My first trip to Europe as an adult was in 1991, back in the days before digital photography. I had a little Kodak instamatic camera and on a two week trip must have used 20 rolls of film. That felt like a lot of pictures back then! I took my film to be developed and put the best pictures in a photo album, an album I still enjoy today. For the first several years of my European travels, that was my approach. My trip albums were my hobby in those pre-internet days, incorporating photos, postcards, memorabilia like tickets and menus, and typed-up notes from my hand-written travel journals.
Almost 25 years later, I’m still taking photos when I travel. Technology has changed considerably in the past 25 years, and like most people, my desire to “capture the moment” in photos is stronger than ever before. Today, thanks to digital photography and the internet, it’s much easier and less expensive to take good photos, organize them to preserve our memories, and share our experiences with family and friends through Facebook, blogs, online photo sharing sites, and do-it-yourself photo books.
The majority of our European Experiences travelers bring cameras on their trips, and many people also take pictures with their smartphones. We email and post photos online during the week, sharing experiences as they happen. Picture-taking seems to be a priority for many of us when we travel… we’re relaxed, we’re on vacation (often with friends and family), and we’re enjoying beautiful and interesting places. Vacations are among the life highlights we most want to record and remember.
In 2011 we sponsored our first European Experiences photo contest. Everyone who traveled with us in our first five years was invited to submit one or two photos that best described their experience, along with a few sentences of text. The contest was a fun way to involve people– those who submitted photos and those who enjoyed looking at them– and we’ve continued the contest every year since then.
We just concluded our 2015 photo contest, our biggest contest yet. Forty-four travelers (30% of our travelers in 2014) entered the contest, submitting 82 photos. Four outside judges independently reviewed the entries, and we awarded 16 prizes. Photos by seven of this year’s winning photographers illustrate this post. You can enjoy all of this year’s winning photographs and entries here.
It’s always so interesting to see the variety of photos our travelers choose to submit to our annual contest and what they have to say about their pictures. The photos convey how people respond to so many different aspects of a place or experience in such a very personal way.
This year’s contest caused me to think more about why I and others get so much pleasure from taking photos when we travel. I followed up with some of this year’s contest winners to learn more about their interests and to ask for their suggestions about taking photos on trips.
Taking photos while traveling
We pull over at a bright red field of poppies or a viewpoint looking across a lush valley to a ruined castle. Most of us jump out of the van and reach for our cameras. Why?
“Taking the photo helps me focus on what I want to see,” said Wendy from Maryland. “It helps remove some of the extraneous noise.”
Bob from Ohio enjoys taking pictures because “they preserve the memories much better than my memory alone. Each photo being worth a thousand words, I have an encyclopedia in a single photo album.”
For Bill from Ontario, it’s about sharing the experience. He likes “to have pictures as an aid to describing my vacation to family and friends.”
After her trip to France this past May, Patti from Tennessee said that “seeing new places, new settings, new scenes, new people excited and re-stimulated my passion for my longstanding interest in photography as a hobby.”
Steve from California enjoys the technical challenge. “I take photos on a trip to remember what I’ve seen,” he told me,”but I also have this idea that maybe I’ll find some magical moment to photograph and that will be the best photo I’ve ever taken. I’m always trying to find new angles and ways of taking photos.”
Marguerite from Ohio had a different reaction: “To be honest, I don’t like TAKING the pictures. I feel as though I miss something by having to focus and shoot. I do love looking at them afterwards though. What I love about them is the feelings they evoke. I experience the awe, or peace, or excitement, or humor of those times. I love too how pictures give a chronicle of our lives. I see the people, places and events that are so special to me. They’re a great aid when we’re trying to remember just what we did which year.”
Favorite subjects for travel photography
I definitely have a few key “themes” I pursue in my travel photography. I always like to take pictures of my traveling companions as they enjoy the place, the experience, and each other. I also take lots of photos of food at outdoor markets, gardens and flowers, interesting doors and windows, and animals. Do others have certain subjects they like to photograph?
Steve likes taking photos of birds, animals and people. He says, “I’m not a great landscape photographer, but I like using my long lens (100-400) to get those hidden moments.”
Bill and Patti both highlighted landscapes and architecture. Patti said “they offer views into other climates, cultures, history and new vistas of the world.” For Bill, “this best captures the essence of the place we are visiting.” He was with us last summer for The Cotswolds Experience and mentioned that “the distinctive stone of the Cotswolds buildings and the open vistas from the hilltops made for great photo opportunities.”
Bob likes to focus on unique aspects of a place. “My favorite subjects are anything that highlights the unique place I am visiting, from the Roman arch on a three thousand year old bridge, to a stone house with a stone roof centuries old, to a French cat reading the lunch menu on the blackboard outside a village bistro in the Perigord.”
