Postcards and Portraits: Using a Mixture of Photo Styles to Make Compelling Images

May 27, 2014 Peter West Carey

We’ve all seen it – the boring Facebook gallery with 123 photos of your friend’s last vacation to Somewheresville. We make it through about ten photos in that gallery and then start flipping through as fast as we can, skipping most of the images, looking for something compelling – something that catches our eye. The most we can muster is to click the “Like” button for the album, but we don’t leave a comment because the photos just don’t do that much for us.

If you want to bring back compelling travel photos that capture the attention of your friends and family and strangers (and not put them to sleep), then you need to mix things up when taking those photos.

The most average pictures in the world are taken with a camera set to its automatic settings and shot at standing height. This is not to say those images are bad. Singularly, they aren’t. But when shooting photos on a trip, you need to think about how those images will be viewed and by whom. If all your pictures are taken at the same height from the same distance away, your friends will be bored when viewing the monotony.

Try this the next time you go on a trip and want to take photos to share when home: Shoot some postcard photos – those scenes where everything is in focus that give us a sense of where you are – but also shoot some portraits of your location. By portraits, I don’t necessarily mean photos of people standing in front of the camera and smiling. Portraits can be of a space or an object as well.

Let me demonstrate this concept with some examples:

Start with the wide shot and then get closer

First, we have this postcard shot of Fes, Morocco. Nothing too exciting about it but it is a cool-looking city and I wouldn’t pass up the chance to capture this photo.

Fes, Morocco

Next, we get closer. If there is one thing that will help your travel photography, it’s this: get closer. Most of us shoot from a safe distance and our photos look safe. I’m not saying put yourself in danger’s way; I’m saying get in close for those portraits. Pick out individual items and highlight them, sometimes in context:

Vegetables At Market, Fez, Morocco

And sometimes alone:


Take portraits of patterns:


And spaces:

Peter-West-Carey-Morocco2010-0228-0152Of products:


And people at work:

Dying Leather

When you move to a new area, take another postcard shot where everything is in focus to give viewers a feel for where they are now:

Fez Under Gray Skies

In the movie industry, this is known as an establishing shot. Then dive right back in to those details and portraits:




And don’t forget the occasional family photo.


Keep an eye for the details

Here’s another classic example, Machu Picchu. The wide, postcard shot:

Taking Photos Of Machu Picchu, Peru

By all means, take it, it’s a beautiful and amazing landscape. Now dive in and show some details, especially things your viewers haven’t seen before in every magazine or blog post about this famous UNESCO attraction.






The gist of the system is this: Take those wide shots where everything is in focus, for sure (postcard shots). They show viewers the broad picture. Just don’t make more than 25% of the photos you share be those postcard photos. Mix things up and you’ll make it interesting!

Getting There

G Adventures runs a number of departures with wide range of dates and activities to cater for different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this wonderful planet as you’ve never seen it — check out our small group trips here.

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