12 Ways to Make Your Travel Photos Awesomer

Posted on
Feb 16, 2012

Pretty. Boring.

How does the old adage go? Photos without people in them are merely postcards? Something like that.

It’s a fair criticism. But I’ve always been of the mind that photos with people in them, standing and smiling at the camera as though they were just recovering from a lobotomy, aren’t much better.

I mean, sure they’re nice. They’re the sort of photos you can give to your grandparents for Chrismukkah, or use as your profile picture on Linked In, or that the tabloid news shows can use to illustrate what a decent human being you were before you snapped. Good, solid, unimpeachable photos. The kind that won’t get you arrested.

Ugh. I know. So boring.

Years ago, when I went to Spain on a school trip, and took what amounted to 14 rolls of film (yes, this was back when people used film. I’ll tell you about that world sometime. When we had to research something, we’d go to library to look things up … IN BOOKS), I realized this. I knew that if we all took the same photos, of us smiling in front of a church, it would be dreadful.

So I encouraged the others to livened things up a bit. We climbed over railings and tucked ourselves into corners. We recreated famous paintings. We were yelled at by locals, and museum guards, and our host families. It was grand.

This time around, I was lucky enough to find myself with a group of folks who were just as eager to get yelled at. And I took a lot of photos.

And I promise, very few of them were boring.

So that you may have some fun of your own on your next vacation (or hell, when you are sitting on the couch, because why must travel be the only excuse for photos?) I am sharing some of my tips with you. Be warned: I am not a photographer. I don’t know what I am doing. But I am blissfully, consistently amused by my own life and the photographic record of it. That, and only that, is what gives me an air of legitimacy.

  1. Pose for an unreleased (and as-yet-unrecorded) album cover. –
    This usually works as long as everyone can keep their faces straight (ahem, Joanna).
  2. Find something that’s ruined or knocked over, and pretend that you did it.
  3. Squeeze into tiny alcoves or niches. If there is a velvet rope, climb under it. If there’s a fence, go over it. (This is usually when the security guards start to yell. Ignore them. Everyone knows the laws of other countries don’t apply to Americans.)

    Joanna (actual size).

  4. Make out. (Note: this only works if you are on a trip with your significant other. Otherwise, it can make a family trip really awkward.)
  5. Challenge the photographer to a duel.This is really fun to do if you are in a crowded area. Or on a tourbus.


  6. Take snapshots of people when they don’t suspect it.

    I call this one "Pensive Kenny."

  7. Pretend your travel buddies are famous.

    "Holy shit, it's Topher Grace!"

    And if you are said travel buddy, being an unwilling participant in this charade also makes for fun photos:

    "Despite the resemblance, I am NOT, I repeat, NOT Ed Asner. You dick."

  8. Take advantage of reflective surfaces. Like, say, this rearview mirror, which was inexplicably affixed to the top tier of the tour bus we were on, and enabled me to take this group shot of the four of us:

    And here’s the zoomed-in version, for those of you who need a little more magic in your day:

    Like I said: magic.

  9. Add awkward captions to photos that have not in any way been endorsed by the subjects.

    It had to be done.

  10. Take a series of similar pictures, and compile them into a gif.

  11. Use props.

    I promised them this photo wouldn't see the light of day. I lied.

    "I claim this camel in the name of Spain!"

  12. Be yourself.

And above all else, remember: life is infinitely more awesome than what you see on a postcard.

Leave a Comment

  • One of my favorite posts from you, Geraldine. I absolutely ADORE your sense of humor!

  • You really have been given such a gift. The way you look at life is delightful! I am so glad you share!

  • I completely agree! Looking at goofy, non-traditional pictures is so much more fun once you get home from a trip. Loved all the pics you posted – gave me some ideas for next time I take my camera out. 🙂

  • Kenny…

    That is all.

  • peacsktr

    Dear Geraldine,
    Great post, loved it especialy #10 the gif. This site always makes my day.
    p.s.love the new layout.

  • I am actually drinking tea right now (stupid flu) and sticking out my pinky while quietly making “pew pew pew” noises. Thank you for improving my day.

    Also, the redesign is boss.

  • Dawn Shepard

    Somehow Geraldine has managed to show what it is like to hang out with her and Rand and company. Exactly like this. A super. fun. time! Thanks for sharing the joy.

  • Nice. I always felt people should act naturally and have fun being in photos.

    It makes for an interesting scrap book.

