was pretty sure no common language was spoken between the photographer and their subjects, yet I could see and feel their connection through the shot.

How did they do it?

Many photographers will argue that if a person looks at you, then the photo feels posed and not as authentic as if they were caught in a candid moment. My argument is that eye-contact or at least some form of front view contact tells me that the photographer made some attempt to connect with the subject – either verbally or nonverbally.

To me, it means the photographer acknowledged their subject as a fellow human being first. An instant connection was made, and for a short span of time, your subject didn’t see you as a threat to their sense of privacy and personal space.

And the resulting image doesn’t have to be a posed shot like this.


It could be shy.






Even angry.


But it’s human contact nonetheless.

Not only that, you get to catch that “light” – that vibrant spark that momentarily shows their soul to you – in their eyes. Remember that famous National Geographic Afghan Girl photo by Steve McCurry?

What you need to strive for is that connection. It could be a fleeting moment or a prolonged interaction, but to move to the next stage as a travel photographer, especially one who is interested in taking better environmental portraits and people shots, you need to start connecting with people.

You should always be aware of and sensitive towards local customs when it comes to making eye-contact. Some cultures might find it aggressive; others might find it too intimate. So make sure you’re aware of cultural norms before you start making creepy prolonged eye contact with locals.

Your key to better people shots?

Most people want to be acknowledged. It could be a simple “Hello!” interaction, and better yet, you can take it a step further to asking “So, what did you do today?” if you share a common language.

If no shared language is spoken, a prolonged smile, getting closer to observe what they’re doing, maybe participating alongside them and helping out before bringing out your camera, can instantly build that connection you need to get a better shot.

Good travel photography isn’t about technical perfection. It’s about evoking a feeling and sense of place. It’s about showing human connection through snapshots of their everyday lives. It’s about photos that consciously tell a story while being sensitive and respectful of the stories they share.

Case in point – The photo of the two brothers at the top of this article.

I tried photographing them from a distance but their reaction was cold when they noticed me. At that moment, I realized I was doing what I didn’t like travel photographers doing.

Objectifying people.

So I walked up to the boys, got down on their sitting level, and spent a couple minutes talking to them – asking for their names, what they did, if they were brothers, gaining their trust. Those few minutes of acknowledgement were enough to warm them up to me to get a few natural photos of them.


So, never ever sneak a shot ever again?

I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t say I still sneak the occasional shot every now and then, but now instead of focusing on just the individual, I study their environment, how light is flowing and playing through the scene, how they’re interacting with it, and if I can capture that organic interaction without having to walk up to them.

So if you are going to steal a quick shot, at least make it worthwhile, respectful, and a well-composed shot.


I’ll be sharing this along with more practical tips and resources in my TBEX session – “Telling your travel stories through photography.”

Author bio: Lola Akinmade Åkerström is an award-winning Stockholm-based writer, photographer, and blogger whose work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler (both UK & US versions), BBC, CNN, Travel + Leisure, Lonely Planet, AFAR, San Francisco Chronicle, Sherman’s Travel, New York Magazine,, National Geographic Channel, several in-flight magazines, and many more publications.

She recently signed on to be represented by National Geographic’s exclusive stock image collection (currently loading photos), and she was also in South Africa on a photography assignment for National Geographic Channel shooting a vignette called “Through The Lens” that airs on Nat Geo channel across the globe.

She is the editor-in-chief of newly launched editorial site Slow Travel Stockholm and runs a travel media and consulting company called Geotraveler Media. Find her on Twitter at @LolaAkinmade.

Travel Bloggers: 5 Photography Composition Tips You May Not Know


Most travel bloggers serve double-duty as both writers and photographers, even though we tend to be better at one than the other. Even if you’re not a professional photographer, however, you can learn easy techniques to improve your photography and make it more visually appealing. Today’s guest post by Kim Olson gives you five composition tips that will add variety to your shots.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced professional in photography, it always helps to keep in mind the various ways you can compose your images. Some composition “rules” are fairly standard and well known while others aren’t as common and can be easily overlooked. Let’s take a look at a few different ways you can liven up your images by switching your composition.

