A change of angle and lighting is often all it takes to turn your photo of the Eiffel Tower from Facebook flop to frame-worthy masterpiece.

How many terrible photos of the Leaning Tower of Pisa does it take to inspire some change in our Facebook albums? Contributor Megan Edmiston shows photographers of all skill levels how to take inspired travel photos in our latest edition of You Should Probably [YSP].


I can predict a “study abroad semester in France” photo album before you have the chance to say upload, s’il vous plait.  While taking obligatory photos of the Eiffel Tower is an integral part of the experience, how can you make your images jaw-dropping, thought-provoking, and slightly unexpected? Megan Edmiston has taken some time to tell us the secrets of her trade, and has shared a few of her gorgeous shots along the way.  You can learn more about all of the photos in this article at www.megankaileenphotography.com

RSJ: How do you personally seek “out-of-the-way” subjects for photos when traveling abroad?

Megan Edmiston (ME): Truthfully, I take pictures of things that intrigue me; I’m not thinking about how others are going to perceive it. A lot of the time I focus in on detail, which so many people overlook when taking pictures. Two of my most complimented B&W shots are of sculptures that I found outside of Notre Dame. It’s surprising how little people actually pay attention to the wonderful detail that takes place in all of these monuments. Maybe this isn’t something I should admit, but I really don’t spend twenty minutes thinking about the setup for a photo. I take hundreds of pictures a day and not every one of those shots is good. I also like exploring, which allows me to find places that not many people see. Yes, those ‘must see’ places and things are famous for a reason, but that doesn’t mean those are the only things worth seeing. Beauty can be found in the most unexpected places.

Attention to detail is one of Megan's essentials for photographing your abroad experience.

RSJ: What can a traveler do to make their shot of a commonly photographed monument more unique or personal, as opposed to everyone else’s Facebook albums?

ME: Something that can drastically change a picture is lighting. Take a lot of pictures from different angles and really pay attention to where the light is. If you happen to have photo-editing software, play with the highlights and shadows. I don’t like to edit my photos very much because I want them to appear as I saw them, but playing with highlights and shadows can do so much for an image. It can give a little oomph to an otherwise drab photo of L’Arc de Triomphe. Something easy that doesn’t require any skill level is to frame things off-center. This doesn’t work for everything, but when it does, it can really help an otherwise drab photo. Also, your photo will look awesome if it shows the actual monument and not the 100 tourists in front of it. It’s possible to do, trust me.

RSJ:  Is there a method or etiquette to capturing cameo photos of local people?

ME: When I was in Switzerland, we spent a day doing “ discreet paparazzi” where we went around taking pictures of people without them noticing. These often didn’t turn out really well because everyone was more focused on not being seen then the actual photo. I find that the best way to take pictures of people is to just ask if it’s okay. One of the most beautiful pictures I have seen was an old man smoking a cigarette. It’s really close up and he is looking straight at the camera, but it doesn’t seem posed at all. Some cultures have certain beliefs and customs on the matter though. A lot of the time, people won’t mind if you are taking their photo as long as you don’t get in their way.

"Something that can drastically change a picture is lighting. Take a lot of pictures from different angles and really pay attention to where the light is. "

RSJ: Are there any settings you can change on your camera itself to make the photos more interesting to view?

ME:  When I don’t have time to really play with settings, I always put my camera on Aperture Priority mode. The right aperture can change a picture so much- if you are focusing in on one thing, you don’t get the busy background that will take away from the photo. If you don’t have a D-SLR, point and shoots often have some really fun settings. Play with them BEFORE you go out so you get a feel for what each one does. These preset modes give you more control of your camera and change the basic settings, allowing you to get a good shot no matter what the situation is. In this case, the user guide will be your best friend, provided you didn’t already throw it away. If you did, Google is always a good friend.

RSJ:  What does it feel like for you as a photographer to capture a really profound or interesting moment on camera?

ME:  I can’t say that I’ve really captured many profound moments, unless you count me bypassing the fence and the security guards at Père LaChaise to kiss Jim Morrison’s grave.  But even then, I was only telling someone else what to do. The interesting moments and things that I do capture are always special. I can look back at them and remember everything about it: the weather, the smell, and the color shirt on the obnoxious tourist next to me. It’s like having a slice of history, something that won’t happen again and I was lucky enough to see it. It’s a pretty good feeling and always makes for a good story.

Père LaChaise Cemetery. Megan captures the inside of a tomb and the delicate lighting that first attracted her.

RSJ:  Can you share with us one picture you’ve taken abroad that is not so obvious, and tell us the story behind it?

ME:  I actually have two if that’s okay, but they are really different. The first one is a black and white photo taken at Père LaChaise in Paris. I’m hoping that telling this story doesn’t send the French police after me, but I’m willing to risk it for Ready, Set, Jet.  I was navigating my way through the maze that we know as Père LaChaise Cemetery when I came across a really decadent tomb. Most of the tombs in the cemetery have windows (the French really take death to a whole new level), and so being the ever-so-curious American that I am, I decided to take a look into the tomb. It was dark, dusty and pretty empty aside from a bowl with a lid (I’m assuming an urn) and something that can best be described as a large candleholder. I decided to stick my camera through and snap a few pictures because the light that was hitting these two objects was just perfect.  When I got home I was delighted to find that the pictures turned out well, but the B&W really emphasized the light that I had fallen in love with.

Paris, France. The statue Megan stumbled upon that might have otherwise gone un-photographed.

The second picture is a statue of a woman. I believe it was my first day in Paris and I had foolishly worn brand new shoes that hadn’t been broken in. Since I wasn’t gifted with the feet of a Frenchwoman, I couldn’t handle the pain and I needed to sit down and tend to my poor, blistered feet. The thing is, in Paris, you do not stop, you must always keep moving. Panicked that I would either get trampled by the French if I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, or my feet would just give out on me (also resulting in a trampling), I ducked into an alleyway to take care of my poor American feet. It was not an alleyway that I stepped into but rather a small courtyard that was no longer being used. The window shutters were worn down, the doors were locked and the water that used to be in the fountain had been drained. It was beautiful.

"The interesting moments and things that I do capture are always special...It’s like having a slice of history, something that won’t happen again and I was lucky enough to see it. "

For a moment there, I felt like I had been transported to old Paris, before the cars, the noise and the never-ending traffic. My eyes were particularly interested in the statue above the fountain. A niche had been dug out of the wall and the statue put inside of it. The wall behind it was rusted most of the veneer on the statue was falling off.  Despite, its deteriorating condition, something about it moved me. I stood in front of it for a few moments and took plenty of pictures before heading back into the crowded Paris that I had escaped. It’s still one of my favorite pictures and it is of something that most people would have walked right past. *

Do you have any brilliant travel photos that you are willing to share?  Tips for making the most of your camera?

We’ll be asking you all week for your best and most unexpected shots — please tweet them to us @RSJblog.  At the end, we will choose our favorite photos and feature them in a gallery right here!


All photos included in this post are copyrighted by MeganKaileen Photography