Avoiding the Tourist Trap

by F.M. Kearney | June 7, 2016

Copyright F.M. KearneyVacations are a great way to get away and de-stress. However, I often find myself stressing even more. With only a limited amount of time, I’m always worried 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? I try to be mindful of the fact that I’m on vacation and not on assignment.

On a recent trip to Antigua, West Indies, I found myself 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.

Antigua, West Indies - Copyright F.M. Kearney

The Pride of Barbados is a flowering shrub native to the West Indies that can grow to up to nine feet tall. Several of them were on the grounds of our resort. 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 even while riding by on a tour bus.

Pride of Barbados - Copyright F.M. Kearney

A 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.

Flower up-close - Copyright F.M. Kearney

To capture a really 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 really “see” what’s right in front of you the whole time. Once you become aware of it the floodgates of possibilities will open. I shot several other photos like this with varying compositions – all of which were infinitely more interesting than the wide angle shots.

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. In order to get quality images, you just might have to get off the bus.

This article was originally published in NANPA. Used with permission.

About the Author

F.M. Kearney is a award-winning fine art nature photographer specializing in unique floral and landscape images. His work has been exhibited in galleries, and featured in numerous magazines, calendars and gift cards. He is a frequent contributor to NANPA's newsmagazine, Currents, and the weekly photography blogger for Contemporary Art Gallery Online.

Kearney began his career as a photojournalist for local New York City newspapers. Using the subway as his primary means of transportation to and from his assignments, he became quite familiar with the system. It eventually became the inspiration for his newly-released horror novel, They Only Come Out at Night. A slight departure from photography, it's a supernatural thriller set in the New York City subway.

To see more of Kearney's photography and to learn more about his book, please visit

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