Tips for Better Vacation Photography

My friends and family often tell me they live vicariously through our journeys. So I owe it to them to make sure the journey comes alive in our photographs the way it did while we were there. Words are powerful, but photos are a much more captivating way to express the feeling and romance of a place and I want my readers to be able to savor the journey with us.

The only problem is that I’m not photographically inclined. In fact, if there’s such a thing as bad photo karma, I am rich with it. But there’s hope for those of us who have returned from vacations with a media card full of blurry, washed out images.

As with anything else, the more you learn, the better you’ll get and the better vacation photos you will return with. I’ve spent a lot of time lately studying strategies for taking better vacation photos, so I thought I’d share the wealth. None of these strategies depend on the type or cost of the camera you’re using, nor do they require specialized technical skills.

1. Find Good Lighting

Lighting can make or break a photo. Too much light will drown out the subject or wash out the colors. Not enough light can leave the photo grainy and dark. I found this out the hard way on our trip to Turkey where I had accidentally set my camera on a low-light auto setting. All the pictures were grainy and unusable. If there’s a specific shot you want to get (like the Blue Mosque in Turkey or the Eiffel Tower), try to take that photo at sunrise or sunset.

You won’t have the glare of the midday sun to deal with and those times of the day offer the most romantic lighting. If you must take the photo at midday, try to shoot with your back to the sun. And always look at the composition of the photo first to make sure there aren’t horrendous shadows falling across the building or cutting your friend in half.

2. Capture Action

Capturing people in action adds richness and life to a photo. A beautiful panoramic shot of a temple has its place, but to really capture the essence of a location, show what people are doing around you. In Paris, we took a lot of pictures of the Arc de Triumph both up close and from afar. It turned out the ones we liked the best were taken from far away, where we could see buses and cars driving around the circle, people walking along with their shopping bags and tourists capturing photos just like ours. It brought to life the vibe of the location.

When taking pictures of food, we usually snap a shot of the plate before we dig in, but carving out a bite and raising it on the fork from the plate adds depth and makes the viewer feel as if they were the one about to take a bite.

3. Add Interest

More than 90% of all vacation photos are boring. I’m not knocking your skills, I’m just saying that we’re often rushed for time or lost in the moment and don’t spend time thinking about what would make an interesting photo. Cut back on boring shots just by taking a moment to compose it. Look for what might add interest to the photo. Look for repeating lines, vibrant colors, fun shapes, and interesting people. Use zoom to capture the essence of something detailed, like a flower or a plate of food.

4. Plan People Shots

We’ve all been guilty of the obligatory “standing in front of X” photo. Those are the worst. You can tell it’s going to turn out poorly before the photo is even taken. Half the time the person isn’t even smiling so when you get home you’ll be left wondering why no one had a good time on vacation. Capture your subject interacting with the surroundings rather than just standing in front of it. Pose a group of people in the photo in an interesting way instead of in the typical line. Be creative and don’t be afraid to have fun. It is vacation after all. Those are the moments you’ll remember forever.

About author

Mabel Petty is a veteran journalist who has spent the last 20 years working with newspapers, magazines and websites covering marketing, business, technology, financial services and a variety of other topics.
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