Erbil Citadel Iraq

Travel Photography: Terrible Photos Of The Middle East

Derek Everything Else 68 Comments

Erbil Citadel Iraq

To all of you out there who know what you’re doing with a camera, consider the following a compliment to you. The photographs you share are more than impressive. There’s no denying that. And I could spend hours and hours every single day staring at your perfect photos, entranced by the slices of life from around the world that you capture so damn well and that you choose to share with the rest of us.

Of course, as a member of ‘the rest of us’, I like to pick up my camera and snap a few photos from time to time as well. There’s no way I’m about to pretend that I take excellent photos, but I’m fine with that and am usually content with what I end up with.

On the other hand, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish that I could take brilliant photos on a regular basis as well, just as you professional photographers and others who have mastered the art know how to do. And yes, I know that I could easily learn how to improve my photos, but the truth is, it’s not very high up on my list of things to accomplish. Despite making sure that every camera I purchase has more manual settings and controls than the previous camera I owned, and despite telling myself over and over that ‘this time I’m going to learn’, I never do find the motivation to learn in the end and I typically find myself just messing around with the buttons once again, using the little knowledge I do have to continue taking average photographs.

And even though there is no shortage of flawless photos out there to look at each day, I have a feeling that the majority of us travelers possess similarly average photographic skills. I’m not judging anyone at all, and I will say that most of the travel blogs I read display photos that are of a higher quality than mine (just wait until you see the photos below and you’ll agree), but it just makes sense that superior photography wouldn’t be so superior without the rest of us offering up mostly average shots.

Anyway, this definitely shouldn’t deter anyone from taking photographs, as the quality of the photograph really doesn’t matter so much to many of us. The moments we capture are preserved regardless of whether or not the lighting is perfect. We’ll still have memories of our adventures even if we accidentally cut the head off (in the photo) of a new friend we meet on the bus.


As an example, only a few days ago, as I randomly looked through all of the photos from my recent Middle East trip, I found myself instantly being transported straight back to the streets of Aleppo and the streets of Sulamainiyah. Of course, I also found myself laughing out loud quite often because many of my photos were just plain terrible, and these were actually the photos that I felt were worth saving!

However, even though these photos were of such poor quality, I suddenly found myself wanting to share them on this site. I’ve thought about sharing more photos before and the only thing that has held me back from doing so is the fact that I knew my photos were crap in comparison to what makes up the many “Weekly” or “Daily” photo series on other blogs.

But what’s the big deal really? Why can’t I share some more of my photos too? After all, even bad photos tell a story.

So, for all of us travelers who take sub-par photos during our travels, this series is for you. And the first installment of my Terrible Photos series begins with some of the worst photographs I took during my trip to the Middle East.

Beirut Lebanon

This is a photo of Beirut, Lebanon. More specifically, it is a photo of a random man in a soccer uniform running across the street in front of an ugly overpass in Beirut. Pretty sweet shot, huh?

I took this gem while roaming around completely lost in the Adlieh and Sioufi neighborhoods of the city, when I was looking for the little-known Beirut Art Center. For some asinine reason, while standing on a random street corner, I thought I noticed the perfect shot. Quickly fumbling for my camera, I put all of my faith in my new Panasonic FZ-38 and took the photo.

Man. Soccer uniform. Overpass. Enough said.

Aleppo Citadel

This photo was taken inside of the Citadel in Aleppo, Syria. As I walked around this large hilltop site, I suddenly came upon a door while walking through a stone tunnel and I decided to enter. And after a few steps, there I stood, all alone, in front of these two guys. I immediately pulled out my camera thinking I had a wonderful photo opportunity in front of me, but it turned out to be, well, a photo of two half-naked mannequins.

Erbil Kurdistan

While in the Kurdish city of Erbil in Northern Iraq, I snapped this shot for some reason. Had I turned to the right, I would have taken a photo of the magnificent Erbil Citadel, but apparently I thought that two Iraqi communication towers and a small water fountain would make for a much better image.

Amediyah Kurdistan

Only after I left the 5000 year old, mountaintop village of Amediyah (also in Northern Iraq) did I realize that instead of taking photos of the ancient structures and wild surrounding scenery, I ended up taking two dozen photos of basic stone buildings, such as the one above. I really have no idea why I did this and am a bit bummed that it’s all I have to remember this place. I’d have to say that it’s location at the foot of the Beshesh Mountains was the most spectacular of any village I came across in the Middle East. It’s no surprise then that I screwed this one up!