    My other thing is never delete any photo once you’ve taken it. So many people take a photo, preview and then delete.

    You might find some “diamond in the rough” shots you wouldn’t have noticed unless you loaded onto a higher resolution screen!

    Looks like a great fun trip to Spain! Awesome!

  • Connie

    Oh man, I laughed so hard at these! Thank you so much for cracking me up on an otherwise tough day.

  • LOL I have to say this is an amazing post! My favorite by far is the find something knocked down and pretend you did it. 100% chance of me doing that in the future!

  • Awesome…what hooked me with this post is I have a nearly identical version of that “pretty boring” pic in the beginning…Might need to put these to use…

  • jan

    So much fun! How do you do the captions?

  • This should be compulsory reading in every photography class from now on. Brilliant!

    Also, a weekly everywhereistgifpic would be an awesome addition to this blog.

  • Brilliant post. I like to take travel pictures with my boyfriend where he is looking at me adoringly and I am pretending to beat him. It’s a cute Christmas card photo, the kind you can send to Grandma.

  • Katie

    This is the worst. Not to mention what the world hates about Americans, or rather as you show them, obnoxious tourist Americans. You don’t need to go over the top (much less publish a step by step guide on how to be “creative” in other countries) to take a stunning photograph.

    • Everywhereist

      Wait, this is what the world hates about us? I thought they hated us for inventing “The Real Housewives” canon.

      Anywho, I assure you, it is nearly impossible for me to take a stunning photograph. My face leans too far towards “swamp creature” on the attractiveness spectrum. I NEED MY GIMMICKS.

    • I was in Karnak temple (Luxor, Egypt) the other day, my 4th or 5th temple tour of the day, and in the process of being bored-out-of-my-brain hearing about the 30th rendition of why pharoahs gave offerings to Horus… when I overheard 4 Australians laughing and joking about amongst the huge stone pilars. I peared around one to see what was going on, and they were creating there own scene #11 “use props”, and enjoying themselves. Now, I never saw how the photo turned out, but I daresay it made their day more exciting, and was good to see someone in the temple not being bored to death by history. I’m all for tourists being tourists.

    • Does everyone really hate Americans? That sucks for everyone in North and South AMERICA. Sorry guys, we are in this together!

  • Christie

    Love your last line – life is infinitely more awesome than what you see on a postcard. Agree 100%. Fantastic.

  • dear katie life is too short to be a douchebag on blog sites.

  • You are right!
    BUT.. any tips on self-portrait photos for the solo traveller?
    Everytime I get someone to take my photo (stranger) its always me dead-center, and too much background, and super boring. I’m not sure I could get strangers in on your 12 ways. I could try!

  • Anne

    Love this post! So true.

    Another option for interesting photos: jumping pictures. Not only good pictures but sometimes good stories. Once while traveling I saw two girls trying to taking jumping pictures of each other. I offered to take one of both of them together and voila, got some new friends.

    Happy photographing!

  • Awesome post! 🙂 One problem though; I have to hear Kenny brag about it for weeks.

  • Nicky

    Truly fantastic post, this has just sealed your fate as my all-time fave blogger. How do you manage to make a potentilally dull subject come to such life?
    Will be deffo using your tips in future.

  • Jess

    #1 reminds me of fun times from college. the album cover pose was a favorite among friends. thanks for the reminder and for the excuse to look through old facebook photos.

  • This is hysterical, just like you, my friend.

  • Great ideas. I’m an SEOmoz subscriber, so it’s also funny to see the pictures of your husband acting goofy.

  • great post!

  • your pics had me lol. And, inspire me to take funnier photos!

  • What a great post. I love the pictures and hope to do this on my next excursion at Magic Kingdom (Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL) for Leap Day. Thanks for sharing.

  • Jeannine

    You need to check out the photos they take on Cougar Town. Ellie likes to take pictures of staged crime scenes where she murders her husband Andy. They frame them and hang them on their living room wall. Here’s a link to that episode: http://abc.go.com/watch/cougar-town/SH559044/VD55173291/a-mind-with-a-heart-of-its-own

  • aww..this is such a fun post! These are exactly the types of fun things I do with my friends when traveling…or, just wandering around the hometown – because really, it’s always fun to act like a fool in photos, and makes them much more interesting.

  • B

    Tardy to the [blog] party, but wanted to add that one of my favorite travel photo set-ups is to imitate statues. I can’t wait to go to Easter Island.

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