One of the most common post requests I get around Alex in Wanderland is for photography tips. I’m always flattered you guys think I have something to teach in something I wasn’t formally trained in beyond a few entry level photo classes in college, but struggle to come up with lessons to share for something that feels really quite intuitive for me.
I have given it a shot before, though. I was really proud of this post of photography tips from Siem Reap, for which I sat down and wrote out my most beloved lessons and then found the best possible photos to illustrate them. For New Orleans, I decided to work backwards — look at a set of my photos from two of New Orleans’ most photogenic neighborhoods, The French Quarter and the Garden District, and think about what was going through my head in order to capture those specific shots.
Believe it or not, I found New Orleans to be a very photographically challenging city. But also an incredibly inspiring one. Read on for the stories and secrets behind some of my favorite photos.
1. Do Lunch Instead of Dinner
This is my number one travel tip for better restaurant photos, and it’s a major sacrifice for some people — do major meals for lunch rather than dinner. Why? Lighting! Many restaurants resort to very moody, low lighting in the evenings that makes food photography nearly impossible — and the flash just never looks good (at least for me!)
However, there are lots of hidden benefits to going big for lunch instead of dinner. First of all, mid-day menus tend to be more affordable, and there are often great specials going on. Second, you’ll have plenty more time to walk or work off the calories from a big meal if you indulge earlier and go lighter later.
2. Shoot Down
I know, I know, this can be an embarrassing tip to follow — who wants to be that crazy girl standing on her chair in the middle of a restaurant? I know I don’t! But I simply take a moment to adjust the table the way I want, make sure my camera is on the proper settings, and then quickly stand up, holding my camera out in front of me, and quickly snap one or two shots. If something’s not working and the shot isn’t turning out, I just sit down and forget about it and try something else. Not annoying your dining companions or making a spectacle is always goal number one of blogging a meal!
Try a mix of close-up plate photos and zoomed out table photos. Actually, I often bring along my smaller Canon G7X along with my big Canon 6D specifically for bird’s eye table view shots like these — it just seems to capture these particular images more easily. Of course, don’t be afraid to mix it up — I love these food-focused shots mixed in with the one of Angie in the background above!
Another thing — I often hold onto the menu after ordering if it’s an iconic restaurant like Commander’s Palace or just a nicely designed menu — it adds really nice interest in bird’s eye photos. (Plus I might want to order seconds, duh!)
3. Clear The Junk
If you’re going to have your waiter snap a photo of your group, take a moment to tidy the table — the resulting photo will be a million times better for it. It’s my personal pet peeve to have these beautiful photos of a group of friends smiling around a table… littered with dirty napkins and half-empty water bottles (which… don’t even get me started on those.)
Even better? Have them take it the moment they deliver the entrées. Missed your chance? Ask someone to snap one away from the table, perhaps at the entrance or in front of a great piece of art.
4. Look Up
The French Quarter is gorgeous. But it’s also busy — crowded with cars, people, souvenir shops, and beyond. When I first stepped out on the street, I panicked. How was I going to do justice to this gorgeous place through my camera lens?
The secret? Look up! By cropping street level out of my photos, I managed to capture the beauty of the balconies that make up the French Quarter in our minds, without all the visual distraction on the street. Not sure where to go? Check out this DIY Walking Tour from the Visitors Bureau to get started.
5. Look For The Unexpected
So, the above images are what you’d expect from the French Quarter, right? Beautiful balconies, lush planters, and intricate wrought iron. But halfway through our walk, I realized I was only focusing on those iconic images and missing all the eccentric details hidden right in plain sight. Don’t miss the funky little quirks of a place because you’re too busy capturing postcard-like pictures!
6. Take Multiple Versions
If I find a subject I really love, I take multiple versions of the same shot — tightly cropped, widely composed, and from various angles. Usually, once I get them onto my laptop to edit, the perfect one leaps out at me from the group.
But the beauty of digital is not having to worry about the cost of film — snap away, and cull judiciously later!
