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How to Take Better Vacation Pictures

Documenting vacation with photography is easier than ever before with great cameras built right into our smart phones, but it can be very difficult to actually capture the reality of an experience with your photos. With a little know-how, however, you can avoid disappointing results and return home with vacation images worth decorating your home with. Here are some simple things you can do to take better vacation pictures on your next trip.

Tell a good story

Approach your vacation pictures as if you were writing a story. Start from the beginning. Take a photo at the airport or by your first palm tree if you’re headed somewhere tropical. Then capture some of the “minor” details along the way, such as the coffee shop stop or relaxing by a campfire.

For the climax of your vacation, go out of your way to get fantastic images (even if that means going back to get a picture of everyone at the Noah’s Ark sign after a full day of waterslides). And since SD cards have such large storage space these days, it’s okay to overshoot from lots of different angles and perspectives to find the best shot for this one. Finally, take images that complete the story of your vacation, such as a photo of everyone before leaving or the last sunset of the trip.

Set the scene

hiking sign

As you would in any good story, as you move from one place to the next, you need to provide enough information or types of photos to pull viewers right into your vacation. First take an establishing shot that shows the overall location using a wide angle, capturing as much as you can in one image.

Then photograph details that help shape important things in your story. This could be a close-up of flowers, an ice cream cone, or even an unusual bug you find. You’ll especially want to take photos of signs that mark the places you’ve been, such as the name of a hike, campsite, county or brewery. Think of these as chapter titles.

People pictures

Group at great american ballpark

As you explore your new vacation environment, don’t forget to introduce the characters of your story along the way. It’s easy to get carried away snapping photos of the exciting new sights and views and forget to include the people you’re traveling with in the images (especially if they’re also snapping away).

A mountaintop view makes a great photograph, but when you position your family or friends in front of it, you now have a memory that is uniquely yours. In the end, people are the stars of your vacation, and that includes you. Make sure you’re a part of the imagery of your trip.

Go beyond the selfie

Selfies work great for fun photos in our everyday lives, but when it comes to capturing your big vacation experiences, you can do better.

When you find find the perfect photo spot, take a few test shots to find the perfect placement for your subjects in relation to the background. Ask someone nearby that looks tech savvy to take the shot for you, showing them just how you want it framed. Most people are happy to help a merry vacationer. Look at the images they’ve taken before sending them on their way – they might not get it quite right the first time and it doesn’t hurt to get a second take. You might also want to request both vertical and horizontal takes.

If you know that no one will be around to snap the picture (say you’re hiking the Alps), consider bringing a mini tripod and setting the timer on your camera. You might need a few takes, but it will be worth it.

Bring a better camera

Cell phones are fantastic for capturing photos at a moment’s notice since they are conveniently in our pocket, purse or hand at all times. When you’re on vacation, however, you have the time to get a little more creative with your photos – and that means packing a more advanced camera. Cell phone cameras do not often perform well indoors or in low-light situations, and they produce smaller images that are not optimal for enlarging and hanging on the wall.

This doesn’t mean you have to buy a Canon 5d Mark iii (though if you have one, it’s worth bringing on your travels!), but even a modern and compact point and shoot camera can give you better results. If a camera is not in your budget or you can’t find a friend to lend you one, explore using a camera app that can improve your phone’s camera or just give you more control over your settings.

Try something new

Light house

Vacation is a great time to try something new with your photos. Start with your own camera. Explore every setting and dial and even bring the manual to read how to use every feature. On your camera phone there are plenty of settings and apps to have fun with including panoramic images and HDR. Challenge yourself to find creative angles and perspectives when photographing.

You can also experiment with video and your smart phone is a great place to start. Horizontal video is generally best for viewing across different devices and platforms. Consider using an app like 1 Second Everyday to create a video diary of your trip.

Showcase your images 

book layout sample

Unpacking after a great vacation is often the hardest part of a trip, but one of the best things to “unpack” right away are your images. Download them to your computer as soon as you can so they’re not just sitting in your phone or camera. Consider framing your favorite images or even creating a wall grouping or book (this is where those details can really add depth to your story).

For most people, vacation goes by way too fast! Taking better vacation pictures helps you remember the details of your trip for years to come. The images also evoke feelings and memories from the trip you might not have been able to catch on camera. They help you appreciate the trips you’ve taken and anticipate the new adventures ahead.

Ready to take your photography to the next level?

Now that you know how to take better vacation pictures, you can focus on other photo skills you want to learn. Do you need to know how to use your camera better or which settings to use? Do you want to improve your lighting, composition or posing? Ask us about our one-on-one classes that will help you get better results on your next photo shoot.

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