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Exploring the real, authentic, #NoFilter Madrid

NoFilter Madrid Photos Collage

A couple of weeks ago I wrote this blog post ‘Postcard of the Week: New York City (and musings on photo-editing and appreciating the here and now)‘ which should have been about New York, but ended up being more of a musing on the phenomenon of photo-editing and airbrushing everything, not just photos of fashion models in magazines, but photos of travel destinations too. In that blog post I admitted my guilt (as I am often partial to the odd filter on Instagram) but why can’t we simply appreciate the world around us as it truly is?

         It was timely then that I’ve been invited to take part in a #NoFilter project to showcase genuine photography, run by London City Airport (find out more about the #NoFilter project on their website). They’ve asked me to be one of their #NoFilter Madrid experts, as an honorary madrileña living here in Spain’s capital. My photos, along with nine other Madrid experts’ photos, will be judged by Jade Conroy from MSN Travel UK, who used to live in Madrid (and therefore knows how lovely it is!). So what does London City Airport have to do with all this then, you ask? Madrid is actually their most popular destination, and rather significant for me as I actually flew that exact route on my Move-to-Madrid Day back in January this year. London City Airport was therefore my last taste of England before I upped sticks to live in Spain for 6 months. It was a hugely emotional day and I wrote this anticipative blog post on the plane: ‘Bienvenida a Madrid!‘.

         So here are my favourite photos of Madrid, looking beautiful just the way they are without any filters!

The Almudena Cathedral - you can use natural light to create clever tricks and give the impression of contrast.

The Almudena Cathedral – You can use natural light to create clever tricks and give the impression of contrast.

The Royal Palace - Simply framing the photo well, avoiding wonky lines and getting symmetry right is a really quick win with photography

The Royal Palace – Simply framing the photo well, avoiding wonky lines and getting symmetry right is a really quick win with photography

El Rastro market - Look for unusual angles, such as looking down from above

El Rastro market – Look for unusual angles, such as looking down from above

Newspapers of Franco's death in El Rastro market - Take photos of interesting objects that tell a powerful story, and then the aesthetic qualities aren't nearly so important

Newspapers of Franco’s death in El Rastro market – Take photos of interesting objects that tell a powerful story, and then the aesthetic qualities aren’t nearly so important

Cabello convenience store in Huertas - Draw the eye to one part of the photo by focusing your lens on just one area

Cabello convenience store in Huertas – Draw the eye to one part of the photo by focussing your lens on just one area

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So how exactly do you take a decent #NoFilter photo? Here are my 3 top tips:

1. Focus properly on the subject of your photo! Too many people simply point their camera or smartphone at the view in front of them and take the photo. I’m afraid a brilliant photo doesn’t come that easily! Think first about which object/person you want to draw the viewer’s eye to first, as that’s the part of the photo that needs to be in clear focus. If using a smartphone, then tap on that object/person on your screen and a little box will appear and refocus on that particular area. On a camera, half-press the shutter button while pointing directly at that object/person, and then move the camera into position (maintaining the button half-pressed) and frame it to take the picture.

2. Frame the scene. Now you’ve properly focused the photo, you need to frame it correctly. This means taking it straight (no wonky lines, unless it’s deliberate) and look at the periphery of the photo to see what you’ve included or missed. For example when taking a photo of a person, have you inadvertently cut their feet off? Equally you’re trying to fill the photo with interesting subjects, so you don’t want a photo half-full of ceiling or sky. Think about what you want to exclude from the photo as well, like rubbish bins, garish brands or adverts. Try moving around and getting different angles to frame your shot perfectly. For people photos, the rule of two-thirds says a photo will always look better with the person either in the left-third or the right-third of the photo – don’t place your subject right bang in the middle of the frame.

3. Use a decent camera and take multiple photos. Smartphone cameras are indeed improving (one of Nokia’s even has a whopping 42 megapixels) but they are still no match for a proper digital camera. At the moment I use a mini-DSLR, a 16 megapixel Panasonic Lumix G5 (officially called a compact system camera), which is a better size for travelling than a full DSLR and perfect for my level of photography, while still giving me all the DSLR options of exposure, aperture, shutter speed, etc. Once I’ve identified my perfect view/subject for a photo, I’ll happily take 10 or so photos of it, adjusting a setting ever so slightly between each photo in a trial-and-error way. This is especially the case with people shots, where they might blink, look in the wrong direction, be caught mid-expression, etc. By taking multiple photos, at least one photo will turn out well, with the right level of exposure, in focus and well-framed. In the end, photography is all an experiment. Photography is an art, not just a science, so have fun with it and play around – it’s the best way to learn!

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         What is now missing from the photo is the subject! Luckily Madrid is bursting with photogenic spots to visit and photograph. The beauty of the city is that most of its sights are within walking distance of each other, and in between them you’ll stumble upon beautiful plazas and barrios to enchant you and your camera lens. Here are some of my favourite lesser-known spots that you should head to in Madrid to try out these three photography tips above:

1. El Rastro market. Held every Sunday from 9am-3pm on Calle Ribera de Curtidores, here there are endless interesting stalls selling everything from leather goods, to art, to vintage furniture and trinkets, which are the perfect subject for stunning photos. To get a different angle on the market head to the higher up bits and look back down on the market. Here’s my Postcard of the Week from El Rastro.

2. The Sorolla Museum. This is one of my more recent discoveries. It’s a small museum of painter Joaquim Sorolla’s work, housed inside the charming villa in which he and his family lived. You can take photos throughout, and the garden is particularly idyllic on a sunny day. It tends to be pretty quiet as it’s a couple of metro stops outside of the centre.

3. Retiro Park (the quieter bits). In the summer a visit to El Retiro, Madrid’s main park, is essential to escape the heat. It’s stunningly landscaped, so it’s very easy to only wander as far as the Parterre Gardens, the Great Lake and the Alfonso XII Monument. That’s as far as most people get. But there is so much more to see if you persevere further into the park: the Rose Garden, the Crystal Palace and the Cypress Swamp, the Campo Grande landscaped garden, the Cecilio Rodríguez garden and the Memorial Forest.

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         There are also lots of lovely spots just outside Madrid which are perfect for daytrips: Toledo, Segovia, La Granja de San Ildefonso, El Escorial and Ávila.

What tips would you give for taking decent #NoFilter photos? And what’s your opinion on post-editing photos and adding filters? Do you have a preference?

6 Comments »

  1. I’m moving to Madrid in September to Aupair for 9 months. I’m excited to see this beautiful city for myself. Great blog post!

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