1. Center Your Subject

Photographers like to say that you learn the rules so that you can break them when it makes sense to do so. There will definitely be times when you want to completely shun the things you’ve been taught, like the rule of thirds (which may be one of the first composition techniques you ever learned).

Sometimes when you’re surveying a scene, you’ll find that the rule of thirds just isn’t working for you and the image would be much stronger if the subject is captured dead center. Symmetry is appealing to humans, so even though centering your subject breaks the rule of thirds, your photo can still work really well.


Centered photo of Senso-ji’s Hozomon Gate in Tokyo, Japan. Photo by Kim Olson.

2. Change Your Perspective

Most of us go through our lives seeing the world at whatever height we happen to be – 5’4”, 6’2”, etc. But many times the more interesting images you’ll see were not taken from a standard human’s height.

Maybe the photographer got down and dirty on the ground or climbed a tree. Whatever new position they found themselves in, they were able to capture a more dynamic and unusual shot from an angle most of us don’t usually see.

If your subject is animals or babies, for example, get down to their eye level. Chances are the images you take of them will be better than if you were shooting down on the tops of their heads.


Because of the fur on this Japanese macaque’s head, I wouldn’t have been able to capture his eyes if I hadn’t gotten down to his eye level. Photo by Kim Olson.

3. Shoot Vertically

It amazes me how little some photographers pivot their cameras. I think a lot of them simply forget they can.

Shooting vertically oriented is another great way to add a different dimension to your images, and some subjects are far more apt to be captured that way.
Even if shooting vertically isn’t your everyday preference, it’s still a good idea to remember that by simply rotating your camera, you can get a whole new composition.


I wanted to be able to capture both the seemingly infinite boardwalk along with the tall, towering trees and the vertical composition worked much better for that. Photo by Kim Olson.

4. Frame Your Subject(s)

Using framing is a great technique and I’ve found it particularly helpful when shooting landscapes or cityscapes.

Oftentimes you’ll find that there’s a lot of empty space that feels kind of blah. A good way to fill it and complete the image is to frame your subject. By frame I mean introducing another element into your photograph that will essentially “wrap” around your subject on one or more sides.

If you look at other photographer’s images, you’ll probably start to notice this a lot with trees. Many times the main subject will be a building, like the Lincoln Memorial, and the photographer will use blossoming cherry trees to engulf the structure.


The sky would’ve been a bit too vast for my taste had I not positioned myself under the tree, which helped fill the space and frame Matsumoto Castle in Japan. Photo by Kim Olson.

5. Patterns or Repetitions

Whether they’re manmade or natural, different patterns can be very visually appealing. Many times these things may go unseen except to the very keen observer, but those who do find and photograph them will be rewarded with compelling images.

Patterns can be repeating lines, like columns of a building, or more abstract and random like shadows on the ground. To really capitalize on a pattern’s effect, you’ll want to zoom in and isolate it so that the pattern fills the entire frame.


This shot was taken on the shores of Lake Tahoe, California, as the wind and sandy bottom created this lovely pattern. Photo by Kim Olson.

To Sum Up

There are so many different rules and suggestions for how to compose your images, but I think a lot of it comes down to how you feel like photographing your subject. You are the artist, after all. So however you capture the scene, if it is really appealing to you, then the image is successful.

Of course that’s not to say that we can’t all improve as photographers and learn more and better ways to create images that are more broadly appealing. With practice, trial and error and feedback from others, we’ll all be able to keep on getting better and creating more images that we’re happy with.

Happy shooting!

Author bio: Kim Olson is a photographer, traveler & writer who shares simple weekly photo tips on her site You can also find Simpler Photo on Facebook and follow Kim on Twitter @kimolsonphoto.

The Instagram Exodus: Photo-Sharing Alternatives (and a Warning)


As soon as the details of Instagram‘s new Terms of Service were announced, users started jumping ship. I can’t recall how many people I’ve seen in my own Twitter and Facebook streams saying they had already deleted all of their photos and their entire account, but even if I’m extrapolating from that small sample size it’s pretty clear that plenty of people were irritated enough to instantly take action.

