In every issue of Budget Travel, we feature one of the best reader photos on our back page. Now, see the stories behind them.
The University of Wisconsin students have a real sense of humor. Their Lady Liberty on the Lake prank is a classic image of Madison that has made it onto postcards all over the city. During the summer, I'm usually sailing on Lake Mendota, but when it's five below zero, you've got to take advantage of it, too. So one February, I decided to see it for myself. I took this shot from the Memorial Union Terrace, but I actually went out on the lake and took some close-ups as well. I know how deep the water is and it was completely disorienting to be walking on it. I've live here for 35 years, but sometimes you need to look at your own hometown through a tourist's eye.—Cliff Koehler, Madison, Wis.
Top tip: When you shoot a larger-than-life landmark, include people in the frame to emphasize the dramatic scale.
Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan
Photography is very popular in Japan—sometimes it's hard to find a place to stand because you're surrounded by photographers. I'd managed to find a spot to shoot the stage performance at our town's annual flower festival when I saw a bunch of little girls dressed in kimonos, shouting and chasing one another. It definitely caught my attention—the Japanese are usually very reserved. So while the rest of the photographers were looking at the stage, I had these girls all to myself. It was pretty spontaneous.—Diana Ni, Iwakuni, Japan
Top tip: To adjust for bright light, aim at a less sunny spot, push the shutter button halfway, and hold it. Then frame your subject and shoot.
Mekong Delta, Vietnam
No matter where you go in this country, you get an amazing palette of greens. From the rice paddies of the north to the jungles of the south, the color carries through—it's Vietnam's common thread. When you're on your way from Ho Chi Minh City to Ben Tre, deep in the delta, the Mekong is so expansive that it almost feels like a big lake. Then you turn into one of these tributaries, and you're in the middle of a tunnel of foliage. In this photo, the limitations of my point-and-shoot actually helped: As the camera tried to focus on the light, it created dark, blurred edges, which better conveyed the mood. The light streamed in through the canopy, and suddenly, you could see a path filled with water taxis and hte mostly older women who pilot them. They're stone-faced and businesslike, just doing their thing.—Steven Cypher, Pittsburgh
Top tip: Don't be afraid of negative space! Try surrounding your subject with a dark or an empty frame to make the focal point pop.
I'd always wanted to go to Cuba to see the old cars and buildings, but I wasn't prepared for the amazing atmosphere of Havana's town squares: men playing instruments, ladies dancing, horse carts waiting to pick up passengers. When I travel, I tend to avoid portraits—landscapes can't make a fuss!—but when I saw this lady, I had to take her picture in front of this yellow wall. She spoke no English, and I don't speak Spanish well, so we used hand signals. She was silent the entire time, but her eyes were so playful and feisty as she pulled this fan out of nowhere and began showing off. Her expression drew me in—not unlike the dancers in the street who reeled in strangers to join them.—Giovanna Tucker, London.
Top tip: When taking portraits outside, use the flash to light faces evenly; sunlight can often leave one side in shadow.
Ehukai Beach Park, Oahu, Hawaii
Believe it or not, I'm petrified of water—I don't know how to swim and could drown in a bathtub. But photographing water fascinates me, which is why I come back to Oahu's North Shore year after year. As long as I keep my distance. I'm just fine, but I've taken out an insurance policy on my photography equipment! I took this shot in the late afternoon with the sun behind me so that the image wouldn't be blown out from the glare. Sometimes, I'll set the camera on continuous shooting mode and take several at once, following the wave from a swell to its final break. You have to be patient—you never know what you'll see. I've witnessed 30-foot walls of water. I've seen the pipeline when it was a graceful barrel, and I've seen it when it was the way it is in this shot—disheveled, unruly, ever-changing.—Diane Glatzer, Brooklyn, Ohio
Top tip: Set your camera to a faster shutter speed. It will freeze the action of hte water so you can capture every droplet in the air.
St. Paul's Cathedral, London
I was interviewing for a job in London, and my potential employers flew me in for one day of meetings, with a flight home the next morning. Since I'd never been to the city, I treated myself to a quick tour. Suddenly, something very London occured: It started to pour. I happened to be passing St. Paul's Cathedral, so I dove in to escape the rain. I hadn't planned to stop, but because I was already inside, I decided to climb the famous dome. On the way up, I glanced out the windows. The sun had started to come out and the rain was clearing, so I ran the rest of the way to catch the view while I had the chance. The light was breathtaking, as the clouds cast geometric shadows on the square below. It didn't last long—the rain picked back up almost immediately. Little did I know you could stumble on such a great way to see the city.—Sheila Cherry, Columbus, Ohio.
Top tip: Cloudy days can make for muted photos. Use iPhoto or Windows Live Photo Gallery to adjust contrast and make colors pop.