New Mosque Istanbul

The New Mosque in Istanbul is a beautiful building, its interior full of color and intricate designs. As a result, it was only natural for me to want to try and be creative with my photos. Unfortunately, I’m not so good at taking regular photos, so I really didn’t have a chance at all with my creative attempts and ended up with a handful of shots, such as the above, that typically give me a headache when I look at them.

Well, there’s plenty more but I think I’ll keep it at that for now. Although, it actually feels quite good to put those photos out there. Perhaps I’ll add to this series with a Terrible Photos of Southeast Asia or Terrible Photos of Australia version in the near future!

How’s your photography skills? Above average, average or as pathetic as mine?


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Comments 68

  1. Pingback: Travel Photography: My Terrible Photos Of Europe | Wandering Earl

  2. Haha, great post…it hit home for me because on my last trip to Poland and Estonia I took a lot of bad photos too. Like Steven mentions above, there can be a conflict between taking good photos and really enjoying the experience. That is why I took my little Coolpix on the trip.

    Although I would love to get a DSLR, I think it really gets in the way during travel…and makes you a target. But PnS cameras take bad pics. My solution is to get rid of my cheap (and frustrating) Coolpix and get a really good point-and-shoot-ish camera.

    I’ve decided on the Panasonic LX-5…I’ll see how it goes.

    1. Hey Hugh – I agree with you that taking photographs can get in the way of actual travel experiences. I’ve chosen the same method as you – a very good point-and-shoot over a DSLR – and I’m happy with that decision. The camera works just fine, it’s my lack of a photographer’s eye that is my real problem!

  3. Dude, wow! I mean come on!
    Man. soccer. overpass.. That’s a killer combination very few lucky photographers/humans can witness in a lifetime! You captured the movement well 🙂

    Hey, I just have to say one thing.. Some are good photographers, but they also secretly envy the writing skills and storytelling of others. I know I envy your writing!
    And no, I won’t share my terrible stories hahaha.

    Thanks for including my website in your post!

    1. Hey Dan – Yeah, yeah, yeah…great, now I have an actual photographer making fun of my photos. I’ve really hit bottom 🙂

      Although, I do appreciate your kind words about my writing. That does actually make me feel a little better and I guess I can live with that trade off. Of course, I still wouldn’t mind taking a decent photo every now and then!

    1. Hey Forest – Very true…the memories are much more important than the quality of the shots! At least that’s what I’ll keep on convincing myself is the case 🙂

  4. Ha ha, I love these photos. The one in Erbil looks like the reality shots you see on the internet when they’re trying to show you the ‘truth behind the holiday brochure.’ I actually really like the runner in the football shirt photo – maybe I’m no photographer either. 🙂

    1. Hey Julia – No, no…your photos are quite good in comparison to mine, with the photo in your latest post being solid proof of that 🙂

  5. Great idea for a post, made me smile since I saw the title.:)
    I think everyone is harsh on their pics, so am I (even if I am *kind of good*) but I want to tell you something: doesn’t matter if the pics of Iraq are not that great… It’s great that you were there! That’s the main thing.
    Oh and I actually like the mosque pic.:)

    1. Hey Giulia – Your comment does make perfect sense 🙂 Just being there is the most important thing in the end. Sometimes we forget that fact and start thinking that our photos are the most important aspect of our travels.

      And I’m glad you like the mosque photo, although I still can’t stare at it for tool long!

  6. Earl, as usual, you make me laugh out loud. 🙂 While your photos are not all that stellar, I think this is an awesome idea for a blog post. I might steal (borrow) it from you in the future, but if I do, I will credit you for it. I hope you don’t mind. If you do, please DM me or something and won’t do it. And by the way, that photo of the mannequins is actually quite interesting, I think.

  7. Besides Earl, without you taking the “normal” shots, Shane is right …. we’d never see the real Middle East. You keep up the good work! In about a year, we’ll see if I can’t catch up to you and have a beer with ya! ;))

    1. Sounds good Seth! Now you know where to find me…snapping photos under a random overpass that nobody in their right mind would even think about stopping at!

      1. That overpass is a gorgeous piece of retro architecture … granted in need of total destruction and consumption by flame …. but gorgeous and retro none the less.

  8. I like the jogging man photo. It is as much a reflection of the real Beirut as any more scenic photo is. Without these ‘bad’ shots we run the risk of becoming like estate agents and only presenting the good or beautiful side of a place.

    If it makes you feel better I can’t resist pictures of mannequins either.

    1. Hey Shane – That photo sure is a slice of real Beirut that doesn’t make it into the brochures or onto the tourism websites. You make a solid point there and without such photos many travelers would end up with the same photos of the exact same highlights. And that’s perfectly fine of course but at least the bad photos of nothing help us remember the moments of our travels that we otherwise might not have thought too significant at first.

