Looking for creative ideas for a vacation photo project
August 17, 2011 7:44 AM   Subscribe

I'm taking a road trip through a really scenic area of the US and I want to go beyond boring vacation photos. My skill level is somewhere between taking snapshots at the family reunion and taking artsy photos of flowers and trees. I'm no Ansel Adams. I'm looking for cool projects to undertake, especially if they can later be incorporated into maps or timelines or video.

To get a sense of where I'm at, you can check out my Flickr stream via my mefi profile. There's a set of honeymoon photos that were all taken with the camera I have now (Sony Cyber-shot DSC H3), and the photos in my general stream that are tagged "favorites" are either some of my better ones or have sentimental value. Ignore the many photos of cats taken with cell phones.

Besides the point and shoot camera, I have a tripod and a gorilla pod. I cannot afford to buy anything else for this trip unless it's under $50-100. I hear Canons can be hacked so that they can do all kinds of cool things - is that possible with this camera? Is there any way to make it do timelapse or geotag photos? (I do have a bluetooth GPS receiver but I don't know if it's possible to connect it to a camera.) We also have a Droid X that will geotag photos, but the photo quality is relatively poor.

I have some Photoshop skillz and I would love to sink my teeth into a web project when I return. I also have a photo printer so I'm open to tangible projects. So - ideas?
posted by desjardins to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Do you like geology?

Roadside geology of Oregon, for example.

Panoramic splice photos of significant geo features can be fairly amazing as far as return on work invested goes. Rocks are a lot easier to shoot than wildlife!
posted by bukvich at 8:15 AM on August 17, 2011

Cool question. I'm kind of obsessed with geology, so I might buy a Roadside Geography of ____ and try to create an abstract section/elevation view of the area's stratigraphy (creating this frame will be tricky, as you'll have various local phenomena that you might want to include). Then try to get enough photos to piece it together. I'm imagining a cutaway view that shows the color and textures of all the rock layers, and also the ecological communities on the surface (sandy beach, coastal brush scrub.... alpine granite lake). So you'd ideally need to find places (e.g., road cuts, coastlines) where you can see the layers as well as good landscape shots. Normalizing size (up-close road cut, distant cliff) and also lighting/color would be a challenge. You'll also need a lot of local information on ecology and soil. There are soil maps you can buy that can tell you what layer is on the surface in any given place. It would inevitably be somewhat inaccurate because you won't be able to capture all the detail that's present, but hey, that's art. (On preview, damn you! :) )

Second idea, create your own idealized small-town-to-landscape panoramas, with the barbershop and cinema at the center... then the suburbs and ranchettes... then the mountains. It could be your best (abridged) representation of real places or imaginary ones. You could do themes: an ideal one, one with lots of kids, one with boarded-up downtowns leading to obnoxious new malls leading to clear-cut forests.

Also, I could've sworn there was a thread about landscape photography tips, if that would be helpful, maybe someone else can do better than I could and find it. I did find best photo tips and hacks.
posted by salvia at 8:26 AM on August 17, 2011

CHDK is the Canon hack firmware. I don't know if there's a Sony equivalent, but the low end Canon Powershots are running around $100 new, or you could even borrow one from a friend (it's an extremely popular camera).

Searching Youtube for CHDK will give you some cool ideas. I've mucked around with CHDK to automate multiple exposures for HDR, and it was surprisingly easy to set up. It did significantly increase battery drain, though.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:01 AM on August 17, 2011

A few ideas off the top of my head - are there any places you'll be going near that are important to your family's history? You mention you're travelling from another country, so perhaps not, but it'd be neat to have a catalogue of places related to your family history, even if the places were only barely significant - a site where a third cousin lived, or the place your grandparents stopped to get a burger.i think the context would make what might otherwise be a humdrum location interesting.

Another idea would be to rephotographs locations already featured by other photographers or filmmakers. I think I saw a post on Metafilter that compared places in San Francisco with how they looked when Hitchcock filmed them for Vertigo,
posted by ajarbaday at 9:56 AM on August 17, 2011

Cool vacation photo ideas off the top of my head:

* Taking funny but touristy shots of you standing next to each state sign ("Welcome to California!")

* Take close up individual shots of letters ("T" "A" "H" "O" "E") in signs you see along the way to spell out the names of places you see along the way.

*Food porn shots of memorable meals - get up close, use your macro, use natural light and NO FLASH!
posted by HeyAllie at 10:39 AM on August 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: You mention you're travelling from another country

Just to be clear - we're Americans travelling within the United States. I am not sure how I gave a different impression (maybe my username?).
posted by desjardins at 10:47 AM on August 17, 2011

Do you have an iPhone or Android phone? I used the GeoTagPhotos App on my recent roadtrip. Basically, you set your camera's time and date to match your phone's time and date, then leave the app running in the background. Later, you import the file from the app and your photos into a program on your computer and it matches up the photos with locations based on the timestamps.
posted by the jam at 12:00 PM on August 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have the DSC-H2, so a very similar camera.

There is no alternative firmware available for it like CHDK for canons. (Here's the proper link for CHDK)

That said I think the firmware on the Sony's is pretty good. I think it is one of the easiest camera to use for long exposures. It doesn't have a true bulb mode (I don't think), but it does up to 30 seconds exposures. You can use this to take some great star and moon shots. Check out "star trails" software and photos - using software to combine multiple long exposures to show the motion of the stars. Some great examples (not mine) star trails @ Alsalmi, Sparks Lake Star Trails.

I also like to do multiple shot panoramas to capture more of the scene than I can zoomed out. This is sometimes also called panography. You can combine them yourself in a photo editor like GIMP or photoshop, or automatically using free software like Hugin or my new favourite Microsoft ICE. Again some examples Panograph - Mount Ngongotaha, Tigers vs Titans game in Campbelltown.
posted by trialex at 3:30 PM on August 17, 2011

I work in a photo lab and consequently see a lot of vacation photos. As you can imagine, they can be impossibly bad and uninteresting but sometimes, the images are really beautiful and actually tell a story. Nothing makes my day better when I get to see someone's awesome shots of a place I've never been.

Telling a story with photographs is like telling a story with words: details matter. My favorite images are the images of texture and detail that is intrinsic to the place. Both man-made and natural details are . Explore that macro setting on your camera, use lots of natural light and fill the frame. Food, the texture of buildings, plants, stones, whatever catches your eye. When details are noticed, even if just for a few seconds, they really give a wonderful impression of place.

Geotagging them could make a great e-project but you could also make a really neat book with the coordinates as the titles of the images.

I don't know how artsy fartsy you are or if it's of interest to you but you could also think of collecting little samples of things (dirt, rocks, plant matter, whatever*), putting them in little bottles or containers and somehow lump the stuff and the images together. Think of it like collecting the trip. Also, a friend of mine did a really neat project during a road trip (Boston to Kansas and back) using cyanotype fabric. She collected local flora and what not and made the exposures in a contact printer on the dashboard as they drove. To develop them, you just rinse the fabric in water, which she did when they stopped for a break or whatever. I think she made a quilt with them but they also just make neat prints. It is simple to do and would be a smallish investment.

*I wouldn't suggest keeping food but you get what I mean.
posted by godshomemovies at 3:39 PM on August 17, 2011

I quite liked a series on travel photography subjects from the Digital Photography School website - it was a series of 21 suggestions for things to photograph to get the feel for a location, similar to the storytelling aspect godshomemovies mentioned above. Sadly, their navigation is designed more for browsing than for finding a specific set of articles, but if you go through the travel category you should find them.
posted by harriet vane at 7:30 AM on August 18, 2011

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