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Travel Photography | Sense of Place

I adore traveling.  And I think it all started when I went to Europe with my high school orchestra the summer after 10th grade.  Our last stop with the orchestra was Paris and to say I was excited was definitely the understatement of the century.  Some people kept warning me that the city was dirty, that Parisians were rude, that it smelled, etc., etc.. But come to think of it, some of those people weren’t on the trip… and I don’t know that they had ever been to Paris! :-)  But, that very trip is when I fell in love with the city of lights.  And when I look back at those pictures, not only do I gawk at the fact that I wore t-shirts two sizes too big and tucked into my shorts (c’mon, it was the 90s!), but I was a master at getting all of the typical tourist photos.  But, I was 16.  And my excuses are that the Internet hadn’t fully been developed yet (so I couldn’t see what other photographers were shooting), my love for photography was merely in its infancy, and I just didn’t know that there was another way to take pictures!  I didn’t understand that even with my little point and shoot camera that I could get creative with my shots.

So, while I’m no expert when it comes to travel photography (by any means!), I wanted to share what I’ve learned over the last several years and hopefully it will help at least one or two people out there!

When I was in Provence with the National Geographic Workshop, one of our “assignments” was to capture photos that also captured a “sense of place”.  And all that really means is that you’re helping your pictures tell a little bit about themselves without you having to explain them.  It also leaves a lot of room for interpretation, which is fantastic!  And a little intimidating.  At first thought, it might seem that the best way to tell the story is to get a wide angle shot so that everything going on in a certain setting can be captured.  But, that’s not always the case.  Sometimes it’s getting up close and personal with some produce at the market while being sure to get the pricing signs in your image.  Sometimes it means getting a country’s flag as the wind blows it.  Sometimes it’s taking a picture of a famous landmark from a different angle and not even getting all of it in your frame.  And sometimes it’s just thinking way outside the box to capture something in a way that no one has thought of before!  And the best thing is that with digital photography, you can try several angles and shots until you get what you’re looking for.

The house just beyond this sign is where we stayed on the island of Eleuthera in 2010 for our mission trip.  It’s also where the missionaries teach Bible classes.  The house above it is where the missionaries live. An easy shot would have been to stand in front of each house, but by going out to the road and shooting wide, I was able to get both houses and the sign in the frame.  I’m not always a fan of angled pictures (I think I overdid that a few years ago so it lost its appeal to me!), but sometimes it works for signs that might otherwise not be as exciting.

This is one of those wide angle shots that captures everything going on, but still tells a story.  You see the team working on the roof of the clinic, which is contrasted by the beautiful water.
And in between them is the Bahamian flag caught by the wind.

This picture below was from one of our trips to Ukraine several years ago.  If not for the Russian on the doors, there wouldn’t be anything to tell you where this took place.

This was outside of a small store in Budapest.  But, like above, without the pricing signs, this could have been taken anywhere!

These next several pictures are from the National Geographic workshop in Provence, France.
Direct sunlight is tough to photograph in, but for the market, it seems to work to your favor sometimes!  With the baguette sign blurred in the background, you see the main focus of the image (the bread) and then as you look up, realize it’s in France.

This image of “Fresh Eggs” has a few things going on… the sign is (yet again!) at an angle (I promise I’m not saying that’s a requirement for signs!!), the arm resting on the counter belongs to Catherine Karnow and I took this as “the gesture” happened (the man reached up).  But I’ll talk more about “the gesture” in another post.

There might not be a lot to this image, and I think most people would just pass by it.  But I love it.  Part of that is because we got sandwiches here a couple of times since it was just around the corner from our hotel.  But, with her hand blurred, it shows some action as she seasons the sandwich.  You also see the signs (in French) on the wall, along with the cluster of baguettes  in the corner and can see the line of drinks in the forefront, which is what most cafés and walk up restaurants do!

This one in the arena has a few things, primarily the architecture, but that might indicate Roman influence… until you see the small sign that says La Provence.

