Great travel photography calls for ‘insider’ eye

Nov 23, 2018 by Guest Writer

Photo Exposé: by James Schot

Welcome aboard, photo enthusiasts. Happy sailors and I have one thing in common: a love of  traveling – meeting people, experiencing different cultures, tasting the varieties of cuisine, learning from historic places and being awed by beautiful vistas.

Like me, many crew want to capture their traveling experiences to share with others, or simply record them as treasured memories. When an unfortunate disaster destroys a home, one of the top priorities for owners is to search for photographs. It’s true, they are treasured.

Taking photographs in the digital age is easier and a lot more affordable. Reusable memory cards that cost the price of a dinner for two can be used to capture thousands of pictures. The gurus in the backroom have developed, through science, amazing algorithms that can do most of the thinking for us.

Shooting from the hip.

But ask yourself, “Do I just want to take pictures without thinking?” When a camera is set on “auto” and the shutter is pressed, the result is what I call a “picture.” You point, shoot, and get a snapshot. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you want to take it to the level of a photograph, “visual literacy” is required. Let’s look at some steps and tips.

I give photography lessons and am often asked to go through the menu button to explain all the functions on cameras. Even the less expensive point-and-shoot cameras have extensive menus allowing many options. My first impulse is to say forget all that, but that would not be wise. The settings need to be understood, and conscious selections from the menu can be very useful.

Before getting into the camera’s menu, you need a solid grasp of photography basics. This is for those who want to move beyond the auto mode.

Digital photography has made a tremendous impact on the quantity of images produced, but not their quality, both technical and creative. Basic and advanced principles still need to be learned,  and most importantly, photographers still need to develop an “eye.” Only keen observation and lots of practice will develop your visual literacy.

You don’t need an expensive camera. One captain I mentor has top-end cameras and lenses, but because of the expense and weight of the equipment, it seldom gets out in the field. I have advised him to get a small, affordable camera and take lots of shots to develop the “eye.”

Also, study the work of professionals; for instance, check out my stock photo art on

While in Cuba, I wanted to capture people in a natural way as they were doing things. Digital photography’s economy allows me to take many shots from the hip. To be an insider, I set my settings for the light, action and depth before I enter the scene. I pull out my movable LCD screen to a right angle parallel to the ground. This allows to me look down and gives me a good idea of my framing and composition. Then I enter the scene and start pressing the shutter.

While visiting a small city, I saw two shoemakers using their tools on a small table under a veranda. They were surrounded mostly by anxious ladies wanting their shoes repaired. Women and their shoes – what a scene. All the commotion makes the right shot difficult to capture. If you hold the camera viewfinder to your eye with hopes of timing one right, the scene will likely turn less natural and authentic by your being noticed. You will be an outsider to the event.

When photographing more scenic or historical places, you will find many of them overrun by tourists. People in plaid shirts, torn jeans, backpacks and bright sun umbrellas can spoil the view. Timing plays a big role in getting a clean shot. Patience is needed. Sometimes the unwanted surroundings, not natural to the scene, will clear for a brief moment – shoot quick. At other times, people are an important part of the scene. So when those who are appropriate enter the scene, shoot quick.

Using this strategy, I’m always confident I will find one beautiful, natural photograph to tell the story. It’s just one of a number of new approaches I take in this digital age to get the best “schot.”

James Schot has been a professional photographer and artist for 40 years and has a studio-gallery ( in Fort Lauderdale. Comments are welcome below.