7. Never Let a Great Wall Pass You By
Or rather, never pass by a great wall. New Orleans in particular is chock full of gorgeous, bright colored buildings — the kind that I see and think, what a perfect portrait background! Walking around with friends? Take turns snapping new profile pictures for each other.
While this doesn’t apply specifically to New Orleans, when I know I’m going to be walking around somewhere with lots of funky street art, I try to dress in black or another neutral that I know won’t clash with the work in photos. The little black dress I wore in São Paulo, for example, was perfect.
No funky walls? No problem. Grab any cute background and make your friends into models. My favorite travel photos are always the ones with my friends in them — one of my biggest regrets of this trip is we didn’t take more of these!
8. Find Your Photographic Obsession
Mine is signs — hand painted, iron wrought, or neon wielded, preferably. If you look back through my thousands of blog posts, you’ll find signs like these from all over the world. Find something you love taking pictures of, regardless how silly. Maybe it’s beautiful flowers. Maybe it’s your morning coffee wherever you go. Maybe it’s cute dogs and cats you meet on the road.
Once you start — you won’t be able to stop. And you’ll have a uniquely-you lens through which you start photographing the world.
9. Go Inside
Often, when I see a travel blog post of an album of travel photos, I see a lot of exterior shots — landscapes, the facades of buildings, the big, sweeping views of a city. Those are fabulous and they’re popular to shoot for a reason, but don’t neglect to step inside those gorgeous buildings you’re shooting.
I actually struggle to follow this advice myself, sometimes. Shooting on the street feels anonymous and under-the-radar, whip out a dSLR in a crowded coffee shop and you’ll definitely get some attention. I always have to really challenge myself to shoot in places like restaurants, cafes, shops, and bars — basically, anywhere other humans might have the audacity to observe what I’m doing and thus make me squirm — but I always love looking back on those memories! Just look at the beauty waiting inside the doors of The French Quarter’s Brennan’s (where you really can’t miss breakfast) and Carousel Bar (where you must take a sip n’ spin).
10. Creep On Your Friends
It’s not every day I get to write a headline like that! Yes, take posed photos where you all are smiling at the camera. Yes, take plenty of group selfies too (the Canon G7X, with its flip up selfie screen is perfect for that.)
But take as many candids as you can of your crew just doing their thing. Kristin in particular is fabulous about this — Angie and I always get tons of unposed photos of ourselves when she’s around. I’m always aiming to do the same!
11. Make a Collection
One picture of a pretty doorknob? That’s nice. Five photos of pretty doorknobs? You’ve got yourself a collection! In New Orleans’ iconic Garden District, I couldn’t help but find myself shooting a set of front porch photos.
A collection of photos like this makes a statement — this wasn’t just one gorgeous porch I found, this is the very fabric of the Garden District.
And when I felt satisfied with straight on shots? I shook things up with some angles! Just remember to be respectful when shooting someone’s home. I got a little too close in one case and was mortified when a groundskeeper shooed me away. Better safe than sorry!
12. Make The Most Of What You’ve Got
Cloudy days typically elicit groans from travelers everywhere. And I admit, I’m one of them — from a photography perspective, cloudy days are the worst for wide-angle, landscape, or basically anything you were planning to have a blue sky in.
But there are certain photography situations that are actually better with the nice even lighting that a cloudy day brings. Portraits, flat lays, and, as I learned in New Orleans, cemeteries, are all best shot when the sun isn’t shining!
For the walking tour I wrote about in my Fresh and Healthy New Orleans Guide, I was excited to discover that the clouds not only provided us with some relief from relentless August heat, but also gave us a nice even lighting for the tricky photography conditions in Lafayette Cemetery and the surrounds. Every time the sun peeked through, it actually made it impossible to take a photo!
So basically, don’t let any weather get you down — regardless of what the sky is doing, there’s some kind of New Orleans beauty you can capture with your camera.
So, did I give you any ideas? Do you have any weird and wonderful photography tips to share?
This post was written by me and brought to you by New Orleans & Company. As usual, I maintain full editorial control and as always all thoughts, opinions, and bad photography suggestions are my own.