I love these two below.  Remember that post about talking to strangers?  I engaged this guy who was selling his (delicious) bread so I could take a few pictures of it and him. I also bought a piece of bread to help show that I wasn’t just wanting pictures.
And the image on the right?  One of my ABSOLUTE favorites from this trip.  Catherine was standing right next to me and we were both enthralled with this table full of olives.  My taste buds don’t care for olives, but this stand at the market was SO well done! The wooden spoons were incredible, which matched the little wooden pricing signs.  And with the red peppers, your eye is caught by all that’s going on.  The table was at a bit of an angle so I knelt down and shot up.  And… just to let you in on a little secret, all of these pictures in France were taken with my 18-200 lens that doesn’t have a fixed aperture.  In fact, the picture below of the olives was at 5.6!  It was still a little while after this trip until I purchased by 50mm, 1.4 lens and discovered the world of fixed aperture.  And while I would love to go back to these spots with THAT lens, I wouldn’t trade the pictures I captured for anything.  So, please know that while a good camera and good glass (lenses) help take good pictures, it’s the person working the equipment that’s seeing and capturing the photos.

If I had not been there, I might not know that this image below is of Prague.  But, the architecture helps clue you in a little bit…

I’ve mentioned it before, but signs with the language are a huge piece in giving your images a sense of place!  And the one on the left helps give you a better idea of the image on the right :-)
A quick note about photographing street musicians.  It’s always nice to give them a donation before you begin photographing them.  It helps show that you appreciate their talent!

In these (because of the images above), you see the architecture in the background on the left, which helps the image on the right.
So, together, all of the pictures are telling a story of this city.

The next two pictures are of some very famous structures… but as seen from different angles.

Don’t forget to look UP when you’re around structures of this size!

This is a simple one, but I just knelt down and waited for someone to walk by in order to give it some life.

By now, this bridge should be familiar to everyone!  I’m no expert on night photography, but it gives pictures a completely different look sometimes.
I didn’t have a tripod with me, so this one of Tower Bridge in London isn’t perfect and is blurry if you look at it closely.  But, in a pinch, if you can find a post to rest your arm against or a bench to rest your camera on, that will help steady your camera (and you!) as you hold it.

Again, this was handheld so it isn’t perfect, but I’m also not planning on blowing it up to a 30×40 for the wall.  But, for a small album to remember our trip, it works just fine!
And for those of you wondering, it was taken at 1600ISO, f3.8, 1/3 sec.

These next several images WERE taken with a tripod because I was wanting to get the blur of car lights and people.  But, for as long as the shutter needed to be open, there was no way the camera could be handheld and kept as steady as it needed to be for everything else in the image to be sharply in focus.
So, the sense of place will be more familiar to those in Greenville, BUT, you can see the sign across the street that says West End Historic District.

This bridge is one of the landmarks of Greenville, but the night shot with the shutter being open for 1.6 seconds and people walking across adds a little bit to it that you don’t normally see.

This image is more familiar to most and it’s been done countless times, I’m sure!  But, I wanted to try it out for myself!  Again, this wouldn’t have been possible without a tripod (and as you can see, with the guy standing in front, I was also on one of these medians, not in the middle of the busy Champs Élysées!).

We could have very easily taken this picture in the middle of the day, with the same cars driving by behind us.  But, we wanted to change things up and make our tourist pictures more interesting!  The sense of place is still the Arc de Triomphe, but by taking it at night (and using a tripod), it makes it more fun!  And when I got all the settings right and we stood still for the 4 seconds the shutter was open, I might… maybe… have jumped up and down and squealed a little bit :-)

Brittany - September 6, 2012 - 10:41 am

Love them all! :) Makes me want to travel even more!


Several years ago I had the chance to go to Northern Ireland on a mission trip.  Northern Ireland is as gorgeous as all of the pictures you’ll ever see.  And the rumors of how green and lush everything is??  All of them are 100% true.  It’s gorgeous!

We were there in the middle of the summer.  And here in Greenville, SC, the middle of the summer means hot and humid.  And if it’s raining?  Humidity only increases.  But that week on the small green isle, it was pretty chilly and we were outside a fair amount since we were helping with sports camps.  I took my jacket off once, for maybe 30 minutes, while we were outside because that’s as much as we saw the sun the entire week.  It took me most of our time there to make the connection, but the reason Ireland and Northern Ireland are SO green is because it rains.  It rains A LOT.

