Portrait of man sitting at White Sands National Park

How to Take More Meaningful Pictures

“A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it—by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir. Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs.”
― Susan Sontag, On Photography

Every day thousands, if not millions, of pictures are being taken around the world. With each advent of new technology, it is becoming easier and easier to record every tiny event or thing around us. But just because it is easier doesn’t mean we are taking better pictures, it just means we have less room on our hard drives. So how do we make sure we are taking more meaningful pictures? How do we take pictures that we want to keep, share or even put up on our walls?

We need to start asking why we are taking pictures in the first place.

I remember traveling to Lake Louise with my mother many years ago. Lake Louise is a stunning glacier-fed lake located in Banff National Park, Alberta. Thousands of pictures have been taken of this lake and the hotel that sits facing it. It is “picture perfect”.

So it wasn’t surprising that shortly after arriving we were asked by some visiting tourists to take their picture in front of the lake. Then they took a picture of us, then we took a picture of all of us. It was a bit surreal. After that, they got back on their bus and traveled away.

 

This scenario is repeated over and over at every tourist attraction around the world. Taking pictures has become less about recording the experience as it is about getting a quick souvenir, the “I was there” t-shirt, before rushing off to the next attraction.

Travel isn’t just about the destination, it’s about the journey. It’s about being present in the moment, being mindful of the environment and taking a moment to breathe.

Photography is the same. When you stop to take in a scene before you snap a picture, you get a better feel for it and you can start to see what makes it special. Spin around, crouch down, look up. All of these movements will allow you to see things that the tourist platform misses.

Most importantly, ask yourself why you want to take a picture. What compelled you to stop there? Understand why that person or element caught your eye. What do you want to say about them? Once you know what you want to express, you can choose the camera settings that you feel do that the best.

I would argue that this approach can be used for all situations, not just travel. Even when you are shooting friends and family at home you can ask yourself questions before you press the button. What is it about that moment that you want to save? What makes it special? Is it the fact you are all together, the uniqueness of the place, or the crazy weather? Taking the time to think it through will allow you to set up the shot in a way that not only records the event but also expresses what you are feeling. And those are the images you will want to keep.

Man on beach in Tofino, BC

Sometimes you need to take a few shots before you see your vision. I am not saying don’t take as many pictures as you need to express the moment, just start with the Why before you jump into the shooting. As David DuChemin says in his book, Vision Driven Photography,

Before our photographs can say we want them to, and in so-doing to look like we want them to, we need to understand what we want to say, and how we want to say it.

The more you consciously make decisions about your photographs, the more you will learn what works for you and what doesn’t. As a result, you will take more images that have meaning for you and that you will want to celebrate and share.

A starter guide for taking more meaningful pictures:
  • Be aware of the things that pull your eye, what attracts your attention
  • Don’t judge yourself or compare – shoot what you want to see
  • Play and take risks. Use settings you don’t normally use.
  • Look at other photographers’ work as well as paintings. See what compositions and lighting appeal to you
  • Practice, edit, practice, edit
  • Delete all images that don’t meet your vision
Sky and Clouds

How Safe is the Cloud?

Recently, when I have encouraged my friends to back up their smart phone images to the cloud I have met resistance. They are suspicious of this “cloud” thing. They don’t think their images will be secure. This resistance to the cloud could be the result of two things. News coverage of celebrities having their accounts hacked and a lack of understanding of what the cloud is and how it works.

First let’s address this ridiculous word “cloud”.  A friend recently admitted that she couldn’t wrap her mind around this esoteric concept of her images floating around in space. The word doesn’t sell the concept very well. Even the origins of the use of the word are a bit vague. Essentially, the use of the word is the result of computer technicians trying to visually express what the “internet” would look like.

It has been used as a symbol in the Information Technology industry since the 60s but it didn’t really cloud computing illustrationgain mainstream use until the late 90s with the advent of Salesforce and Amazon Web Services.(1)

So the “cloud” means the internet. But where are your images actually stored?

Simply put, when you save your images to the cloud, you use the internet to upload your images to a large room full of computers or servers. Those servers could be located near your home or anywhere a cloud services company such as Google, Amazon, or Apple has server farms or buildings on your continent. These servers hold thousands of terabytes of data from many companies and individuals around the world. They have incredibly sophisticated encryption and back up systems. They are many times more secure than your computer at home. Meaning, having your images stored on an offsite server would mean they would be very secure.

But what if those servers get hacked?

The famous story from 2014 where Apple was “hacked” and Jennifer Lawrence’s personal images were splashed around social media is still prominent in people’s minds. But the industry is addressing this issue.

Apple has stated that they were not hacked but that the accounts were accessed through a process called phishing whereby people are tricked into giving up their passwords via an email scam. In other words, a lack of understanding by the user is what allowed their security to be breached. Which brings us to the essential point.

Nothing in this world is 100% secure. You could save all your photos on your computer hard drive. But your computer could get a virus or have a hard drive failure, or your house could be broken into and your computer stolen. You could save your images to an external hard drive as well. If you keep that hard drive in your house it too could be subject to the same hazards – theft, fire, flooding. You could keep a second hard drive in a bank vault. A good idea but still, that bank is subject to the same risks as your house. Bottom line is there are risks to every place you physically store your precious items.

So when it comes to protecting your images, the cloud is just one of a few solutions. As they say, best not to store all your apples in one basket. We go into this in more detail in this article.

As for the cloud and anything else on the internet, the user must take some responsibility for the security of their data. Understanding the protocols of the cloud services company you use is essential. Yes, once your data is uploaded it is encrypted. But every company uses different standards for how that data is then stored and who has access to it. And simply put, what is free has the least security protocols.

Google and Apple both allow you to personalize your security settings. Amazon Web Services probably has the most customizable services but they will cost a bit more. Most importantly, almost every service now has two-factor authentication and I strongly urge you to set this up on your online accounts like Apple and Google. Two-factor authentication means you sign in with a strong password (not your birthday or your dog’s name) and then you enter a time sensitive number that is sent to your cell phone. It sounds a bit cumbersome but it guarantees that if someone steals your password, they still can’t access your account. And don’t trust any “official looking” emails asking for your passwords!

Insurance companies exist because of fear; fear of the worst case scenario. The question comes down to, how important are your photos to you? When given evacuation notices, one of the things people grab first are their photos. Everything can be replaced except memories.

I’m a photographer. My work is in my photos. But so is my life. I would hate to lose my images. So, I back up my smart phone and camera to my computer. I then make a duplicate of those images to a separate hard drive. That hard drive is held off site. Finally, I save my images to the cloud. It may seem excessive to some but it is peace of mind to me.

Your choice of provider depends on whether you want to view and share your images or just store them off-site. I created this document, Photo Sharing Overview where you can compare their services. 

Further Reading

iCloud Security

Google Drive Security