      And are you saying that you’re a mannequin addict? That’s a bit creepy 🙂

    1. Hey Caz – That’s good to hear that you’re working on improving your photo skills. I’m not saying you need to improve of course but it probably is worth it to spend some time gathering a bit more knowledge about photography in general 🙂

      Perhaps one day I’ll take my photos more seriously and try to get a better feel for the art of photography as opposed to just snapping photos of half-naked mannequins all day.

  9. I love this post! I take photos of everything and at least 80% of them are junk if not more. But I keep taking them anyway because I find it fun and it helps me remember where I’ve been and the random things I saw along the way.

    1. @Untemplater: I do the same…as long as I still enjoy taking photos, I’m going to keep on taking them, regardless of the results. And chances are, if I didn’t take such a random photo of a man running across the street in front of an ugly overpass, I would never have remembered that part of that random day in Beirut!

  10. I’ve found that I can only focus on one thing at a time. If I’m traveling to experience a place and a culture, then I need to leave the camera behind or I wind up thinking more about getting “the shot” than absorbing everything around me. If I’m going out to take pictures, I need to ignore everything else or I just get typical “hey, look at that!” pictures. I personally like crooked, blurry, awkward travel pictures. They say more about the personal journey of the traveler than glossy postcard photos ever could.

    1. Hey Steven – That can definitely become a problem when traveling. We can spend the whole day out and about and then later we realize that we didn’t really do anything beyond trying to find the perfect photo. And I also agree that if you’re not trying to make a living out of photography, the ‘bad’ photos we take have just as much of a story behind them, if not even more of story, than the photos that appear more visually pleasing at first!

  11. Earl, I’m 100% serious when I say that if you peered into many pro photographers image libraries you would find many images that are far from perfect. Just remember there’s one big positive you have over many other photographers, and that’s the locations and situations you find yourself.

    1. Hey Jason – That does make sense. And traveling is probably what saves me from being a horrendous photographer (which I believe is worse than terrible). I can’t even imagine what my photographs would look like if I didn’t have all of these new and foreign places to take photos of.

      But it is good to know that even the pros need to take a great deal of shots in order to get that one gem! With that said, I will now click on your link and check out your American Samoa photo 🙂

    1. Thank you Sophie 🙂 You described them well. They are traveler’s photos and not professional photographer’s photos. And I’m perfectly happy with that!

  12. haha this is actually pretty brilliant. and I can see potential for more posts or even a bigger project. Do it! Loved your funny commentary 😀 Especially liked your ‘artsy’ attempt with the last picture. How cute.. : )

    1. Hey Janet – I’ve already started working on the next installment so I definitely plan to keep this series going for a while. And my idea of artsy often involves holding the camera upside down and pressing a couple of random buttons, so it’s no surprise that they end up looking so dull.

  13. This was so funny and brightened my day. My photo skills suck big time. I am so thankful for digital cameras. It used to be that I would waste tons of film. Now it is easy to just erase all my photos and keep the ones that my kids took.

    1. @optionsdude: It’s great to hear others admit that they aren’t the best of photographers. It’s nothing to be ashamed about 🙂

      And yes, digital does make the life of a terrible photographer much, much easier. We can just delete an entire memory card and nobody will ever see our results!

  14. Haha! I have thousands of pics that wanted to be creative shots of some kind when they grow up. Much worse than yours, believe me 🙂 I like the idea of a “terrible photos” series!

    1. Hey Sabrina – Haha…so between the two of us we have a lot of shots that never quite lived up to their expectations I guess. We just need to keep on working at it. Although, I could easily get used to this Terrible Photos series as well. I just hope this won’t lead me to start taking terrible shots on purpose!

      1. I don’t have to take them on purpose 🙂 I think there’ll always be a few. If you run out, let me know. There’s plenty here on this side 🙂

  15. What are you talking about, Earl? I love your shots above! The mannequin shot is hilarious. I thought it was some kind of sex ed display 🙂

    I think capturing the moment, the uniqueness, the story, is better than just a pretty shot. And your mannequin shot fulfills that!

    I’m trying so hard to learn photography now. The results are still quite sad compared to many shots from travel bloggers. Combination of camera quality, photography technique, and touch up skill. For every displayable photo, I have tens of bad ones. And many times, after tens of times of trying, I got none satisfying one.

    1. Hey Dina – Sex ed display?? Hahaha…it was more of an ancient sauna display, which still struck me as odd.

      And I think it’s great that you’re trying to learn photography, although us terrible photographers will certainly miss you when you move up to the next level!