But, rain brings life.  And the green that comes with that life is SO beautiful.  So, even though it’s been raining here most of the weekend, I’m trying to remember just how good the rain can be.

Thankful Thursday | Maid and Matron of Honor

There’s a lot that goes into planning a wedding.  Like… A LOT.  Way more than I ever realized.  And I’d heard it was important to choose your bridesmaids carefully because not only would they be standing with you and looking pretty on your wedding day, but they’d be the hands and feet of helping you make things happen.  And oh my word.  If not for my maid and matron of honor, not nearly as many things would have gotten done as they did.  Not to mention that they are probably the sole reason I was able to keep my sanity and enjoy the wedding day!  To say that Arica and Kelly went above and beyond is by far an understatement.  Now please don’t get me wrong… ALL of my bridesmaids were AMAZING and helped SO MUCH with planning the wedding, the day of the wedding (they helped make their own bouquets!), and even after as they helped clean up the reception, prayed for us while we were gone and then checked in on us when we returned from our honeymoon.

But, this Thankful Thursday is for Arica and Kelly.  Not only did Arica drive six hours from Nashville to spend most of the week with me, but she practically drove me everywhere.  If not for Kelly, the tables at our reception wouldn’t have had table cloths… or, they would have been paper ones from Sam’s (which aren’t bad! They just didn’t go with the theme :-)).  Arica (and Kelly) knows me well enough that even over the phone, from six hours away, she could tell when I was procrastinating with something that needed to be planned or ordered, or if I was just all together avoiding it.  And she knows me well enough to call me out and help push me to do what needs to be done!  Kelly gave up so much time during the week and months leading up to the wedding that I’ll never be able to pay her back, no matter how much baby sitting I do for her :-)  Arica became my answering service on Thursday before the wedding.  Other than texts or phone calls from Ben, she and Kelly took calls and text messages and passed the messages along to me.  It was nothing short of amazing and I HIGHLY recommend this to every bride out there!  Trust me, I know it’s difficult to delegate things and not be in complete control, but come the wedding day, you, as the bride, don’t need to be the point person.  Your bridesmaids, or at the very least, your maid or matron of honor, should be able to handle most anything that arises.  It’s YOUR wedding day and I want nothing more than you and your groom to enjoy every bit of it!

As we drove to my bridesmaid brunch the day before the wedding (in tears from stress and being overwhelmed with everything), Arica suggested that Ben and I have a coffee date at “our” Starbucks as soon as he got off work, just after lunch.  Best. Idea. Ever.  This was Friday morning and we hadn’t seen each other since Wednesday night.  I know what you’re thinking… “Really Sabrina?  You couldn’t go a couple of days without him?”  Let me explain: There was SO MUCH happening in such a short amount of time and all of sudden I was seeing everyone but the man I was about to marry.  And Arica knew that just seeing him could help.  So she called him and arranged our coffee date.  The moment I stepped out of her car and into Ben’s arms for a hug, all of my stress from the week didn’t just melt, but poured off of me.  It was gone.  100% gone.

These girls knew me well enough to know when I needed a push (or 20), when I needed time to process things, when I needed a break, when I needed to laugh, and when to just step in and take care of something for me.

Your wedding day is one of those days that will be forever etched in your memory.  And as I found out as soon as Ben and I got engaged, there is WAY more to planning a wedding than I ever thought there would be.  And while I knew my friends and bridesmaids would be so supportive and helpful, I had no idea how much time, energy and effort they would be giving up for me.  It’s actually quite humbling and I’m beyond grateful.  Even with as much as I loved these girls before the wedding, I loved them even more after.  Their love and sacrifices make me want to go back and be a bridesmaid all over again for some of my friends because I KNOW I wasn’t as selfless as these girls were for me.

Jana, thank you so much for this picture of Arica, me, and Kelly!  It’s a treasure for sure!

