China dragon paintingBarcelona graffiti stencil

Senior Tutor Nina is a keen traveller and she loves capturing the detail of a place. Here's her advice on how you can make use of the art you come across to inspire you.

Whilst visiting local cities or travelling further afield and around the world, you always come across statues, sculptures, street paintings and other street art that can be interesting to capture.

Something I've been doing over the last ten or more years is to gather together a collection of what I term artistic graffiti. Some cities actually supply specific areas or even commission street artists to paint areas.

It’s something that always provokes strong reactions, but love it or hate it, it’s often part of a location's make-up. And, when travelling, you want to capture the essence of that place – its feel, its look, its detail – and the art that adorns the surroundings, whether permitted or not, is an important part of that.


Banksy girl with balloonThis is the first graffiti image I ever took.

It was back in 2004 and, ever since, this type of art is something that has fascinated me. (Although I would like to make it clear I do not approve of where graffiti often gets done.)

My shot of this now iconic image was taken on Southbank in London – at the time no-one really knew much about the artist. Nowadays Banksy is world-famous for his stencil-type art (though we still know little else!).

In my view, the appeal of photography is to capture a moment in time. Sometimes, you'll capture something that cannot be repeated.

This is particularly the case with graffiti as, within a week or two, it's likely to have been removed and may never be seen again.



How to shoot

When shooting graffiti or wall paintings, or other art like sculptures and statues, think about how much of the subject to get in.

The key to getting successful images of graffiti is to keep the image as simple as possible. Frame tightly and trying to keep as many irrelevant things out of the shot as possible.

Shooting square on will ensure that the whole subject is sharp.

Argentina wall artWhen you come across paintings on the side of buildings, like this one captured in Usuhia in Argentina, you need to decide whether it’s relevant to get the whole building in, the whole painting or if it's better to capture a smaller part in order to give more impact.

Some wall paintings have lots of intricate detail, others are designed to be viewed from a distance. There is no right and wrong, just what speaks to you in terms of the image.


Think too about setting the scene.

Spitsbergen statueIn this image from Spitsbergen, I’ve captured part of the plinth because it tells you who the polar explorer was – in this instance, Roald Amundsen.

By framing in this way, I've also set the scene by including a distinctively Scandinavian building. I also wanted to give the statue a sense of scale.

Some cities are known for their statues and sculptures, Rome and Florence being two of the best known and photographed. To capture these at their best you need careful framing and often the correct lens choice to eliminate cluttered backgrounds.

Take this sculpture of a human figure in Prague, made out of letters. I spotted it on the square on the edge of the old town. The statue was surrounded on all four sides by buildings, and so using a wider lens and getting more of the statue in just produced a very cluttered background.


Prague letter sculpture1Prague letter sculpture2
So I decided the best approach was to get very close and shoot looking up at the statue against the blue sky.

I had a polarising filter fitted and so it was very easy to darken the sky, which really made the sculpture's architectural nature and white surface stand out.

I took a number of shots from different angles, but this is the one that worked the best and showed up the form of the sculpture the most.

Lastly, always try these types of shots in black-and-white. Use the Monochrome Picture Style preset and try your piece of art, graffiti or scuplture out – your results may surprise you.