Wendy likes “the interiors of ancient churches. Their silence speaks volumes and is so spiritual.” She also likes “taking pictures of street markets capturing the ordinary local scene.” (She saw plenty of these in Provence last year!)
What to do with photos after the trip
Charley and I spend about four months a year away from home, and I take at least 15,000 travel photos every year. I no longer have time to print photos and make my special albums, but fortunately there are many more options of what to do with photos these days. I post photos on Facebook and upload the best to Flickr albums, and I’ve made a few photo books of special trips. What do other travelers do?
Bill loads the photos onto his computer, uploads them to a sharing site, and sends links to family and friends. He prints his best photos in photo books or makes enlargements and has them framed. Steve also enlarges some of his best photos and displays them around his house.
Since her Luberon Experience week last May, Patti has downloaded, viewed, and printed photo projects including regular prints, photo books and canvas prints for her home and gifts for family and friends. She described her photos as “my creations.” “As a very visual person I love looking at them and vividly recalling all the experiences.”
Wendy once made a video of trip photos set to classical music, but she took a different approach after her Luberon Experience week. “The Luberon was slow and quiet, and surprisingly I went the old fashioned way and printed photos for an album which we have shared with family and friends. Of course they also are my screen saver!”
Suggestions for taking and organizing travel photos
The types of pictures I take today are not the same as those I took on my early trips to Europe. Technology has obviously had a big impact, such as the ability to see your photos in real-time, but my way of looking at my surroundings is also different as is the type of memory I want to preserve. I love that we’re now able to share photos so easily, and I get great ideas by studying photos I find attractive. I asked our winning photographers to share a few of their suggestions:
Patti: “Soak in the scene for a few seconds and move the camera around until the scene feels right. If I had done this with each photo I took, I most likely would not have ended up with 5000 plus photos!”
Bill: “With today’s digital cameras everyone should take LOTS of pictures of anything distinctive or unusual and then later get rid of the poor ones.”
Wendy: “Take the time to frame your picture and try to have it tell a story back to you.”
Bob: “Organize your photos soon after you get home. Too many people I know have boxes of prints that await sorting and placement in albums, no doubt in vain.” He also advised that photographers “resist the temptations to take pictures only of scenery. Local shops have post card photos far better than most of us can take. Use the scenery as background for close up of friends you are travelling with as it is your fellow adventurers who are the indispensable ingredient in your travel banquet.”
Marguerite: “Be sure to marry someone who is organized and will put the photos in albums or books! I appreciate so much having dates and names written on the backs and being able to sit and peruse through albums organized by years.” (It must be her husband Bob doing all the photo-organizing!)
Steve: “Try to take photos from a variety of angles, not just looking straight at or down at the subject. If you have time, try to get up early or go out at sunset to get the best photos. You might even want to invest in a tripod for those night photos or to take photos of waterfalls and fountains to get a different sense of motion of the water. If you set your camera right you might even get some mystical photos.”
Kathy: I usually keep my camera in my pocket and I tend to be a pretty quick and decisive photo-taker. I think it’s important to savor the setting and the experience and not just focus on getting the photo for posterity. Sometimes you need to put the camera away and enjoy the moment.
One other bit of very important advice from me, based on learning the hard way. Back up your photos daily! I dropped my laptop in late 2013 before I had finished sorting through my pictures from the summer and uploading the best ones to Flickr. It had been a while since I’d done a manual back-up, and I wasn’t able to recover the photos from the last seven weeks of our travels, other than those I had posted on Facebook. The loss of all those photos (and memories) was especially devastating to me. Now I subscribe to an online service that automatically backs up my hard drive to the cloud. I don’t even have to think about it!
The last word
Marguerite and Bob have been with us on three trips since 2010, and Marguerite sums it up so well. “The sights, experiences, and people we’ve encountered through our European Experience trips have been so breathtaking and unique. Truly, the only way we could hope to remember them all is through our pictures.”
Kathy and Charley Wood lead European Experiences, week-long “slow tours” in some of the most beautiful areas of Europe, including The Luberon Experience in Provence, France. National Geographic Traveler magazine named The Luberon Experience one of their top 50 tours in the world in 2012.
Kathy and Charley host Experience weeks in the Luberon, the Chianti region of Tuscany, Puglia, Alsace, the Dordogne, and the Cotswolds. They also offer two longer tours: The European Christmas Experience (12 days) and The Cornwall Experience in southwest England (10 days).
Kathy and Charley have been traveling in Europe for almost 30 years and love sharing their special places in Europe with other travelers. They've hosted 120 Experience groups since they launched in 2006. They have a second home in their beloved village of Bonnieux in the Luberon. Read more about Kathy and Charley here.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.