Second Shooting | Monica + Jay

If not for a friend asking me to second shoot with her four years ago, I might not have any part of this wedding industry.  And with so many up and coming photographers wanting to get their foot in the door to shooting weddings, well, second shooting is the way to go!  I did shoot a wedding in 2007 for a friend up in Nashville, but on my drive over there, I was terrified.  I had a basic idea of what I needed to get and I’d been scouring wedding blogs like it was my job, but I was still nervous.  It was a small wedding and everything turned out fine.  Yes, there are things that I now would have done very differently, but there are also some images from their wedding that I LOVE.  But like I said, if a friend had not asked me to second shoot with her that following year, that may have been my one and only wedding!

So here I am, 20+ weddings of my own and four years later and I still love to second shoot (I tried counting that number, but it’s different each time!  That may be around 20 as well).  Not only do I get to hang out with an awesome photographer for the day, but I get to see how they work and how they approach things.  It also helps me see what Ben sees when he and I work together, so I can then explain to him a little more of how we can work better together!  For Monica and Jay’s wedding, we were at Grace Church Downtown (where we got married and I’ve shot several times), but Rebecca had never done a wedding there before.  And it was so much fun to watch her approach things and get shots that I never would have thought about.  So, be sure to head over to her blog to check out her first post from Monica and Jay’s wedding!

I got pictures of the guys while Rebecca got the getting ready shots of the girls.

And this might have been one of the cutest first looks ever!  They were adorable.

And those crazy high temperatures from the end of July?  These two handled it like pros.  You can’t even tell how hot it was outside!

I was IN LOVE with the dresses the bridesmaids had. Monica had given them paint swatches for the color and they picked out their own dresses!

The flowers were nothing short of beautiful either.

That smile was on Monica’s face the entire day :-)

This is one of those images I was talking about… Rebecca used this wall for several bridal party portraits and I loved it!

And while she was finishing up with the wedding party, I went around front with my 14-24 lens to get a picture of the church.
I’ve been photographing this church for two years now. But this wide angle lens on my D800 (full frame!) allowed me to stand at the FOOT of the stairs and get this shot!

These were actually taken after the ceremony, but Rebecca included these in her post so here are mine also.  It’s kind of fun to compare posts and images!
Y’all will recognize this spot because we shoot here a good bit too.  But the light at this time of the evening??  To die for.

Rebecca was using her 70-200 and I was using my 24-70 so my images from here are wider than hers.

Rebecca, thank you for letting me shoot with you!  I always have so much fun.  Monica and Jay, thank you so much for being so sweet and genuine.  It was such a pleasure to meet you and an honor to help document your wedding day!

10 Things I Learned From Our Yard Sale

If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, you may have noticed that we had a yard sale on Saturday :-)  Since we both owned our homes when we got married, the amount of things we both had was too much for one house, so we finally had a yard sale to try and lower the number of items between us.  It was a relief when it was over and we’d made the run to Goodwill to drop off things that weren’t sold (we tried our best to stick with the “What comes out of the house doesn’t come back in!” motto).  But, we didn’t do that with everything so if you’re lucky, you may still be able to purchase some things as I post them on Facebook in the coming weeks!

To get the week started though, I thought I’d share a few things we learned with our Yard Sale experience.


  1. There are more websites out there about How to Have a Good Yard Sale than I ever thought there would be.  AND they’re quite helpful!
  2. Yard sales start way too early. Getting up at 5am to get ready for the day is just not my thing… especially on a Saturday.
  3. Having a husband that speaks Spanish is mucho beneficial (see what I did there…??).
  4. Watching and listening to my husband speak Spanish is really awesome (but I didn’t need to have a yard sale to know that :-))
  5. We were able to use our little chalkboards from the wedding as some of the pricing signs!  I love being able to repurpose things.
  6. Having snacks to munch on during the yard sale is a MUST.
  7. Couches from the mid-1900s are heavier than they look.  And you WILL feel it the next day.
  8. Early Birds will show up before your start time no matter how you try and keep them away.
  9. But those Early Birds will buy a fair amount of items!
  10. Pricing for a yard sale is almost as difficult as pricing photography packages.

Do you guys have any yard sale tips that you’ve learned??  Would love to hear them!