There were several changes made to the Terms of Service, but the one that seems to have angered most users says that while you own all the photos you post via your Instagram account, “you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service, except that you can control who can view certain of your Content and activities on the Service as described in the Service’s Privacy Policy.” In other words, some interpreted, Instagram could use and sell any of your photos for any purpose they wanted.

To their credit, Instagram responded pretty quickly with a blog post entitled, “Thank you, and we’re listening” in order to clarify some of the (admittedly confusing) legalese in the updated Terms of Service – including this (emphasis added):

“Our intention in updating the terms was to communicate that we’d like to experiment with innovative advertising that feels appropriate on Instagram. Instead it was interpreted by many that we were going to sell your photos to others without any compensation. This is not true and it is our mistake that this language is confusing. To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos. We are working on updated language in the terms to make sure this is clear.”

The good news here is that the new Terms of Service don’t officially take effect immediately (they kick in on January 16), which gives Instagram users a chance to voice their opinions and the service a chance to respond. (This makes me wonder whether, in this age of instantaneous reaction-and-response, immediately deleting one’s account might be a wee bit rash. I mean, give ’em a chance to respond, right? But I digress…)

Alternatives to Instagram

Okay, so if you’re dead set on never using Instagram again, but you’re hooked on sharing photos you snap on your mobile phone, what are your non-Instagram options? Here’s a rundown of some of the apps/services currently out there – note that I haven’t tested all of these, and you’ll probably need to play with a few until you find the one you like best. And if your favorite part of Instagram was the community you found there, then you’ll probably need to wait to find out which app your community gravitates toward the most.

  • Twitter – You can add filters to photos you upload directly to Twitter now, although you can’t share with multiple social media accounts at once.
  • Flickr – Flickr recently overhauled its mobile app to include filters (to almost equal amounts of praise and derision), and you can share photos easily across platforms.
  • Camera Awesome – This is a great camera app in general, allowing for all sorts of photo editing and then sharing across multiple platforms.
  • Pixlr-O-Matic – This is a photo editing app with a plethora of photo editing overlays and effects, including a “randomizer,” plus sharing features.
  • EyeEm – The EyeEm mobile app boasts a simple design for users to snap, edit, and share photos quickly and easily.
  • Snapseed – Snapseed’s app offers lots of photo editing options, plus the ability to share across multiple platforms. (Note that Snapseed is now part of Google.)
  • Starmatic – Starmatic allows for shooting, editing, and then sharing (but only on Facebook and Twitter).
  • PicYou – With the PicYou app, you upload photos, add a filter, and then you can share it with multiple platforms.
  • TaDaa – TaDaa lets you take photos, edit them with several editing features, and then share across your networks.

Choose Another App at Your Own Risk

But y’know what? No matter what service you’re using, you may eventually run into the same issue Instagram fans are facing right now – because you’re using someone else’s service, and they can (and will) change the rules on you. No matter how benevolent your overlords of choice may seem at the moment, there’s no telling when they’ll turn to the dark side (AKA get bought by Facebook or Google or something). After all, these companies exist to make money, right?

If this Instagram incident has served as a wake-up call for you and you’d rather keep your photos on a platform over which you have more control, then consider setting up your own mobile photoblog. This post explains how to set up a mobile photoblog on, but tech-savvy bloggers may want to futz with doing something similar on their own domains.

And if you’re still eager to ditch Instagram for something else – whatever that “something else” is – then here’s some information about exporting and downloading your whole Instagram photo backlog before you pull the plug.

UPDATE: I just this article about a new site that will migrate all your Instagram photos over to your Flickr account with a few clicks. Quite handy.

What do you think?
Have you already deleted your Instagram account? Does the company’s response do anything to change your opinion of them? And if you use a different photo sharing app/service than Instagram or our list above, please let us know what it is!

Memory Card Best Practices: 15 Things You Should Already Be Doing


Digital cameras have made photography so easy that we sometimes forget that things can still go pear-shaped if we’re not treating our equipment carefully. In today’s guest post from Kim Olson, we learn how to properly care for our memory cards so that we don’t have to face the pit-in-the-stomach feeling of losing all our photos.

