Vacation Photographers: Don't Forget the Small Stuff

Updated on February 15, 2018
Lew Marcrum profile image

Lew is an American expat living in Honduras. A former gold assayer, he is now a photographer and conservator of Central American culture.

The Importance of Details

Every year, millions of people take vacations. And every year, those tourists snap tens of millions of photos of the same places, monuments, buildings, statues, and scenes from the same angles, many with family and friends standing in front. Once back home, ninety percent of these vacation photos will never be seen again. Why? Because they were not memorable from the beginning. A good photo must be taken not only with auto-focus and depth of field calculators but with the heart as well. Though most tourists walk past and never notice, the soul of any destination is in the details.

Attention to detail is not a born trait, but with a little curiosity, it can be learned in a short time. The more interest you have in a location, scene, or object, the more detail you will see. Take a coin from your pocket and look at it a little closer than usual. Notice the color and design, the quality and depth of the strike. Soon a miracle happens, and it is no longer a coin but a work of art. It is a portrait or other design and is the work of a genuine artist whose art is in your pocket rather than on a museum wall. An artist just the same, and many times worthy of a gallery, but very under-appreciated.

Detail of Mexican Coin
Detail of Mexican Coin

Up Close and Personal

Millions visit cathedrals every year because they are the centerpiece of many foreign cities. Cathedrals are designed for grandeur and are swimming in magnificent detail. Many people in tour groups will snap a photo from as far back as is necessary to encompass the entire building, then move on. The forest is great, but the trees and the undergrowth are important, too. Move closer, touch the walls, feel the texture, photograph the details from three feet as well as three hundred feet. You will be amazed at what comes forth up close, and it will all be much more personal to you, for the essence of the building is in the details.

A few of my favorite examples of this attention to detail can be found below.

Cathedral of Saint Michael Archangel

In Tegucigalpa there is the Cathedral of St. Michael Archangel, patron saint of the city. It is an old Spanish style edifice, large and imposing, with a wonderful salmon color with white piping appearing to all the world like frosting on a giant cake. St. Michael's has its share of detail surprises, too, from its several well-sculpted statues in their respective niches in the facade, to the wall bas reliefs on the sides, and the myriad of white piping and decorative sculpting everywhere. A small blue window above the main entrance glows in contrast to the salmon colored walls. Only a close examination will reveal it to be a genuine antique leaded stained glass window with the stylized figures of St. Michael defeating Satan in the Battle in Heaven. And who would ever expect to find a sculpted mermaid on a Catholic cathedral?

Cathedral of St. Michael Archangel
Cathedral of St. Michael Archangel
Niche sculpture
Niche sculpture
Outside Wall Relief
Outside Wall Relief

Ancient Mayan Fashion

In archaeological sites, there are always too many fascinating details to even notice. I was intrigued to find the Ancient Mayan king, Waxaklajun Ubah Kawil, wearing thong sandals and support hose.

Stone Sandals
Stone Sandals

Mostly Unseen Beauty of Nature

Should you ever take a vacation in Central America, and I hope you will, you may find it to be the trip of a lifetime. Take at least a day to wander around the jungle to see what Nature has offered. You will find plant life you never existed, some with leaves several feet wide, flowers of every hue and description, wild orchids and lilies along the many beautiful little streams, and wild birds with a hundred colors and songs. Many of the most beautiful flowers are very tiny and on weeds, and white ground stars shine on the forest floor.

Tiny Flowers on Weeds
Tiny Flowers on Weeds
Tiny Red Cross Flower
Tiny Red Cross Flower

Snake's Head Flowers

One flowering plant intrigues me, and I've found only one example. With the shape of a large pineapple with large purple and white leaves at the top, it has little flowers protruding from what would correspond to the pineapple's sections. But these flowers look like heads of snakes, even with fangs! I found it prudent not to put my finger inside to find out.

Fang Flowers
Fang Flowers


Insect life is everywhere and new species are being discovered here regularly. My most unusual find is cerogenes auricoma, a plant-hopper that mimics a tiny bird, and is rare in this area. They're almost mythical among local Hondurans, and known locally as “Gallitos” (Little Roosters). Few have ever seen one. This insect secretes a waxy sugar compound in filaments resembling fur or feathers, sometimes several inches long. For no known reason the secretions around the head area are yellow, the rest white. Long secretions mimic a tail. None of these are part of the actual bug.



The point is, wherever you may go look at your surroundings. You don't have to travel to exotic locations to find the small world all around you. Your own backyard can be just as interesting as anywhere, and your neighborhood has enough fascinating details to keep you busy for a lifetime. Search for interesting detail. If you don't have a camera capable of good close-ups, try to get one before you leave for your next trip. A whole new world is at your fingertips and underneath your feet. Don't pass it by.

Questions & Answers


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      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 

        20 months ago from Houston, Texas

        That Gallito insect photo is amazing. I had never heard of one much less gotten to see one. Your photography tips are good ones. Thanks for illustrating them with your photos.

      • K S Lane profile image

        K S Lane 

        2 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

        Fantastic Hub. I'm not much of a photographer myself, but I've always loved close-up photos that pay attention to little details. Sometimes a specific piece of something, like a tree or a building, is far more beautiful than the thing in its entirety.


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