There were easily 100 photographers at the annual Shenandoah Valley Hot Air Balloon Festival—I have pictures of other photographers just jockeying for position. I got one great shot of a big red-and-purple balloon, but at a certain point I just gave up and was walking away when I spotted this dog. It had drifted up a little valley, and I realized if I could get to the right spot it was going to float directly in front of the sun. The thing about those balloons is that they're beautifully illuminated if you can get the light right behind them, and I managed to capture this just as the sun peeked out from behind the leg. It wasn't until I got home that I discovered exactly what I had.—Rick Collier, Reston, Va.
Top tip: Don't sleep in. Sunsets get all the glory, but the golden light of sunrise lends photos crispness. (As do morning frost and fog.)
Eiffel Tower, Paris
Ten years after my first trip to Paris, my mother and I returned to mark the anniversary. For almost the entire trip, the sky was cloudy and gray, and by the last day, we'd given up hope of snapping that Perfect Photo. Somewhat defeated, we sat on a bench near the Eiffel Tower. Just then, the sun emerged, and with it, out came the Parisians! With only one bar left on my camera's battery, this ended up being my last picture of the trip. Everyone takes the classic vertical shot to fit the whole tower in the frame, but that way, you miss so much life below it. I chose to focus on just the base to capture the Frisbees, the cotton candy, the tourists in line. I've still never made it to the top—I'm too distracted by what's going on underneath.—Lauren Meshkin, El Segundo, Calif.
Top tip: Avoid using the LCD screen, flash, or timer unless you need them for the shot. They draw serious charge from your battery.
Easter Island, Chile.
There is such mystery surrounding the moai of Easter Island. These monoliths date back at least 500 years and were somehow scattered by the hundreds across this South Pacific island. On an around-the-world trip, my wife and I made a point to visit the iconic stone statues, but we wanted to capture them in a unique way. To achieve this shot, we created a whole theater out there in the middle of the night. I set my camera to a 30-second exposure, while three others in our group "painted" the moai with the beams from their flashlights, leaving the statues perfectly bathed in light. The setting, on the other hand, required no special effects. Because there are no big cities on the island and thus no light pollution, there were more stars in the sky than I had ever seen in my life.—Andy Coleman
Top tip: At night, it's difficult for digital cameras to auto-focus on faraway items. To compensate, set to manual and focus to infinity.
I've always been struck by that classic image of Balinese women carting mountains of fruit on their heads. On a recent trip to the island, our hotel manager in the tourist town of Ubud told us about a Hindu festival in his village 30 minutes away, and I jumped at the chance to go. The event didn't disappoint: The priests, the men gambling, the gamelan music—and we were the only foreigners there. Wandering down the road, I came upon this duo headed toward the temple, carrying offerings to be blessed by a Hindu priest. They never stopped walking, and I never said anything. Undistracted, they exuded such a natural calm and beauty. I felt as if I'd been waiting my whole trip for exactly this shot.—Judi Fenson, San Diego, Calif.
Top tip: For portraits of people in motion, leave space in the frame for the subject to move toward. It feels more realistic and unposed.
Coney island, Brooklyn, N.Y.
I've been visiting Coney Island since I was a child, but I've never been a huge fan of rides. I go for the ambiance. There's something thrilling about watching tourists scream for their lives. On this particular June day, I was just wandering around eating a shish kebab, enjoying the warm weather. Right as I was about to leave, I found myself under the Brooklyn Flyer, just as the ride—and the screams—started up. I was able to capture the scene from an unexpected angle, and now, every time I look at it, I can't help but feel a bit queasy, as if I were in one of those seats!—Jorge Quinteros, Queens, N.Y.
Top tip: Avoid blur when shooting fast-moving objects by using your "action" setting (look for a running man icon).
Potala Palace, Tibet
As a child I saw Potala Palace, the Dalai Lama's former home, on a postcard. After that, I always dreamed of visiting it. In 2005, my wife and I arranged a trip to Tibet, and I finally got my chance. We arrived at the palace at midday, and the contrast between old and new immediately struck me: the traditionally dressed Buddhist monk using a digital camera; the sparkling new fountains in front of the 17th-century building. The scene was undeniably contemporary, but somehow it was just as wistful and aged as the postcard I saw all those years ago.—Jackson Ng, San Francisco, Calif.
Top tip: You should generally use a flash for shots in high sun. It pops the foreground and eliminates shadows.
St. Peter's Basilica, Rome
A few years ago, my husband and I took our first trip to Rome. Because of a nasty flight delay, we were completely exhausted by the time we reached our first stop, the basilica; we hadn't slept in about 36 hours. The church was predictably crowded—people were going this way and that, gawking at the ceiling, taking photos—but at the same time, it was nearly silent. These amazing beams of late-afternoon light poured through the oculus, and you could feel a palpable presence in the room. Even now, we look at this picture and both get the chills. —Jennifer and Marty Flinn, Lompoc, Calif.
