Always Shoot the Waiter

Summer officially begins in just a few days for those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere.  For many people, summer entails lazy days at the pool, grilling hamburgers, eating ice cream and - most especially - that sacred institution known as summer vacation (or holiday for European types).  These days almost everyone takes at least occasional photos when we travel, often with a smartphone or tablet. But how do you make your vacation pictures truly engaging - the kind your friends actually look forward to viewing (not the kind they grudgingly scroll through on Facebook in polite boredom), and the kind of images you'll cherish as a personal reminder of those fun times?

I shot this photo somewhere in Europe while on a group tour in 1992.  It's not a spectacular picture, but to me it captured the essence of a Parisian cafe and is one of my favorites of the trip.

If you do any traveling, you'll inevitably end up with snaps of the iconic places that draw tourists: Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, Old Faithful or even the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota. If you are traveling abroad, you'll naturally want some photos of the Parthenon or the Eiffel Tower.  While it's a given that we want to photograph these famous landmarks, what will you remember most from your trip?  After all, the chances of you capturing a unique, killer photo of the Eiffel Tower are pretty much non-existent.

Years ago, a series of commercials for a popular instant coffee mix would show two women reminiscing about their travels abroad as they sip from their steaming mugs.  One of the women would interject a shared memory of the French waiter and in unison they'd exclaim, "Jean-Luc!"  Those were corny ads, but they do serve to remind us that often the most memorable parts of a trip are the seemingly mundane details.

Man repairing a thatched roof somewhere in England (1992). I like how the sunlight reflected off the flying bits of hay as he worked.  Candid photos of everyday people working are among my favorite subjects.


Whenever you travel with a camera in hand, be prepared to shoot those little details that make the trip special.  By all means, take a snapshot of L'Arc de Triomphe, and get the clich√© shots of your loved ones "holding up" the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  But don't forget to take a picture of the local old men playing a game you've never seen before, the waiter in that sidewalk cafe, the lady on a bicycle balancing a loaf of bread, or the worker painting an historic building.  You'll most likely find that those are the photos that most accurately capture the soul of a place.