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FIELD TECHNIQUE – Avoiding the Tourist Trap, Story and photographs by F. M. Kearney

By May 22, 2015No Comments

Vacations are a great way to get away and de-stress. However, I often find myself stressing even more. While I try to be mindful of the fact that I’m on vacation and not on assignment, I can’t seem to leave home without my camera gear.

With only a limited amount of time, I worry about getting the shot. Where are the best locations? When and where does the sun set and/or rise? How can I best secure my equipment in the hotel room?

On a recent trip to Antigua, West Indies, I was focusing on a bevy of tropical treats that don’t normally grace my lens. It’s easy to get sloppy and fall into the “tourist trap.” You want to shoot everything, but end up shooting not much of anything worthwhile at all. Slowing down and actually seeing your subjects, as opposed to simply looking at them, can make all the difference in the world.

Pride of Barbados Caesalpinia pulcherrima (Fabaceae) Antigua, West Indies

The Pride of Barbados is a flowering shrub (above) native to the West Indies that can grow to up to nine feet tall. Several of them were on the grounds of the resort where I stayed. This image is what I like to call the typical tourist shot – full of distractions and completely devoid of any semblance of composition or creativity. It’s the type of photo one might half-heartedly snap while rushing to see the next attraction or perhaps while riding by on a tour bus.

AF-258-200x300A bit more creativity is seen here, but not much. Simply turning the camera vertically successfully eliminated the surrounding distractions and allowed for the inclusion of the tree—a great environment-establishing element. This basic technique is a definite improvement, however, although acceptable, the photo is still little more than an accurate representation of the subject. It’s basically the end product of what I saw when I looked at the scene.

Pride of Barbados Caesalpinia pulcherrima (Fabaceae) Antigua, West Indies

To capture a unique image, you need to look beyond the obvious. This final photo took considerably more thought and planning. I forewent the wide-angle perspective and switched to a much longer focal length. At 200mm and f/3.3, I isolated one bloom and focused on the tips of the stamens. The minimal depth-of-field caused the buds behind them to gently dissolve into a sea of muted colors. Unless you’re intimately familiar with the subject matter, these types of images may not readily present themselves. They’re only realized after taking the time to “see” what’s right in front of you. Once you become aware of it, all kinds of possibilities open up to you. I shot several other photos like this with varying compositions—all of them were infinitely more interesting than the wide-angle shots.AF-256-200x300

Photography may not be your top priority while you’re on vacation—especially if it’s a family vacation. But, when you do decide to shoot something other than quick snapshots, it’s a task that should not be rushed. To get quality images, you might have to get off the bus.

F.M. Kearney is a fine-art nature photographer specializing in unique floral and landscape images. To see more of his work, visit