Top tip: When you can't use a tripod, squeeze your elbows into your chest for support, inhale, exhale, and shoot.
Brooklyn Bridge, New York City
This photo is all about what you can't see: the New York skyline. Unlike in other cities (say, fog-filled San Francisco), Manhattan's skyscrapers are almost always visible, no matter the weather or vantage point. But when this blizzard hit about 10 years ago, everything seemed to just disappear. To capture the moment, I grabbed my camera and headed across the Brooklyn Bridge. Without the lights of the city, it felt like another world. These four people were the only ones I saw. Collectively, it was as if we were members of a secret and privileged club—and no one else on earth knew we were there. —Martrese White, Portland, Ore.
Top tip: For low-light shots, stabilize shaky hands with a tripod. Also use your camera's timer to minimize unnecessary jostling when snapping the shutter.
My husband, our two teenage daughters, and I were on a weeklong camping trip in Portugal about a year ago, and we stopped in Sintra, a medieval hill town of castles and alleyways about 30 minutes northwest of Lisbon. While everyone else set off in search of a bakery, I took a blissful walk on my own. Down a side street, I spotted two musicians playing bandoneones while a couple danced slowly, like they were completely in love. If I could explain Sintra with just one picture, this would be it: romantic, timeless, and enchanting. —Miriam Cinquegrana, Tappan, N.Y.
In April, my girlfriend and I went to Maui, where I signed up for a motorized hang-gliding flight off the Hana coast. After strapping in at Hana Airport, the guide and I rose to about 4,000 feet. At that point, he cut the engine, and we drifted down. Below, I saw the waterfalls at Oheo Gulch, a full-circle rainbow, and the black-sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park. My adrenaline was pumping the whole time. It may have been the altitude, sure, but it was also thrilling to see the island in a way that so few visitors get to. —David Shrader, Bothell, Wash.
Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre, Paris
In February, my friend and I added a two-day Paris layover to our return flight from India. While climbing the steps of Sacré-Coeur, I spotted a group of schoolchildren, each clutching a balloon. Their excitement was palpable; something was definitely about to happen. Sure enough, their teacher gave a signal, and the children released the balloons with a high-pitched chorus of "au revoir!" Neither of us speaks much French, so we never figured out what the event was all about, but somehow the mystery made the scene that much sweeter. —Jen McDonald, Nashville, Tenn.
Oia, Santorini Island, Greece
In September 2008, I went to Oia, on Greece's Santorini island, with my mother-in-law and two friends. I'd planned the getaway carefully, but somehow I forgot to pack my swimsuit, so I picked up a bright-pink bikini in Athens. It's the kind of thing I would never normally wear; it doesn't cover much. One afternoon, we came back to our vacation rental, the Oia Riva Villa, and hung our suits up to dry. Something about the color of the two-piece against the whitewashed walls struck me. In the early evening light, this little scene perfectly captured the essence of our trip. —Lara Dalinsky, Alexandria, Va.
Plaza de Armas, Cuzco, Peru
After a full day of sightseeing in Cuzco, my girlfriend, Brittany, and I were exhausted. To catch our breath—literally, since the city sits at 11,024 feet—we retreated to the second-floor balcony of La Retama restaurant. Toward the end of the meal, I put down my pinot grigio and spotted this inverted reflection of La Compañía church in my glass. I started snapping photos, and this shot was the best of five. It captures the spirit of the moment and will always remind me of a life-changing trip. —Thomas Cox, Lexington, Ky.
Lake Atitlán, Guatemala
On my second day in Panajachel, a town on the northern shore of Guatemala's Lake Atitlán, I got up around 5 a.m. to prowl around. The lake is normally very busy with boats, but at this hour, it was deserted, save for this solitary fisherman rhythmically casting his net. It seemed he'd been out on the water long before the sun came up, and I got the impression that he'd be there for hours more. I didn't plan this shot, but he happened to move just where I wanted him to be. —Rebecca Wilks, Peoria, Ariz.
Piazza della Rotonda, Rome
On our first day in Rome, my partner, Anthony, and I set out to see the city's ancient monuments. There was so much activity—couples kissing on the Spanish Steps, tourists crowding the Trevi Fountain, nuns snapping photos with their cell phones. After a long walk, we stopped for dinner as the sun set over the Fountain of the Four Rivers, and at sundown, we started to retrace our steps. In the darkness, everything was still buzzing, but it was somehow hushed—reverent, even. Locals and visitors sat at cafés outside the Pantheon, taking it in and perhaps imagining the millions of people who have shared this same experience. —Timothy State, Chicago, Ill.
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