Card Error! Those are two words you never want to see on your camera. And when you do, you’ll probably feel a bit of panic.

Like it or not, memory cards do fail and there’s a decent chance you’ll encounter a card error now and again. The good news is there are quite a few things you can do to help make sure it doesn’t happen often.

1. Format instead of Erase

Simply erasing, or deleting, images on your memory cards doesn’t fully clear the cards of leftover data.

Instead, it’s better to get in the habit of formatting your cards. Formatting is a more complete way of clearing old files from your card and can reduce the risk of data corruption.

A word of caution, though. Formatting is typically irreversible, so always be sure all of your images are backed up before doing this.

2. Format in Camera

Without getting into the technical details, the general consensus is that you should always format your memory card in your camera and not on your computer.

If you use your computer to format your cards, there’s a chance your camera may not be able to read the file structure properly.

3. Format New Cards Before Using

When you buy a new memory card, it’s always good to reformat in your camera before using it. This ensures the card is ready for that particular camera.

4. Format Cards Before Using In Other Cameras

While you could encounter some issues using the same memory card in different cameras, it’s normally not a problem so long as you format the card in the new camera before using it.

5. Don’t Delete Photographs in Your Camera

From what I’ve read, if you delete a single image or multiple images in your camera as you’re out shooting, there’s a higher likelihood that you may have issues with data corruption. You’re much better off waiting to delete images once you’ve downloaded them to your computer.

6. Use Name-Brand Memory Cards

Memory card prices have come down considerably in the last few years and in general, it doesn’t cost a lot more to get name-brand cards.

When your memories are at stake, it’s a good idea to stick with brands that are trusted and recommended. They’re more reliable and tend to have fewer problems.

7. Use Lower-Capacity Cards

Just because they make gigantic memory cards (32gb is crazy big), doesn’t mean you have to use them. And in fact I don’t recommend it.

Let’s say you go on an amazing safari and you brought along just one 16gb card. Sure, that card will fit most, if not all, of your images on it. But what happens if that card fails? What if you lose it? Everything’s gone.

In general, it’s a good idea to have at least 2-3 cards, and I typically recommend either 4gb or 8gb cards depending on how large your images are. I shoot in RAW mainly so I tend to prefer 8gb cards.

8. Don’t Shoot Over the Card’s Capacity

Always be aware of how many images you have left on your memory card so that you don’t go over that number. If you do, the card may have trouble trying to write the data to the card since the card is already full.

9. Don’t Touch Your Camera While It’s Writing or Reading

If you’re downloading images or if you just finished shooting a bunch of images in burst mode, be sure to let the camera finish its task of writing to the card or reading from it before you turn it off or remove the card.

10. Turn off the Camera When Removing a Card

Always turn off your camera before you change memory cards. And I mentioned above, be sure to wait until it has finished writing all the data to the card.

11. Don’t Reuse Cards If You’ve Had Any Problems With It

If you ever have any problems with a memory card, throw it away once you’ve downloaded the images from it. It’s much better to just get rid of it rather than risk the chance of it failing on you in the future.

12. Memory Cards are Not Suitable Backups

I was really surprised to learn that some people use their memory cards just one time, and then when it’s full, keep it as a backup of their images. There’s a much better way.

First of all, memory cards are meant to be reused. And secondly, they’re not ideal for long-term storage.

The best thing is to have at least two copies of all of your images, and I think a combination of hard-drive and online backups is ideal for most people.

13. Properly Remove Your Card From Your Computer

Whether you’re on a Mac or a PC, there’s a proper way to eject, or safely remove, your card from your computer. This ensures you aren’t unplugging your card while any data is being accessed and helps prevent any corruption from occurring.

14. Copy, Don’t Move, Your Images

When downloading your images from your memory card to your computer, do a “copy” instead of a “move.” This ensures that if, during this transfer, any weird interruption occurs (like a power outage or your camera battery dies), you’ll still be able to access the images later.

