Through the Gadling Lens: 5 photography subjects that are the same and different everywhere

Do you remember those Where the hell is Matt? videos that were taking the internet by storm in recent years? I was thinking about those videos the other day, and wondering why they affected so many people, causing the videos to go so wildly viral. And then it dawned on me: the reason we love that video so much is because as different as all of the people featured in the video are, from all over the world, they all held something in common: they loved to dance.

This, of course, is true for more than just dancing: despite how different we all are, we all share or do or having things in common: we all eat, we all wash, we all hope, we all live. And so this week, I thought I’d share some of my favourite subjects that I like to shoot when I’m traveling — things which are so different from place to place, but really, are so often the same.

1. Food. Hey, we all gotta eat. The beauty, of course, is that food varies wildly wherever we go (and frankly is usually one of the great pleasures of traveling in the first place). In fact, there are certainly countries where I’ve been where the highlight of my trip was the food (Egypt? Don’t even get me started. I ate my way through that country. My God, the food was good).

So when you’re traveling, I strongly suggest taking some photographs of your meals — bonus points if you bought your meal from a street vendor. A couple of tips when shooting food:

a) If you have a macro lens (or a macro setting on your point-and-shoot camera), this is often the best way to go. The beauty of good food is usually the taste and the smell; since your camera won’t be able to accurately capture either of these, maximizing your sense of sight can help compensate.

b) Make sure the food is well-lit. Otherwise, the food will likely simply look like an amorphous blob. Not very appetizing.

c) Check your background, colour and texture. Ideally, you won’t want to have anything in the background competing with the food for the viewer’s attention; similarly, when composing your shot, consider looking for patterns in colour and texture, and maximize accordingly.

Some inspiration from our Gadling Flickr pool (both, coincidentally, from Japan):

This great triptych was shared by pixelskew in the Gadling Flickr pool, and is, apparently, of cooked whale. I love how beautifully he captured these images: the food is very well let, the background is simple, and I would guess he used his macro lens, which helps him closely demonstrate the texture of the food. In fact, this is so well done, that while before, I might have said I’d never try whale, these delicious-looking images make me curious enough to consider it.

I mean, I probably won’t. I’m a vegetarian. But still.

Another example: I love this photograph of dyed octopus in Japan shared by FriskoDude. Again, this image is pretty masterful: the background is simple (the green fern leaves), and the repition of colour and pattern by the multiple octopi add for fantastic visual interest. Very well done.

2. Places of worship. One of my favourite subjects whenever I travel is to photograph places of worship — in most countries they’re pretty easy to find, and while the religions may be the same from country to country, often the structures in which the citizens worship, aren’t. Besides, it’s always lovely capturing photographs of structures that are sacred or special or holy. A few tips:

a) Consider capturing your images during the Golden Hour (discussed in last week’s Through the Gadling Lens) — it will make your image seem even that much more magical.

b) Be mindful of worshippers: if there are people worshipping at the time, you might want to consider waiting for another time to take your shot, to avoid being disrespectful. In addition, if you go inside the building, you might want to confirm whether photographs are allowed, and if so, whether you will be required to turn off your flash.

Some more inspiration:

I love this shot of a New Zealand church shared by the world is my wanderlust — the solid, sturdy bulding, almost sombre from the dark, heavy stone, juxtaposed against the light, bright sky, and the white, fluffy clouds. Really lovely.

This shot shared by StrudelMonkey is a classic example of taking a photograph of a place of worship during the Golden Hour — see how the light makes the structure look almost magical? And I love how the simple trio of crosses in the background let you know exactly what you’re looking at. Simply stunning.

3. Doors. I’m not talking about moody 60’s bands, here, I’m talking about actual doors. These are actually my favourite vacation subjects to shoot, because they very so wildly from location to location, plus they always hint to what local life must be like inside the the building, just behind them. The best way to illustrate is to look at the following:

This beautiful shot was captured and shared by Bernard-SD, in Hyderabad, India. The first thing that captures your attention, of course, is the vibrant blue of the door — showcasing one shocking colour always makes for an interesting shot. But there’s more: the fading gold adornment at the bottom of the door, the dried vegetation covering the top of the door, and of course, the scooter parked alongside, making us wonder who’s behind the door. Really lovely interesting shot.

Contrast this with the following:

This amazing photograph of a gate/door shared by was taken in Barcelona, Spain is a wonderful example of a historic door that not only makes you wonder what’s going behind it, it darn near invites you in. A lovely shot.

4. Laundry
. Last month, I was sitting with a well-traveled friend of mine who mentioned how she was intrigued by the many ways in which people do laundry around the world. “Have you ever noticed?” she said. “People do laundry different everywhere. They use a laundromat. They hang their laundry to dry on a line. They leave them lying on rocks. They do their laundry at public standpipes. In the river. It’s different everywhere.” I hadn’t really noticed, but what an amazing observation. And to illustrate her point further, here are some great examples:

This first image shared by Lobelia48 is so compelling because of the movement she capture when she took the shot in Kerala, India. You can instantly tell how hard this woman was working while doing her laundry. And the pop of colour from the clothing and the basin adds so much visual interest.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet:

LancasterTrip captured this lovely shot of Amish quilts drying in the sun in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, United States. The image itself — the still way the quilts are lying on the line, the long shadows cast by the sun, the absence of any person or animal in the image — evoke the peacefulness of the Amish in a beautiful way. Well done.

And finally:

5. Flowers. I admit it: I have a weakness for flowers, particularly because they’re so fun to shoot with a macro lens. But also, I really feel like the flowers of a region often define the region — you can almost tell what part of the world you’re in (or at least what latitude) just by looking at a great image of a local flower.

Besides, they’re just pretty.

Case in point:

This fabulous lotus flower, shared by RedHQ (and capturing a bee in mid-flight!) is exactly what I’m talking about: it comes as absolutely no surprise that this photograph was taken in Thailand. The colours are breathtaking. And that bee — that bee!

And finally, let me blow your mind with this image:

Dude, are you getting a load of this thing? According to LadyExpat, the photographer, this is a Rafflesia flower, which she shot after hiking two hours into the jungle in Borneo to see it. Not only is this thing REALLY funky to look at, it’s apparently also really funky to smell: according to the Wikipedia entry, “the flowers look and smell like rotting flesh, hence its local names which translate to ‘corpse flower’ or ‘meat flower’ … The vile smell that the flower gives off attracts insects such as flies and carrion beetles …”

Ew. EW!

Anyway, I think my point is made.

So on your next trip, consider making one of the aforementioned subjects the focal point of your shots — or if you have any other suggestions, please share them here, in the comments section below. As always, if you have any questions or suggestions, you can always contact me directly at karenDOTwalrondATweblogsincDOTcom – and I’m happy to address them in upcoming Through the Gadling Lens posts.

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks.

Through the Gadling Lens can be found every Thursday right here, at 11 a.m. To read more Through the Gadling Lens, click here.