    1. Hey Skott and Shawna – I just wanted to make it easier for other poor photographers to stop having to pretend they are pros and to be okay with their lack of photographic skills 🙂

  16. I really love that you posted these photos, Earl. As Seth said, it’s about what the moment meant to you, not that it makes an amazing image. I’m also pretty sure I took exactly that same photo of the two mannequins in the Aleppo Citadel!

    1. Hey Sam – That’s just awesome that you have the same photo! I can’t even explain how much better I feel knowing that you felt these two guys were worthy of a photograph as well.

      Seriously though, it is about the moment and these photos are what helps keep my Middle East trip alive, regardless of their actual quality. And whenever I need a good laugh, all I need to do is open my Photos folder on my laptop, no matter where I am in the world!

    1. Thanks Magda! I still plan on taking photos all the time so hopefully I will find my own style one of these days. Of course, it’s been 11 years without any luck so far but I’m not giving up…yet.

    1. Hey G – Don’t you worry, I know. Not awesome at all. But hey, if they prove to be amusing to some, that works for me!

  17. the mannequins shot is brilliant. Yes, it’s terrible (and from one terrible photographer to another I feel I can say that) but it’s brilliant. That last shot gives me vertigo – and I don’t get vertigo.

    I love that you posted the rubbish shots. Makes me feel much better about my terrible ones 😀

    1. Hey Heather – Brilliantly terrible. I’ll take it! Although sorry about the vertigo from the last shot. I don’t know what’s worse, that or the migraine I get from looking at it 🙂

  18. hahaha Earl!! You inspired me to think about my the worst travel photos! Seriously I might post them and tag you on the post! My favourite one.. two plastic dudes, wearing somehow Middle East-ish clothes. Well you know what? That’s actually a pretty awesome shot!

  19. Hey Earl, cheer up! no, they’re not terrible at all! They’re just raw shots. Throw in a couple of auto-editing function from and you’re good. Hehe. The last picture is the best of the bunch though. 😀 Check out mine too!

    1. Thanks for that Sirajuddin. I do use every now and then but I should probably spend a little more time with the editing. I think that is quite clear 🙂

    1. Hey Odysseus – Thank you for that comment. I really have no problem at all making fun of myself and because this post felt so good, I might have to do it more often!

  20. Earl, we all take these photos. You are not alone. Even the best photographers do this (not that I am one of them!). That’s why many will take 20 shots of the same thing and find one that is really good. Why are we bad photographers? Because we take 1 or 2 shots of the same thing thinking our photo was good enough. The results are what you posted above. HA!

    However, I do disagree with you on the mosque photo in Istanbul. That is a fabulous shot! I love the way you did that!

    1. Hey Jeremy – You are absolutely correct. That’s exactly what I do. One or two photos of something and then I move on to the next thing. If I were to take 20 photos of the same thing I wouldn’t know what adjustments I’d need to make so I’d just end up with 20 okay shots. So I might as well take 1 or 2 and save myself some time!

      And that’s interesting that you (and a few others) liked the mosque photo. I thought it looked as if I dropped my camera on the ground and a random shot was taken when it hit the floor!

  21. I think your pictures are awesome! Particularly the two men in Aleppo and the New Mosque in Istanbul. Great studies in form and shadow. Even the overpass in Lebanon has great features and the blue o-pass divides the background beautifully. LOL … while I know you didn’t intend it, you might as well roll with it. You have a great eye and besides, screw everyone else …. it’s all about what that moment meant to you. Enjoy every one and please share more photos when you can.

    1. Hey Seth – Wow, your comment actually made me believe that I knew what I was doing for a brief moment 🙂 Luckily, I really do enjoy taking photos and I don’t put too much pressure on myself. And hopefully this post shows that I don’t care too much what my results are!

      I certainly do appreciate the encouragement and kind words though, and I might have to take another look at the New Mosque photo (as long as it doesn’t give me a headache this time around).

  22. This…cracks me up. Literally laughing out loud. You’re too hard on yourself! Keep snapping away! For every 100 pictures I take, maybe 3-5 of them turn out the way I’d like them to. Snap, snap, snap.

    Hope your travels are treating you well. Curry on.

    1. Hey Alan – It definitely doesn’t stop me from taking photos and I’ll keep on snapping away like you said. Although, I’m a bit jealous of your 3-5 successful photos for every 100 you take! My ratio is closer to 1 out of every 1000. Could be worse I guess (like my ratio of successful Indian dishes that I cook).

    1. Thanks David. Heck, anyone who takes a photo of two half-naked mannequins deserves to be made fun of, even if I’m the one who took the shot!

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