15. Watch the Camera’s Battery Level

If you connect your camera directly to your computer to download your images, be sure you have enough juice in your camera’s battery to fully complete the download. You wouldn’t want your camera to die mid-transfer.

To Sum Up

There are never any guarantees that you’ll never encounter a corrupted image, but if you follow these guidelines, you’re far less likely to have any problems with your images.

Happy shooting!

memory card photograph by Kim Olson and may not be used without permission

Kim Olson is a travel writer + photographer at where she writes about traveling, simple living and finding creative ways to spend time on the things that matter most. You can also find Kim on Facebook or Twitter.

4 Important (But Easy) Camera Settings You May Not Know How to Use


Since many of us are all-purpose writers and photographers on our blogs, it’s a good idea to make sure we’re learning as much as we can about photography as well as writing skills. In today’s guest post from Kim Olson, we’re reminded that some of the most dramatic improvements to our photography can come from the simplest camera settings. Hooray!

Ever read your camera’s manual? Probably not.

I think I’m in the minority of people who actually read those things, and that’s ok. Because for the most part, it’s got a bunch of stuff that most of us don’t really need to know.

But there are a few basic features that a lot of people seem to miss or don’t know how to fully take advantage of.

Whether you’re a point-and-shoot or DSLR camera user, you should be sure you know about and use these key settings.

1. Image Quality

Pretty much every camera has a setting that allows you to choose how large your images are. Some even go as far as letting you choose the image type (RAW or JPEG).

When you first get your camera – or even after you’ve owned it for a while – make sure to set your camera to take the highest quality images available.

The main reason you’ll want to select this setting is that it gives you the most flexibility down the road. If you fall in love with one of your images and want to make a large print out of it, you’ll absolutely need the largest file size possible.

Remember, you can always downsize your images later, but you can never make your images larger after the fact.

2. Zoom

I know this feature seems super elementary – and it is – but a surprising number of people don’t take advantage of it.

Too often, amateur photographers try to get everything into the photo at once, attempting to capture the entire scene. But doing this usually ends up in a cluttered image with no clear subject.

Instead, try using your zoom to “fill the frame.” This technique brings your subject closer to you and helps eliminate distracting elements that don’t add anything to the composition of your image.

These two photos were taken from the same spot. I used a wide-angle lens for one, while the other was shot with a telephoto. While the wide-angle shot isn’t necessarily bad, if I wanted the main focus to be the lighthouse, I think zooming in has a much greater effect.

3. Timer

I think most people mainly use the timer to take self-portraits or to include themselves in group portraits. But another handy, but less known, use is to prevent camera shake.

Say it’s getting dark and you want to capture a scene without bumping up the ISO (which results in a noisier image). Simply put your camera on a tripod or flat surface, turn on the timer and press the shutter.

By using the timer, the camera’s no longer taking the image when you’re pushing the shutter, which is normally the time when you’d cause the camera to be unsteady. Instead, the shutter is activated a few seconds later once your hands are off of the camera.

4. Flash

Your camera’s flash sometimes gets a bad rap. People often associate it with harsh lighting and people with red eyes. And usually they only think to use it at night.

But the flash is a versatile feature that comes in handy during the day, too. Knowing different scenarios when you can use it will usually result in better photos.

Here’s an example of an image taken during the day without flash. (Both photos are completely unedited, straight out of the camera so you can compare the raw results.)

Without a flash, the bench is kind of flat and dull, the background is washed out, and the highlights are too bright and you end up losing a lot of detail in the sky.

Once I turned on the flash, though, you can see more details in the foreground, the color of the sky becomes much richer, and the clouds are no longer washed out.

In Summary

It may surprise you how much you can improve your photographs by learning first how to use your camera’s features, and then pushing it even further beyond what’s normally done.

The best thing to do is to experiment with your camera. Try different settings in scenarios you wouldn’t normally think to use them and see how your photos turn out.

all photographs by Kim Olson and may not be used without permission

Kim Olson is a travel writer + photographer at where she writes about traveling, simple living and finding creative ways to spend time on the things that matter most. You can also find Kim on Facebook or Twitter.