Five Ways to Take Salable Photos of Familiar (and Not-So-Familiar) Places

By Stan Sinberg in San Francisco, CA

When you think of San Francisco -- which is where the group of us taking the Ultimate Photography Workshop currently find ourselves -- you think of the Golden Gate Bridge, Pier 39, Golden Gate Park, and perhaps North Beach and Chinatown.

So one big question for aspiring professional photographers is: How do you compete with all the gorgeous photos of these landmarks shot by far-more experienced photographers already out there?

One answer is: Don’t. Shoot something different!

For instance, yesterday morning we headed out to the little-known (by tourists) Mission District. This area has missions (duh), odd boutiques (if you call a Pirate store and a Voodoo shop odd), and dozens and dozens of beautiful murals painted on the sides of buildings.

Led by our tour guide, Joyce, we spent hours wandering up and down main streets and back alleys, snapping pictures of street life, gardens, colorful houses, and the ubiquitous murals. It was a San Francisco few of us knew, and even fewer of us imagined.

More importantly, relatively few outsiders know about it, making it appealing to editors who want to bring their readers something new and different.


Does that mean that you don’t shoot the Golden Gate Bridge, Pier 39, etc? No.

In fact, last night we made a field trip to shoot the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset (albeit from a little-known -- again, by tourists -- viewpoint), and today we’re taking walking and shooting tours of North Beach and Chinatown.

But I suspect that when the workshop attendees start selling their photos from here, more of the paydays will derive from the photos taken around areas like the Mission District (perhaps a photo essay on “The Street Murals of San Francisco”), than from their more famous counterparts.

Of course, when we DO take photos of San Francisco landmarks (or of the Mission District too, for that matter) our chances of composing bankable shots increase if we take photos that are different from the ones we’ve seen a zillion times before in magazines and on postcards in souvenir shops.


Rich Wagner, our workshop leader, gave us some tips for doing just that --

** 1. Shoot your subject from various angles. Walk around it. Get down on your knees or up on a bench and shoot from a different perspective.

** 2. Play with focus. By playing around with depth of field to make neighboring objects appear closer or farther away than they might actually be, we create new relationships between these objects. Similarly, by using selective focus (whereby one part of the photo is in sharp focus while we purposely blur, say, the background), we can create dramatic effects.

** 3. Look for patterns. Nature, as well as man-made structures, is full of repeating lines, curves, circles, etc, if only we keep our eyes open to them. Finding these patterns can provide us with ways to take artistically pleasing shots.

** 4. Look for patterns interrupted. As Rich observed, a picket fence is more interesting if one of the points is broken: ducks in a row instantly become more compelling if one duck is facing the wrong way. Look for something that is a little out of whack.

** 5. Tell a story. Put people in your photos. The human element arouses our curiosity about who these people are and what they’re doing, as well as giving the bridge, skyscraper, etc, a scale that we can relate to.

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can turn your pictures into cash in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.  Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Selling Photos for Cash: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]